Sinisa Kukec found the building blocks of his new exhibit in the inscrutable nature of the soul, the laws of attraction, chance and chaos — and the heaps of furniture in a dumpster behind a Little Haiti strip joint.
The 17 works in the Croatian-born artist's conceptually brawny solo show, "LOVELIKETHEUNIVERSE," range from installations to paintings to kinetic mirror pieces that all reflect a combination of an earthy street sense and a heady philosophy.
The exhibit, on view at Spinello Projects in Wynwood, is inspired by a tome of the same name, the collected social media writings of Croatian author Isha Rose Servitus. Kukec translated the book into English and uses the copies as a conceptual art piece that viewers can read on the spot or purchase. Kukec also includes snippets of Servitus's text in his works at the gallery, which will feature his show during this weekend's Second Saturday Art Walk beginning at 6 p.m.
"LOVELIKETHEUNIVERSE": Through April 6 at Spinello Projects, 2930 NW Seventh Ave., Miami; 786-271-4223; spinelloprojects.com. Tuesday through Saturday noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free.
"I've been working with her on the publication for over a year," Kukec says of Servitus. "She is a self-proclaimed misanthrope and Luddite. I have been both a conduit for her writings and a collaborator."
Kukec, who was born in Zagreb, moved as a toddler with his parents to Canada in 1972 during the height of the Cold War, when his folks sought to escape the turbulent politics destabilizing their homeland. He began making art as a teenager while living in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
"I was attracted to making art by heavy-metal album covers," the 42-year-old recalls. "I was interested in Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, and all that shit."
Kukec later studied at the University of Manitoba, where he received a BFA before earning a master's in 2001 at New York's Alfred University, where he specialized in ceramics.
He moved to South Florida about five years ago following what he calls an "existential meltdown." In fact, Kukec embraced the disorder he was experiencing by getting a tattoo of his own design on his left forearm that looks like an algorithm or an abstract primer on string theory.
"It's about order infinitely bound by chaos," he explains. "I was doing a drywall job for some hood rat, who in exchange paid me by giving me a tattoo. It marked a moment when I sort of came out of an abyss to a new life and experience here in the Magic City."
Kukec's bold green tattoo also seems to be a blueprint for one of the artist's complex sculptures at Spinello titled Your Eyes... If Only They Could Look Within. To create it, Kukec took a beam of red oak and milled it through a table saw to create ribbon-like strips. He later steamed the wood pieces and bent them into a roller-coaster-like structure, which he then slathered in a green coat of epoxy.
Like the bulk of the works on display, the coiled opus reflects his passion for striking a balance between his mind and hands in his art-making. Unlike many other conceptual artists, Kukec veers away from creating works where the art is buried in the argument. Instead, he steers closer to creating visual poetry.
"A lot of what I do is trying to capture a moment in time," he explains. "That's why I was drawn to ceramics in the first place, because it was purely process-oriented. I am a studio artist and need to be present when making work."
Circumstance has also forced him to embrace mediums that he can afford, such as found objects.
"After moving here, I didn't have the facilities to work with ceramics, so I became attracted to working with epoxy because it allows me to build up and glaze the surface of an object without having to fire it like clay," he says. "To add color, I include tempera or graphite, and then the liquid follows the lowest part of resistance, the same way things happen in nature and the universe."
For example, he created Launch Thy Dreadnought of Consciousness from two round tabletops fused side-by-side to create a piece that echoes the shape of an infinity symbol. He then covered the wooden surfaces with translucent washes of subtle blue, orange, red, green, and yellow, reminiscent of one of Morris Louis's color-field canvases from the early 1960s.
"Working with ceramics taught me to embrace chance and accidents," Kukec says. "I like to embrace those moments. Sometimes I see myself as a broker between the materials and gravity."
The piece also reflects how Kukec hijacks the detritus surrounding his Little Haiti studio to reinvent the trash into works of hermetic beauty.
"My studio is located behind the Take One Cocktail Lounge strip joint," he says. "Those tabletops were probably used for thousands of table dances. The dumpster behind there is a gold mine of stuff I often use in my work."
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On a recent tour through his exhibit, Kukec — wearing black and possessing the solid physique of an MMA fighter — stands next to a mixed-media sound piece. It's a vintage stereo cabinet that rises like a monolith in the gallery's center.
Part of the structure's exterior is daubed with contrasting tones of epoxy protruding in lumps that give the impression of an alien life form. From a turntable below, Richard Strauss's tone poem "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" beams from a speaker. It's the familiar theme Stanley Kubrick used in his 1968 classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
On an adjacent wall, one of Kukec's motorized, spinning mirror sculptures distorts the image of the artist, further tweaking the spectator's perceptions of reality.
"To achieve that equilibrium between the hand and mind is pretty fucking awesome," Kukec says. "You experience the works in a wonderful way, rather than the static. Anthony [Spinello] is like a demolition expert. He has curated this show so each work detonates with its own power before launching you to the next and its own explosion."