Randy Regier: The Poetic Mechanics Of Art

Sep 19, 2014

Artist Randy Regier in his Wichita studio
Credit Paul Andrews

Randy Regier didn't grow up making art.

"I gave no thought to art," he recalls. 

But he did use his imagination to conjure his own reality, which is an artistic process.

"I didn't have much in the way of purchased goods," he says. "I didn't live near a store, so I wasn't one of those kids who could haunt a store after school. ... There was a world of objects out there, and I lived in a world of dirt and chickens and tractors."

One of his prized toys was actually a farm combine.

"There was an old abandoned combine that sat on a farm that my father worked on as a hired hand, and I would sit on that and try to create a sense of being on a space ship. But man, it was just the ugliest thing. It took vast leaps of imagination and faith to conjure this thing as a space ship."

When he grew up, Regier worked as an autobody painter, in a garage. Some might consider this an unconventional path to a career as an artist.

"Some might," Regier acknowledges. "But I don't."

To make a $30,000 car that's been in a collision look like nothing ever happened to it requires a good eye, he explains, and craftsmanship.

"You walk into any production autobody shop that worth its salt ... and these people are working with color every day, and very nuanced color, and they're working on sculptures that are $20,000-80,000 cars, more or less. ... What's happening is, let's say you've got a $40,000 car and you hit a deer and you're angry and whatever, and it's costing you money and stress, and you take it to this shop full of people. You are asking them to turn back time and erase that incident."

In 1997, under the strain of increasing restlessness and dissatisfaction, Regier had an inexplicable vision of Kansas. He asked his wife how she would feel about moving there and starting over. She agreed. Shortly after the move, he enrolled in college at Kansas State University. He was 34 years old. 

Enrolling in a 3D art class was transformative.

"It was all over from there," he says. "It was like coming home to a place I'd never been before."

The first thing he made was a toy, and he's been making toys ever since. At first glance, the objects he creates look fun and nostalgic, like happy playthings from another era. But upon closer inspection, the dated toys and the environments he creates for them (a "grody" 5 and dime store that's going out of business, for example) reflect a theme of discarded optimism.

Toys, he says, "are place-holders for all these memories."

And his art?

It's an "acknowledgment that we're mortal and that the the most beautiful moments in our lives, we don't get to keep. ... How do you steward what was beautiful or lovely about your past, how do you capture it, hang onto it and bring it forward with you?"

The main difference between Regier the artist and the child on a combine is that today, he has the skills to do more than imagine the reality he desires. He can build the things he envisions.

"Those years and years of using the imagination to conjure that world I wished I lived in did not go away... the child came back and said, you promised me this."

Portrait Sessions are intimate conversations with the compelling personalities who populate our area. Each conversational portrait is paired with a photographic portrait by Paul Andrews.