George Trakas

4 March 1980 - 22 March 1980
Opening Reception 4 March 1980 8pm

George Trakas Destined To Be One Of The Great Sculptors
John Bentley Mays
Globe and Mail, March 1980

The first major breakthrough for George Trakas in his home country was the inclusion of two sculptures in the 1978 landmark exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario entitled Structures for Behaviour. At that time, the Quebec native seemed to have appeared from nowhere, an overnight wonder dropped among established sculptors like David Rabinowitch, Richard Serra and Robert Morris.

This week, however, almost two years after Trakas’s Canadian debut, an account of the artist’s activities from 1971 to the present has finally gone on public view — at Mercer Union. It s a straightforward show that tells its important story well and presents a fascinating record of creative development.

This record is composed of three sorts of things. First, there are small groups of shop drawings, plans, sketches and photographs which document some of Trakas’s major sculptural projects of the last nine years. Some groupings provide a step-by-step report on a work from beginning to completion.

Others give more complex information: the one about a 1975 piece called Discussion, for example, features a photograph of the work in the artist’s studio, another of it installed in New York’s Clocktower and a drawing (done after the piece’s display) which turns out to be a meditation on the project.

Still another cluster of drawings provides imaginary views of a tomb-like cavern Trakas is slowly excavating from solid stone at Quebec’s Baie Etemite.

Second, there are the drawings that the artist did earlier this week on the brick walls of Mercer Union. Like his sculptures since 1971, these charcoal renderings are commentaries on their location, echoes of various architectural features of the space the artist works within.

But the construction of such drawings also gives Trakas a chance to explore the site physically as well as imaginatively: charcoal stick in hand he moves along the wall with the alert grace of a dancer. (He insists that viewers of his characteristically large, theatrical sculptures be “sensitive to spacing, pacing, the body as it is moved by the work.” Watching him draw proves that he takes his own advice.)

Third, and most easily overlooked, are the personal momentos, such as a page taken from a 1965 Toronto show of Piet Mondrian that was an especially important event for the artist. Trakas means this page (as well as the Mercer Union show itself to be a thank-you note to Toronto, where his surfacing took place in 1978. That recognition was especially important, since it was about all Canada ever did for George Trakas.

The teen-age son of a broken home in rural Quebec, Trakas was slowly drifting toward becoming a dropout and delinquent. In 1963, at the age of 19, he left home for New York City. There, he supported himself with odd jobs and construction work while he devoured everything the brilliant Manhattan art world of the mid-sixties had to offer: lectures on art, books, exhibitions, the chance to meet the likes of Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell — as well as formal art; history classes at New York University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree.

It was after this rigorous intellectual training that Trakas began his career as a sculptor. Since his creative start in the late sixties, he has constructed many works of architectural scale and inspiration, all branded with his trademarks of precise design and stringent elegance.

Today, at 35, Trakas is very nearly a master of the stuff of sculpture, space, site, strong materials such as iron, concrete and lumber. Though his conversation bristles with allusions to the whole history of art, his hard hands and unpretentious, down-to earth manner are those of a construction worker. He also brings to his art great visual intelligence and catholic artistic learning.

This joining of rare gifts and accomplishments in an artist so young is remarkable, and it is no too much to expect that George Trakas will shortly take his place among the most advanced and influential sculptors of the twentieth century.