The Sculptural Works of Reinhard Skoracki

Herringer Kiss Gallery
Jan 24, 2018 9:10PM

Reinhard Skoracki’s engaging sculpture has inspired plenty of commentary over a twenty-year art practice. A thoughtful maker of small-scale cast bronze figures, writers have described the German-born artist as a “social provocateur[1]” as well as a “philosopher and a humanist[2][i]” . An artist who, occasionally with “a corrosive wit[3]”  hopes to “sum up in eloquent fashion the essence of human existence[4]”. Many other comments have been made, but perhaps the most insightful was a headline in the Vancouver Sun about his “sculptural storytelling[5]”.  

In other words, Skoracki makes a particular kind of art that marries the visual with a narrative. A narrative first embodied in a bronze figure – usually a male – and then completed with the addition of a pithy title for the artwork. Suggestive titles such as Head Game, Rushing to Eternity, Check Mate, Before the Leap and so on. As sculptural compositions, they are like a philosophical equation where the viewer is left absorbed in the artist’s existential musings.  

In the process, a smile may be elicited or at least an acknowledgement about what the artist has achieved succinctly with a minimum of means and scale. Embedded in Skoracki’s diminutive world of men in long overcoats - reminiscent of the modeling of the late William McElcheran – are observations culled from a lifetime of experience where the vocation of “artist” for him came later in life. A successful art director and manufacturer in Germany, a move in 1988 to Canada spurred him in the direction of sculpture. In the following decade Skoracki graduated with distinction from the Alberta College of Art and Design and the University of Calgary.  

It was while at the art college that Skoracki settled on his sculptural material of choice: the very classical metal of bronze. Associated, like marble, with an earlier era of grander-than-grand public monuments, for the last fifty years or so, bronze has been on the periphery of much  sculpture.  But among his peers and mentors there were examples, such as art instructors, Katie Ohe and Gordon Ferguson who have both produced striking more contemporary results with cast bronze. Other inspiration also came from Kirstin Abrahamson whom he took an evening drawing course with and sculptors, Walter May and Blake Senini who for several decades have also made a significant contribution to the Canadian scene.

In this 19th solo exhibition “De docta ignorantia” or The Taught Ignorance, making an appearance are (mostly) male and female figures, a frog prince, a herd of nicely modelled sheep and God. In the case of The Almighty, he is seated on a patina-white bronze cloud with a selection of bronzed lightning bolts at his disposal. According to the artist, God is Testing the Charge. In another work, Acceptance, the presence of frog with a crown and a young woman alludes to the famous fable of the Brothers Grimm. One in a Million is about the maverick black sheep while in Hope a frayed tightrope beautifully executed in bronze separates the desperate reach of a father from a mother and child.

All of the figures Skoracki produces including the molds in the basement of his Calgary home are noticeably simplified with only small amounts of detail and forms that are generously rounded. In this respect, the artist feels a connection to the family-themed sculptures of German Expressionist, Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945). Very different from Kollwitz, however, is his sense of humour which, continues to be a buoyant factor in these recent works of 2017. There is lots of irony and some fun but also black comedy: the hapless tangle of Follow the Instruction: Wash Inside Out or the decapitated head used as a basketball in Head Game. Moments of poignancy are also evoked such the powerful moment of recognition suggested in Close the Curtains and Put the Shadows Away.

Although cast in bronze, the artist’s figures including his long limbed male nudes are not portraits, being more of the Everyman or, in some cases, Everywoman type. Other objects too, are incorporated into his lucid scenarios. A tilted chess board made of wood for Check Mate, a tightrope of thin steel cable and a cast bronze balancing pole used in Confidence in Motion or a small-scale pasture of artificial grass on a wood shelf for One in a Million.

“Literary” is a term often attached to the artist’s sculpture and in that sense, Skoracki is an avid reader - long stirred by the writings of Germanic authors and poets such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Rainer Maria Rilke, Heinrich Heine, Herman Hesse and above all Franz Kafka. “I see my connection to the art I create a bit like I would describe Kafka,” he recently wrote. “His quiet, reflective, solitary personality also diffused warmth, wit, a sense of pleasure in life, just as much as a consciousness of its pains.[6]”  

There was a time not so long ago in the 1960s and 1970s when the term “literary” was a put-down in visual art, viewed negatively in many modern art circles.  Art it was thought, should be autonomous, independent of any kind of external reference which, explains why so much of it during that period was abstract: only about itself, its formal qualities and nothing more. In other words, art for art’s sake. A Skoracki sculpture, on the other hand, embraces the wide-open world where simple phrases, adages and aphorisms can speak volumes about contemporary mores, attitudes and expectations.

In all eighteen works in this new exhibition, viewers will see from the artist that “I  have my ideas but the viewer will bring their own experiences to the show.[7]” Ideas which, never stop churning and are transformed and made expressive through crisp and elegant figurative scenarios.

Mary-Beth Laviolette, August 2017.

[1] Wes Lafortune. “Reinhard Skoracki – Balance and Struggle”, Galleries West (Spring 2006) p.42  

[2] Alexandra Burroughs. “Artwalk kicks off with landmark unveiling”, Calgary Herald (September 16, 2011) p.D9  

[3] Elizabeth Godley. “Sculptural Storytelling”, Vancouver Sun (February, 2013)  

[4] Wes Lafortune, ibid.  

[5] Elizabeth Godley, ibid.  

[6] Email to author, July 31, 2017.  

[7] Interview with artist, June 27, 2017.  

Head Game, 2006/2017

Reinhard Skoracki
Close the Curtains and Put the Shadows Away, 2017
Herringer Kiss Gallery
Reinhard Skoracki
Herringer Kiss Gallery
Herringer Kiss Gallery