News from and about Ukraine & Ukrainians: Ukrainian Community Press Releases
BRAMA, January 30, 2000, 2:00pm EST
Reprinted with permission from The Daily News-Record, "Skyline", Tuesday, May 9, 2000
The Man of Steel
Constantly surprising: that's how Ukrainian immigrant Alexander Reut describes shaping stainless steel into art.
Alexander "Sasha" Reut knows steel. He needed it living in Ukraine, when he gave information to Amnesty International about prison conditions there in the 1980s.
And Reut needed nerve when he informed American and Israeli newspapers about politics. Though unpunished, Reut, who lives at Massanutten knew his phone was bugged by the KGB, the former Soviet secret police and intelligence agency.
"It was quite dangerous," he recalls of his underground activities in the former Soviet Union, where he was an architect, and engineer with a construction company. But "you're talking about your conscience so you have to do something sometimes."
Disgusted by his country's corruption, Reut brought his family to the United States in 1991 when he realized "enough is enough."
He has not said that of his artwork with stainless steel, a material he has called "impossible " to handle. He likes the challenge of an unusual medium. "I'm quite stubborn," Reut 44, says. Working with stainless is "constantly like a surprise." The metal may disintegrate, for example, from too much heat.
For his stainless steel sculptures, Reut softens metal with heat then flattens it on an antique hammer mill. The pieces have intricate designs of leaves, grapes and fish. He calls his style "social surrealism," an indirect commentary on issues. "You couldn't say straightforward something is wrong with our society or something is corrupt," he says, "Like in any suppressed society, you're looking for ways to relieve that pressure."
His sculpture, "Resurrection" is a steel mural with fish, leaves, hands reaching for an angel on top, commemorating the death of John F. Kennedy Jr. "Chernobyl" depicts a moose-like animal with human hands, turkey limbs and deformed horns.
Reut lived in Kiev, Ukraine, about 40 miles from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion in 1986. Fear for his daughter's health was the reason he wanted to emigrate to the US.
"All the radiation is spreading," he says. "Literally that is a dead place."
Reut has been an artist since he was 15, when he started painting. He had wanted to come to the US since reading Jack London's books as a boy. He emigrated to America with his wife and daughter, $200 and six suitcases. The former Soviet Union was "without ideology, without faith in something, he recalls. "It has become a zoo, not just a zoo, a wilderness."
Until two years ago, Reut commuted to New York and New Jersey, where he designed staircases of ornamental iron, stainless steel and glass for theaters and businesses. He designed interior gates and candlesticks for Harrisonburg's Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church and restored the wrought iron fence around the Turner Ashby monument near Port Republic.
In his New Roots business, Reut designs such wrought iron home and yard furnishings as wine racks and garden hooks. "Prostitution and art are the same because you're selling yourself," he notes. "I'm trying to do it for fun, not for money. That's very important."
Reut exhibits his stainless steel sculptures around Virginia and in other states. His work was displayed this year at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, Virginia. The sculptures, metals that reflect different colors in light, are very intricate. "There's lots of symbolism in there. A great deal of thought goes into each one of the pieces," center spokeswoman Bobbi Hutchko says. Artists and designers credit Reut with originality for using stainless steel.
Reut's creativity is driven. "Everything that is given to you at the beginning of your life is not yours... you rent it," he says. Creating art "is paying rent. A gift."
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