BY ROSE ADAMS | Lower East Side artists Julius Klein and Raken Leaves have raised an unconventional family. Since meeting in 1981, the couple has given birth, so to speak, to scores of avant-garde art pieces, from Julius’s tongue-in-cheek sculptures to Raken’s collection of faces made from leather and fur.
“They’re my heads, my family,” Raken said about the square faces, which line the right wall of 222 Bowery, where their art is on display.
When asked which head was her favorite, Raken pointed to a majestic face hanging over the door.
“Becky,” she whispered, and laughed. “I don’t want the others to know.”
Since the 1980s, Raken and Julius have presided over the L.E.S. arts scene. They were members of the famed Rivington School and frequenters of Mars Bar and XOXO Gallery, two hubs of the East Village in the ’80s. Their latest show, appropriately titled “Recollections,” features decades of their work.
“I tend to be silly,” Julius said about his style. Hanging across from Raken’s leather faces, Julius’s paintings and sculptures all retain a level of fun. One painting depicts a four-person family in a mock holiday card. Another reads, ‘Please get your finger out of my a——.’
“I like to de-power art,” Julius noted. “I don’t want it to be mystical or important. I want it to be unimportant.”
Despite the couple’s wealth of experience in the arts, “Recollections” is something new for them. It’s the only show they’ve done together, just the two of them. In combining their work, the show gains a certain intimacy. It seems to tell the story of not only each artist’s development, but of their combined love story, and of their influence on each other.
“We’re both involved in almost everything we do,” Julius said. Although Raken and Julius work on separate pieces, they often consult each other for advice and ask each other for help.
“In every single thing there’s a little interaction,” he added.
After all, artistic collaboration is what first bound Raken and Julius together. Almost 40 years ago, the young couple met a few doors down from where Club 57 stood on St. Mark’s Place. Julius was screening a film he had made, and asked Raken if she could help hold the screen as he played Oklahoma’s “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” on the banjo.
“So I’m standing behind him and I’m thinking, ‘I like this guy,’” Raken told me. “I really think he’s pretty cool.”
“Recollections” will be on display at 222 Bowery through Sun., April 28. Gallery hours are Wednesday to Sunday, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.