James Reka is an English-born, Australian-raised contemporary painter and artist currently based in Berlin, Germany. Reka was raised with an appreciation of the arts. His mother was a ballerina, dancing with both the Russian Ballet and the Australian Ballet, and his father was a graphic designer. Reka's passion for visual art was apparent at an early age, and during class he was often instructed by primary school teachers to stop drawing and pay attention.
Reka's art education originally led him to pursue a freelance career in graphic design. As time progressed, however, he found himself designing less and painting more. His focus shifted from creating logos and marketing layouts to creating figure-based murals that pushed beyond graffiti's traditional lettering.
Reka credits hip-hop and skateboarding for exposing him to street art. He started to paint graffiti in 1999, at a time when Melbourne's street art scene was in its infancy stages. Reka has spent more than a decade refining his aesthetic. He executes his work with a clean and unique style, illustrating a combination of surrealism and abstract fantasy. Reka's dedication to his craft has established him as a prominent street artist. His work is now not only in the streets but can also be found on exhibition in fine art galleries across the world and in magazines such as Juxtapoz.
Reka's influences include pop culture, cartoons, and illustrations, as well as the masters of modern art. His style represents a fusion between high and low art. The pallet Reka uses when creating represents a strong understanding of color theory. His work combines vivid colors, flat tints, bold lines, and geometry to create a depth of volume and layers.
Reka is in Jacksonville as one of the international artist contributing to Art Republic. His contributions to the event include a 10-story mural on the side of the Omni Jacksonville Hotel's parking garage. The roughly 30,000 square foot mural is visible from Water Street and while driving into downtown when crossing the Acosta Bridge.
How do you feel art adds value to the urban landscape?
Apart from the obvious, like brightening up an area with color, art provides the general public and locals an opportunity to view things in a different way. Even if it is just something as simple as a portrait of a lady.
How do you mentally prepare yourself when you begin a new project? Do you have any patterns, routines, or rituals?
For this project, I am painting a large-scale wall. I am not from Jacksonville, so in advance I was sent photos of the wall and was provided with the address where it is located. I was able to use Google maps and look up the location. I did this to get a feel for everything that surrounds the wall.
I spent the first week after I arrived in Jacksonville walking around and being inspired by what I saw. I wouldn't say this process is a ritual. However, I think it is an important part of my practice - to be inspired by the surroundings.
I have been told that the mural you're painting on the Omni Hotel parking garage will be the largest mural in the State of Florida. How did you develop your skill set to work at such a large scale?
I get this question a lot! I started by painting smaller walls on the street. Initially my limitations were as high as I could reach, and sometimes I could reach a bit higher if I could find a dumpster to stand on. Now I'm painting 10-story buildings with a 120' boom-lift!
In this case, the wall has a natural grid, a pattern that runs throughout the wall. In the end, this was a blessing in disguise. I used the grid to establish proportion and scale.
Nature and the human form appear as re-occurring themes in your work. Do you take in to consideration a city's culture and history during the design process?
I wanted to paint a Florida themed wall. I was heavily inspired by my walks around the city. I traveled down the beach and took a boat to St. Augustine, and drew inspiration from these activities, as well.
I wanted this design to feature a water element. I love some of the fish local to this region. Both an Atlantic Salmon and Marlin are present in my design. I also found inspiration from the flora found in this area, palm leaves in particular.
The portrait of the lady in the piece represents the Lady of the Ocean. Her hair transitions in to waves, which run throughout the design.
You started painting in alleyways and on train cars. How did you make the transition from illegal street art to global commissions? What were some of the key opportunities that served as a catalyst of this transition?
It was quite an organic change. Originally I had no intentions to exhibit my work in high-end galleries around the world. Over time, however, this happened naturally. In the end, I feel very luck that I can make a living from doing something I'm passionate about. I think that can be classified as "living the dream."
Making a living through art takes a lot of perseverance. You need to live it, breathe it. And it needs to be this way every day.
It wasn't until recently that City ordinance allowed for certain types of public art in Jacksonville. Based on your experience, what advice can you give Jacksonville artists on the topic of developing a portfolio geared towards public art commissions?
That's a tough one. Paint a lot of canvases. Paint a lot of walls. Paint anything!
You can always find somewhere to paint. I constantly explore abandoned buildings and factories, and there I paint.
Document your work. Develop a portfolio that you are proud of, and then be persistent and contact everyone you know. Turn up to all the gallery openings, meet other artists, gallery curators, and project organizers.
For more than three years you've been documenting the abandoned buildings of Berlin, Germany. Using the materials you've collected, you are working to compile a book that combines your passions for urban exploration and painting. Being that you're a native of Australia, what attracted you to Germany?
I relocated to Berlin mainly as an opportunity to be better positioned in the World. I have been quite fortunate and I have traveled a lot of the world. Berlin sung-out to me. It makes a great home base. It is central within Europe and not too far from the USA.
Australians have to contend with 24-hour flights any direction to get somewhere. It is tough! I also have a British passport, which made getting a Visa in Germany easier.
What have you learned about yourself through your career in the arts?
I've learned to trust my gut instinct. I've also learned to be confident in what I do.
What is your impression of Jacksonville's art and culture?
Jacksonville has a lot of room for culture. I can see it starting now! I would love to come back here in five years. I honestly think downtown Jacksonville will have transformed considerably and will be a cultural hub.
Who were some of your influences when you were developing as an artist? Who are three contemporary artists whose work you'd like to highlight, and why?
I look backwards for inspiration, not so much what is happening right now in the scene. Matisse, Picasso, and Warhol are my favorites. Why I am drawn to them is pretty self explanatory, they were all masters in their field.
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