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Nanaimo Daily News
Dec 11, 2000

by Lynn Welburn

Take one math major who has worked as a carpenter, add a love of both wood and paper, send him to Japan for awhile and see what unfolds.

In the case of Gabriola artist Elias Wakan, what unfolds, or rather, what folds, is lithographic paper and wood.

Wakan, whose work is being featured at the Nanaimo Art Gallery on the Malaspina University-College campus until July 15. The show, which also includes work by Kathryn D. Ellis and Debra Yelva, will showcase the unusual geometric sculptures Wakan has made out of wood. But Wakan also works with paper, making origami like shapes that focus on the details of edges, planes and joints.

His unusual wood sculptures, most often using hemlock, all start as long, slim rectangles.

"Then I cut on the angle with a bevel so I get two triangles which are mirror images," Wakan says. "I cut hundreds of similar pieces... like industrial off cuts."

Each piece is numbered indicating which board it came from, where n the board, whether it's a left or right-hand piece, etc. Then Wakan fits the pieces together, holding them in place with masking tape. When the final shape is formed, the pieces are glued together and sanded. The final results - sometimes an open fan shape, other times a spiral or cone, even, once, a Moebius loop - are stunning in both their simplicity and their evocation of shapes found in nature.

"I look at form, see the shadows and shapes and think about how I could recreate them. It takes a lot of (mathematical) calculations to figure out how to make it work," Wakan says.

When he decided to make the Moebius loop, he consulted with a friend who is a mathematician. They worked out the calculations but disagreed on the final results.

"He said his first calculations didn't quite work but when I tried it, it did so I went ahead on spec," Wakan says. "It looked like it would work but it was six weeks of gluing and hoping the pieces would meet in the end." They did.

He works in hemlock because he loves the close grain, the clear colour in the wood. But he works in wood because that's what's available.

"It's the form that attracts me more than the material. I would scrap wood in an instant if I could work in bronze," Wakan says.

He got started seriously making shapes some 10 years ago after returning from Japan. He'd been working for a publishing company in Vancouver and "to maintain my sanity I started folding paper."

After moving to Gabriola four years ago, he moved onto the wood shapes.

"Whether I am working with wood, paper, Mylar, x-rays or photography, it is the repeated unit that dominates," he says. "In wood, it's usually triangular wedge-shaped pieces; in paper - repetitive folds; and in photography - abstract shapes.

"It is intellectually rewarding to produce elegant solutions to the geometrical problems I give myself, but I also get tremendous pleasure producing pieces that give such great tactile delight."

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Nanaimo Daily News
December 11, 2000
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