Kevin Radley: Working-Class Post-Modernist

by Julia Sommer

The gulf between staff and faculty can be wide and deep, but self-described "working-class post-modernist" Kevin Radley has managed to bridge it.

Wielding hammer and saw, he works half-time as a carpenter for the Department of Biochemistry. Walking over from Koshland Hall, he assumes his other half-time post as lecturer for the Department of Art Practice and manager of its Worth Ryder Art Gallery in Kroeber Hall.

After graduating with a degree in fine art from Central Washington University in 1978, Radley worked various carpentry jobs, then ended up fixing toys, building a deck and becoming a teacher at the campus's Jones child care center.

"That's where I learned the most about everything," says Radley of his two years with 2- to 5-year-olds. "I use strategies I learned there in my classes now."

Studying with the likes of Peter Voulkos and Elmer Bischoff, Radley received his MFA in sculpture here in 1981, then went to work for biochemistry to support his art work, sharing the job with an architecture student. His carpentry supervisor for the last five years, Brian Joseph, acknowledges that Radley "is a special case" and states further that "we maintain that this is the better job."

During the '80s, Radley's work metamorphosed from exquisitely made wood and metal sculptures to shrine-like gazebos ("private spaces within public places") to installation art using books, bookshelves and other found objects that underscored his fascination with education and the relationship between student and teacher. And he taught sculpture at the Academy of Art in San Francisco.

In 1993, then-chair of art practice Anne Healy hired him for a semester to teach a performance art class, "Temporal Structures." He's been there ever since.

Radley teaches "New Genres" and "Temporal Structures" in alternating semesters. Hard to describe, they can involve anything from sound, video, digital technology, slides and photos, to songs and body language.

"I encourage students to create meaning using media other than

the usual three-painting, sculpture and drawing-to gain a wider understanding of form, to examine process," says Radley. "Some people call it conceptual art. It can involve theater, rock and roll, examining cultural and generational differences. There's no object to defer to. Sometimes it's like teaching psychology-it can get very intense. Forms are merging. Now there's information art: text and image, email mixers. Art is really hard to define-it encompasses all forms of communication."

As for his role at the Worth Ryder Gallery, which generally mounts a different student art exhibit every two weeks, Radley calls himself a "traffic cop."

"But the most compelling thing for me is that the gallery works as a cultural lens which focuses not only on visual and cultural issues generated by our students, but on how our culture will see itself in the future."

Opening Tuesday, Feb. 3, at Worth Ryder is the annual faculty exhibit, featuring work by both resident and visiting faculty. "I always look forward to this show," says Radley. "The faculty bring in their latest work, it's a great way to start the semester, and the students love it." Gallery hours are Tuesday-Friday, 1-4 p.m.; the show closes Feb. 20.

In conjunction with the faculty art exhibit, a panel discussion by members of the Department of Art Practice on "Cultural and Societal Changes in the Role of the Artist" will take place in the gallery on Wednesday, Feb. 11, from noon to 1 p.m.

"As an artist, I'm involved in issues of form and concept," says Radley. "Teaching has helped change my work. I'm under the hood of culture. I don't necessarily get to drive the car, but I do the tune-up."

His current project is the Urban Renewal Laboratory, a collaboration among 15 architects, artists, computer designers, writers and educators commissioned by Southern Exposure Gallery in San Francisco and funded by the NEA. Opening in May, it will include outreach to neighborhood youth and construction of eight urban gardens.

Another project on Radley's plate this semester is "Circus Momentous," an inter-campus art project initiated by graduate students at UC San Diego. Based on the view that "life is a carnival," it will produce three-ring circuses of multimedia art here and at UC campuses in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and San Diego March 30-April 10.

With Ken Goldberg, associate professor of industrial engineering and operations research, Radley initiated last year and coordinates the Art, Technology and Culture Colloquium sponsored by Art Practice and the Berkeley Multimedia Research Center. The next lecture is Jan. 28, when Carlo Sequin, professor of computer science, talks on "Mathematics Based Virtual and Real Sculpture" (160 Kroeber Hall, 7-9 pm, free and open to the public).

"The blurring of science and art creates a very interesting dialogue," Radley notes. "Art and technology have always had a dialogue because artists are always looking for new ways and media to express themselves. Van Gogh was the first painter to use paint from a tube. Before that, painters had to mix their paints on the spot. Scientists and artists both do research that eventually comes to the surface in our culture."

Radley describes his job at biochemistry as "basic, safe, quiet. Students aren't pulling on me. It's almost like therapy. But teaching is my work. I adore my students. Here they are, studying something that goes against the grain of the university and the culture. It's a brave strategy."


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