Backwoods Gallery
More than a gallery

James Reka


James Reka

James Reka stands as one of Australia's most respected contemporary artists, having earn't his place in the National Gallery of Australia's permanent collection. While currently based in Berlin, Germany. His origins lie in the alleyways and train lines of Melbourne’s inner-suburbs, where he spent over a decade refining his now-emblematic aesthetic and pioneering of a new style of street art in Australia as part of the Everfresh crew.

Surrealist, abstracted characters emerge from the depths of Reka’s mind, communicating through strong lines, bold colours and post-cubist styling. Theses figures live in the homes and laneways of three continents, clambering up walls and enriching the urban environment with his iconic visual language.

With influences in pop culture, cartooning and illustration, Reka’s studio style emerged from his early design practice, featuring striking lines and colour ways. Over time, the logos and symbols he created evolved into more structured, animated forms and evolved to new mediums: murals, photography, and most recently sculpture.

Through these origins, Reka has developed an incredibly diligent, almost obsessive attention to the technical proficiency of his studio work, which has elevated him to produce meticulously detailed, collected pieces. His art sits somewhere between humorous and menacing, contrasting the two opposing feelings in a way that is unique to his vision. These pseudo-human forms are recognisable but isolating, playful yet eerie.

This is Reka’s art: a paradox between fastidious design and graffiti.

Recently, Reka has held solo shows in London, San Francisco, Denmark and Melbourne, has exhibited at the Royal West of England Academy (RWA) in Bristol, as well as pieces appearing in New York, Munich, Denver and Cologne exhibitions. On the streets, his characters adorn the walls of cities around the world from Japan to Milan and Paris to Brooklyn, Montreal and Berlin.

Exhibitions by James Reka

2018, scarlet

Have you ever felt that things are not within your power? Meekness is a fiendish strategy to hold intact all that is dreadful and extreme. Self-subversion and asceticism hold strong, but quietly and softly the eyes of the charming and innocent boggle upwards at the hedonist. She unveils the dark ritual of work, eat, sleep, repeat - the catalepsy caused by first world existence; escalating the desire for pleasure to it’s all mighty destruction. She is Scarlet.

From the roaring 1920’s, to the second World War, and the Berlin Wall that divided the German Capital for 28 years - Berlin has historically been been a dark dystopia, juxtaposed between desire and destruction. The fate this city bore has given birth too unique cultural grounds, where the line between high life and underground are inescapably blurry. Nourished by street art, punk culture, techno music, sexual laxity and hedonism - a new generation has transformed the artefacts of Berlins dark past to create a Scarlet utopia of the post-war state.

Metaphoric notions of reconstruction are actualised through the post-cubist, industrial stylisation of the female form that features throughout Reka’s latest works - both painted and sculptural. The ‘Scarlet’ collection bears Reka's iconic visual language, with hints of a modern romance amidst historical sculptural artefacts, erotic art forms and Berlin's unavoidable pleasures.


2014, Untold

A long awaited postcard from James Reka. In his first Australian exhibition since relocating to Europe, Reka explores the changing color palette and textures of his new home in Berlin. UNTOLD is an exhibition comprising large paintings on linen, found objects and sculpture, inspired by his observations of Berlin society as it stirred from its winter hibernation.

Last year, following an acclaimed exhibition in San Francisco, which culminated in the iconic Peace Mural and an energetic contribution to Miami Basel, Reka returned to a Berlin in the middle of winter. With the city in hibernation, Reka fell into a routine of people-watching, observing the passage of time and searching and abandoned factories and military bases for found objects. His observations and the objects that he found along with a series of photographs that he shot during Berlin’s transition from winter to spring became the inspiration for UNTOLD.

The collection tells the story of changing seasons against a backdrop of abandoned factories, rooftop painting missions, gritty streets and underground parties. It is a celebration of life in a city stirring from hibernation, of cherry blossoms and of society taking to the streets. UNTOLD is also the return home of one of Australia’s most internationally recognised urban contemporary artist. It is a collection of untold stories and impressions that he wants to share with his home town.

2012, Primary suspects

Artist Statement:

When a suit goes to work, they take their briefcase. When I go to work, I take my cans. Primary Suspects is a reflective exploration into the lifestyle of street vandals and the effect that it takes on us, both mentally and physically. From brushes with the law, confrontations with other graffiti writers, climbing onto rooftops and exploring the underground, the streets have become our desks. 

We all have the same motivation: getting up, even if it means getting literally caught red-handed. There is a never-ending cycle of personalities and personas within this world, all with hidden identities only expressed on walls. Urban architecture is a game for us: we just want to write our name on your property. Our tools may be different to other professions, but we all strive for the same thing: recognition. It consumes us.
Primary Suspects expresses this contentious career choice in a body of work made up of canvases, found objects and video installation. The moment-to-moment nature of my profession is reflected in the loose, dynamic brushstrokes that dominate the portraits of myself and my colleagues in the act. Many of them are speckled with hundreds of thousands of primary coloured dots. In fact, everything in my life is. I am constantly reminded of what I do and the life that I chose. And I am proud of that decision.

While I'm out walking the train tracks or painting myself, I often come across rusted, discarded spray cans. Over the years I have amassed quite a collection and have decided to bring them full circle and paint portraits on them of the graffiti artists who may have once used them. In addition to this, I have contrasted the mundane life of a 9-5 office worker with the stimulating life of a vandal through a short looping film of myself dressed in a suit, getting sprayed in the face with four fire hydrants filled with primary coloured paint. That represents my job, and I dedicate myself to it just as any other person would. When my life is striped back to its bare elements, it becomes a mixture of red, yellow, green and blues. That's what I am made up of. I am a primary suspect.

2010, down low too slow