The first time I spotted the sculptures in the Mueller mixed-use development, they seemed like the futuristic ruins of some alien landscape — though I was seeing them from afar and probably under the influence of a recent sci-fi movie release.
The sculptures immediately captivated me with their earthy red color, their naturalistic and geometric shapes and the fact that they were in Austin, a creative city suspiciously lacking in lots of large scale public art. They excited me — and still do — because upon studying them, you realize: something doesn’t have to be a building to dramatically influence a city's skyline.
I sat down recently with local Austin sculptor Chris Levack at a concrete picnic table in the gardens at Mueller. Behind Chris were two gleaming-from-the-recent-rainstorm Mueller sculptures: one a spaceship-like tower of metal and wood made to resemble a modern wigwam; another, a large metal globe set atop metal legs, an abstracted pollen grain.
Something doesn’t have to be a building to dramatically influence a city's skyline.
I didn’t know Chris was responsible for these pieces until I researched this column, and many of you have probably interacted with his pieces and not realized it, either: Chris is also responsible for the stunning metal trellises at the Whole Foods at 6th and Lamar (where you can dine on salad bar fare alongside grackles), his first large-scale public installation.
It’s this subtle anonymity and a fun, contemporary and functional aesthetic that sets Chris apart from others in the large-scale art field and how he’s someone shaping the look of Austin for the better. It's also why I think you should know more about him.
He’s got a gift of creating pieces that capture the attention of passersby without detracting from the existing surroundings. The sculptures mingle with the landscape, creating a new, beautiful composition. His work, while definitely artistic, also overflows with functionality: You get shade, inspiration, education, recreation and sometimes even a place to sit from his pieces.
Refreshingly, Chris creates because of the joy he gets from doing it; large scale public art is always something he’s been pulled to. Though he’s had the opportunity to collaborate on lots of public art projects, 75% of his business, Levack Sculpture & Constructions, is for much smaller creations in private residential and commercial spaces, like gates, fountains, outdoor furniture and more. A restaurant you’ve recently eaten at may have had an outdoor area beautified by Chris and you not realize.
Chris sees no distinction between the functional residential and private work he creates and his larger art (save for maybe the time it takes to complete them) — to him something beautiful that functions is art, and he reveres art that also manages to be functional. He sees the role of sculpture moving more and more toward function, especially in an economic climate where everyone is trying to get more for less.
This effortless functionality of his art has seen a steady evolution since his Whole Food trellises, climaxing with his most recent public art work at the newly completed Austin BMX & Skate Park on Shoal Creek Boulevard, a project he considers his best so far. There you can see more shade structures, this time trilobite-inspired, and the Steel Wave, an all steel, muddy-green colored metal skate ramp. It’s the ramp that gets Chris visibly excited to talk:
“It’s so simple, iconic, functional and recreational. Skaters and BMXers can ride up and interpret it in anyway that they want. With high art, there’s always the dialogue of the viewer, and with my sculptures, here’s a dialogue where skaters are interpreting my three dimensional form and they’re going to come up with tricks I never thought were possible on it.”
With high art, there’s always the dialogue of the viewer, and with my sculptures, here’s a dialogue where skaters are interpreting my three dimensional form and they’re going to come up with tricks I never thought were possible on it.
You grasp that this project is a sort of final puzzle piece falling into place, with Chris stepping into the leadership role of a new field of three dimensional public art: highly functional as well as beautiful, with a little bit of innovation and fresh aesthetics mixed in.
So does this functional sculptor sense his Austin-shaping role in the city? Humbly, he admits he does. His plans for Austin’s aesthetic future: he’s got more small-scale projects on the horizon, as well as a shade structure slated for a special outdoor space in Austin. And though there are no specific plans yet, he’s got his eye on Central Austin and his mind on thinking about bringing functional sculpture to more public locations, adding to our already beautiful city and making it even more unique.
“I’d like to think I’m helping to improve the look of Austin. But part of what I do is try to create sculptures and sculptural objects that complement the environment as much as stand out. There’s definitely change with these things I create; there’s definitely occupying of space, but I’d like to think that I’m changing it in the sense that I’m adding more beauty to the city. And really more sculpture. We don’t have enough outdoor sculpture in the city,” he says.
So keep your eye out for Austin’s aesthetics being improved by more of Chris’ sculptures, and be sure to visit the ones he’s already dotted our city’s landscape with. You can interpret, for free, his work for yourself. Share your story of experiencing his pieces with us in the comments when you do.