J.M. Rees - Universal Man
Architect + Artist
In 2005, Jack Rees worked at a desk in his father’s studio a few feet from the crib where he slept as a baby. “I was 52-years-old,” says Rees, “and I realized that I had traveled all of seven feet.” The journey he has made to cover those seven feet, however, has been fueled by an expansive passion to learn about architecture, philosophy, literature, linguistics, carpentry, writing, art, and the myriad ways in which these disciplines converge to tell universal narratives. At every turn, he was inspired by his teachers. He says that is one of his best talents––choosing the most incredible teachers.
Jack Martz Rees was born in 1955 at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, to Jack and Joan Martz Rees, who both grew up in the Midwest. They had met earlier in New York City, where Jack Rees, Sr. was working at Bamberger’s following his graduation from Pratt University in Brooklyn, and Joan Martz was working as a photographer’s assistant, living on Park Avenue. They met on a double date, which incidentally, ended up in marriage for both couples. After marriage, Jack and Joan researched cities that would be equally conducive to raising a family and creating a successful interior design business. Between Houston and Kansas City, they chose Missouri.
Jack Rees, Jr. associates his aesthetic with his early exposure to what he calls “dusty elegance.” His first teachers, Mom and Dad, took Jack and his brother, Michael, on many driving trips, always stopping at antique stores. “As children we hated it,” says Rees. “But at some point, we absolutely began to love it.” Many of the antique dealers lived in fabulous old houses in run-down neighborhoods, filled with beautiful antique furniture and collectibles. So began his interest in juxtaposing opposites: the elegant with the rustic, the new with the old, the polished with the rough. A touchstone for Rees has always been the quote by Sir Francis Bacon: “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.”
Jack Rees’ early education was at Pembroke Hill School, where he was inspired by art teacher Don Adams, music teacher Mel Bishop, and science teacher Jerry Watson. “I had a focus problem,” says Rees. “I was a serial enthusiast.” He explored photography, philosophy, history, and was involved in glee club, musical productions, soccer, hockey, diving, and track. His early dreams always included architecture and art. Diagnosed with dyslexia in junior high, Rees struggled academically until his mother discovered Lorraine Wolf, who tutored Rees in coping strategies for three years. Armed with these strategies, he began to excel, making top grades.
After graduating from Pembroke (where he received the Art Cup his senior year), Jack Rees chose to attend Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut, (formerly a school for girls, “and the odds were still good,” he says). There, he studied philosophy, linguistics, and Russian literature, but left before receiving a degree. “I realized that I had not read enough,” says Rees. “I decided to get a job and read.” He moved to New York City and got a job with the prestigious Jack Lenor Larsen textile design firm, where he worked in the design department and was the director of show room display design.
Rees returned to Kansas City in 1979 and started a construction company with his brother. Rees believes that architects should be generalists and should have experience in all fields connected to architecture. He built furniture, remodeled and built houses, often working with his father’s interior design business. He was an uncommon hands-on architect, often working 80-hour weeks. He made a career out of working with people who had been told by other contractors that what they wanted could not be done – Jack Rees would do it.
Rees returned to New York in 1980 to attend the Cooper Union College of Arts and Sciences where he spent two years. Returning to Kansas City in 1982, he began to work more closely with his father. Although Rees, Jr. had a separate company, they worked out of the same office. He says his father was, most importantly, a resource for knowledge.
J.M. Rees, Quasi-Objects of a Mental Kind. Installation detail. Epsten Gallery. Image courtesy EG Schempf.
Upon discovering poet, essayist, and University of Texas Professor Fred Turner, Rees was lured to Dallas, Texas, for further study. Rees wanted to learn how to become a writer, but discovered that there was no learning to write. “Those who write are writers, those who don’t write are not,” says Rees. He began a six-year journey following his nose through every library that interested him. He graduated magna cum laude from UT, Dallas, with a degree in Literary Studies. He then attended the University of Texas, Austin, and received a master’s degree in Science and Architectural Studies in 1996.
Interdisciplinary academic work has been important to Rees throughout his education. A big part of his aesthetic has to do with bringing disparate objects together. Rees’ exhibition, Quasi-Objects of a Mental Kind, at Epsten Gallery in Overland Park, Kansas, serves as a cogent example of this process as it brings together sculpture made of recycled steel angle iron, lumber, and oil-based paint and UV ink on polycarbonate, computer-based digital drawing, a limited-edition artist book with letterpress print cover, and two-dimensional works of casein, oil stain and varnish on antique pine. He has a particular love affair with wood that begins with the fascination he experiences when it is sliced open to reveal its interior grain pattern. He calls it an arrested flow, “The growth of a particular tree is exposed and each one is like no other.”
Jack Rees lives with his wife, Hayley, in a home on Summit Street in Kansas City, Missouri, that had neither a roof on the north side nor windows on the south when they bought it. Reclaiming the house and making it their own has been and continues to be a collaborative project for the couple. In his work, be it architecture, carpentry, or fine art, Jack Rees creates with a passion “to design things that improve with age,” he says. “I want my work to actually look better as it ages than it does when it is new.”
J.M. Rees: Quasi-Objects of a Mental Kind remains on view at the Epsten Gallery at Village Shalom through June 27, 2010. Related programming includes the lecture series “My Jewish Intellectual Roots” presented by the artist on Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 3 PM in the Social Hall at Village Shalom.
Guests of the exhibition and lectures may also pick up a complimentary copy of the limited-edition, artist catalogue with signed and numbered letterpress print cover, which Rees considers as one of the works of art in his exhibition. Admission is also free, and Epsten Gallery hours of operation are Tuesday-Friday, 11 AM-4 PM, and Saturday-Sunday, 1-4 PM (closed Mondays). For more information about the Epsten Gallery and other programs of the Kansas City Jewish Museum of Contemporary Art, call 913.266.8413 or visit their website at kcjmca.org.
View a tour of Jack Rees’ studio: www.youtube.com/watch?v=wosCwhOA_SU
This article was also published at http://ereview.org/.