In his Grade 3 art class, Eli Wakan, by choice, spent a year designing a folder cover embellished with colorful Volkswagen Bugs, created by continuous spaghetti string loops. His teacher intended the empty folder filled for Parent's Day. That was his only encounter with art until he entered university where he was a math major.
At Stanford University, Eli, on his way to wrestling, would walk back and forth between the Mathematics and Philosophy Departments, cutting through the Art Building where people were creating sculptures. Despite his chosen disciplines of math and philosophy, Eli was constantly drawn to the sculpting activity.
It had all started when I was fairly young," Wakan says, "and failing math in my early years. I was always interested in geometrical things, but transferred to philosophy, logic, preferring neat and tidy arguments, and equations. I pursued the `elegant proofs' mathematicians have always talked about. Fermat, an 18th century mathematician, didn't have room in his margin for his proof, and mathematicians have been trying, ever since, to prove his last theorem-although. today's computers, spitting out tens of thousands of pages of logic, cannot achieve the `elegant form' of the master's mind. Math was a world I passed through...like a country with beautiful flowers, and good weather. The wood and Lana Gravure paper sculptor says. "Although I'm not going back, I'm forever interested in it.
"At a meditation retreat, I was cutting on a table saw when an 11 year-old asked for four pieces of wood. After a bit, he returned with a three-legged table. It was simple construction, imperfect, and wobbled. Over the summer, he asked me for more bits of wood, and by the end of the season, he was making a decent table. Relating to the child's determination, he inspired me.
"My first experience in making things with my grandfather's saw, convinced me I couldn't cut a straight line. Years later, as a carpenter in the Yukon, I realized that the saw had hit a nail, and could only cut curves. The lesson I learned was that if it appears that you can't do something, it could be the tool. I would paraphrase the adage, `A poor workman blames his tools' to `...because they were of poor quality, in the first place.'
A consistent aspect of Eli Wakan's cone, helix and cylindrical designs is his emphasis on elements: the repetition of wedges in forms of six squares, 44 pieces of 9" B. C. hemlock, with edges bevelled at four degrees. The idea for this came about during The Red Gate Gallery's first exhibition, with the sculptor having on hand five or six wood sculptures which required labels. `Necessity being the mother of invention', I designed terraced rectangular, truncated pyramids as label bases. And, while I was playing with the pieces, and exploring their various possible juxtapositions, I was curious about the look of a more cubic form. I did some calculations, and adjusted the table saw, and other geometric forms evolved.
"Much of what I do depends on this idea of elements. Virtually every piece is made up of multiples of a single shape, but then when the piece is finished, for me, the next logical thing is to think of is repetitions or mirror images of the just-completed project. The whole process is like the universe - endless. Multiples of singles, or multiples of multiples." The philosopher emerges, "Like a flower, with its multiple petals-once you have a flower, you make a garden."
This thought led Eli to how he became interested in gardening. "From carpentering in the Far North, and challenged by degrees of difficulty: straight lines, 90 degree angles, I bought a hammer, and called myself a carpenter as opposed to an architect with a degree! Working with friends, I learnt more and by the time I got to Toronto, I was confident enough to barter a magazine rack and a planter, for dental work.
"As it is my habit to go into deep thought before making things, the project of a simple book rack became a revolving, circular magazine rack completed by a revolving light atop the rack, made of birds-eye maple veneer, in the form of a Moebius strip-a famous mathematical shape, studied in topology: the study of shapes and relationships that remain the same, in spite of stretching.
"The dentist's request for an `ordinary planter' became the whole wall of his waiting room. The floor of the planter was a of soil, around which were tree shapes cut from boards, and along the branches hung pots of flowers backlit with fluorescent lighting. This demanded knowledge and testing of plants which would bear up under these lighting and watering conditions.
"This led to my future familiarity and working knowledge of organic gardening." Recanting, after a tinge of regret, philosopher, Eli, expounded on the two principles of `knowing something about everything' and `knowing everything about something'. "There is no end to the library of life," he says. "We tend to limit our interests to a few shelves. Wouldn't it be nice to have time and interest to look at everything."
Eli Wakan contains an inner joy. The visionary and mastermind have met in rare harmony. We walked about the studio-home he shares with wife, artist, writer, Naomi. Their lives shared in India and Japan, are illuminated in Eli's paper, x-ray, aluminized Mylar foldings, and folded photographs.
In his forthcoming, solo exhibition, "Angles & Light" at The Red Gate Gallery, also including ten photographs of flowers; a rooftop, and sandstone bridge in Japan, a Gabriola tidal pool and abstracts of ideas, Eli Wakan can celebrate. He has brought the past, present and future together in making the invisible, organically, metaphysically, and philosophically visible. Anyone interested in elegant, futuristic form should not miss this show. It runs from June 6th to 27th, 1:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. daily (closed Mon.)