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There's no doubt that it's wood

MICHAEL Lekakis is an artist who places himself and his art in harmony with life's rhythms and laws, and who fashions his sculpture according to what he has understood of nature's processes and goals. Unlike the work of many other modernist sculptors, his sensitively carved pieces do not appear to have been willfully and arbitrarily man-made or invented, but to have sought out and found their own formal identities by a careful elimination of all they are not.

Lekakis prefers to carve in wood because he feels it's alive, and because it permits him to bring out and to give form to what he perceives is the true nature of growing things. In his own words: ``When I see a piece of wood, if I have rapport with it, I immediately see what its possibility is. . . . If I am truly creative, I will realize from this piece of wood its full potential . . . but this is not expressing myself . . . it is the expression of universal forms and processes as far as they are possible in a particular piece of material.''

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Only someone who is also a poet and philosopher could express himself this way, and indeed, Lekakis has been deeply interested in both fields. Ezra Pound and E. E. Cummings were close friends, and he numbers philosophers and other poets as well as artists among his acquaintances. His interest in classical Greek philosophy and mythology, as well as Eastern philosophy and religion, is extensive and deep, and has led him not only to travel widely in search of original source material, but to perceive his own art within a carefully structured philosophical framework as well.

His involvement with the creative potentials of oak, elm, pine, rosewood, etc., is deep and personal. It has even led him to attempt to direct wood into more promising sculptural forms by gently bending, twisting, tying off, and otherwise grooming the branches of very young trees while they are still alive. His intention is to nudge and cajole these still growing branches toward gradually becoming something his sculptor's intuition senses they could someday be -- without any cutting down or carving on his part.

Such patient, long-range planning and sensitive identification with material is rather unusual among today's sculptors, many of whom seem obsessed with the idea of imposing their ideas upon their material rather than working in harmony or ``in dialogue'' with it. To quote Lekakis once again, ``The concepts for my sculpture are not mine. They already exist in the nature of experience.'' And in another context: ``Creation is not the result of what we want to do. It is the result of the whole cosmic process . . . it is a matter of becoming sensitized, of preparing oneself to let it happen.''

The act of carving itself, then, becomes a probing process rather than the means of executing a preconceived design in wood. It is also the expression of a natural impulse to fashion and to help bring into being, as well as an attempt to understand better the forces that activate the universe.

In his wish to probe and to understand, Lekakis has been extraordinarily consistent. His creative evolution has been logical and inexorable, as logical and inexorable, in fact, as the evolution of one of his own carvings. The result is a body of work that seems all of a piece, and that resembles a large family of forms, each member of which was brought into being at one time or another during Lekakis's long career.

Although his works all bear a family resemblance, they don't all represent the same formal strategy. Some appear to have required a great deal of carving, of ``probing,'' before the inner form of a particular piece of wood could emerge, while others seem to have needed only a few tentative cuts to release whatever lay within.

There are a number that could easily be described as abstract, and just as many that appear to have burst full-bloom into flower and plant forms. Others again vaguely resemble seashells, dancing snakes, fluted columns, and birds. But whatever parallels in appearance may exist, there is never any doubt that the works themselves are made of wood.

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Even the bases on which his sculptures stand have been carefully and sensitively chosen and carved to complement and enhance the pieces placed upon them. For these, he frequently uses different kinds of wood for contrast, placing oak on elm, or possibly walnut on elm over mahogany. In each case, a great deal of thought and care goes into their construction -- so much, in fact, that it would be a mistake to view them as pedestals, and much more realistic to accept them as crucial components of the works themselves.