Active imagination

Suburban Chicago lawyer finds the creativity for his legal and art work

Photo by Rena Naltsas
Photo by Rena Naltsas
January 2020
By Dustin J. Seibert
Chicago Lawyer correspondent

Robert Kezelis is a licensed and working attorney, but he was an artist long before he became part of the bar. For him, there was never one or the other.

Kezelis runs his own solo practice – Law Offices of Robert A. Kezelis – in Palos Heights that’s roughly 70% personal-injury work, 25% family law and the rest odds and ends cases. He’s also had several art shows in the Chicago area since 2004, including a large solo exhibit at the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture. His most recent show at the Lithuanian Fashion Center in Lemont ran from Nov. 15 to Dec. 2.

Kezelis is also a prolific writer. His name is on numerous pieces for the National Business Institute as well as continuing legal education pieces. He wrote a 2006 book, “The Divorce Source for Men” and is currently working on a historical fiction book about the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – a European state that began in the 13th century and lasted until 1795.

Kezelis tells us more about his work, including the sometime fluid intersection of art and law.

Chicago Lawyer: How long have you been involved in creating art?

Robert Kezelis: I was sworn to the bar in 1986, but I’ve been an artist since I was 5 years old. The drive to be a professional artist has always been there and remains strong. My parents were very much against me doing artwork as a career, probably for the same reasons they didn’t want me to be an actor when I was singing and dancing on stage: Artists are typically less capable of dealing with the cost of living if that’s their only source of income.

CL: What type of artwork do you focus on?

Kezelis: I do a lot of sketching both on paper and on the iPad. I do a lot of painting with acrylics. I have three large paintings and a couple of small ones at the exhibit.

The three large ones are basically labyrinth cityscapes and they’re fun to just kind of sit and stare at because you can get lost on the trails. I’m always experimenting with different materials and techniques: From welding I went to blacksmithing using a coal forge or a gas forge, a hammer and anvil and even a tree stump to shape iron.

CL: Have your legal and artistic careers ever overlapped?

Kezelis: When I was doing product-liability defense, a company that hired me suggested I learn how to weld because they had a lot of cases involving welding equipment and medical device litigation that I was involved with. So, I took a short welding course. Learning the language of welding was important so I could take depositions and try cases.

My instructor saw what I was doing and suggested I go to a place called Penland [School of Craft] in [Bakersfield] North Carolina. It’s basically an art colony with multiple disciplines across multiple buildings. It was a great place to get a concentrated education in any of the crafts and arts that they offer there. I learned how to make tools and make art out of blacksmithing; it was just a marvelous experience.

CL: What pieces did you have featured at your most recent show?

Kezelis: I had several pieces of forged artwork at the show. One is a large hand made of a quarter-inch steel. It’s extremely heavy because it’s about 2 feet by 2½ feet. The hand pops out at you in three dimensions. I’ve got a female nude torso on a stand that’s about 2 feet by 3½ or 4 feet. Some of my other iron work at the show are bushes and trees that are both forged and welded.

CL: Is there a similar creativity involved in law and art?

Kezelis: I once had an associate who worked with me who saw some of my artwork up in my office and said, “I went into law because I hate creativity. I just want the black and white. I want the law, I want the statutes. And then I apply the law to the facts.” I thought that was such a sad statement. I think law is creative and just as I apply creativity in my artwork, I think there’s a similar mindset of finding a new answer, creating something new, doing something unique, looking for a twist or a hook that gets you a better answer. I find that the same mental attitude about creativity applies to law just as it does art.

For example, right now I’m working on a project that coincides with the laws (that changed) in Illinois Jan. 1. I qualify for medical marijuana and I’m working on legislation to see if we can pass similar dramshop legislation that you have for alcohol, bars and taverns, but I call it “gramshop” legislation for the recreational providers of marijuana and marijuana products.

So, if someone is injured, there is coverage. There is some recourse for the third party who might be hurt by someone who’s too stoned. It protects the providers, protects the public, would serve as a profit center for insurers and be a comfort zone for retail establishments.

The people who might be injured or experience damage by someone who imbibed on marijuana will have some recourse as well.

I think that’s a net good for everyone. And that’s the type of creative thing I like about law: No one’s doing it. No one’s talked about it. It’s my idea and I’m pushing it forward and it’s getting some pretty good reception. I’m applying the same techniques I would with art: looking at a different point of view, finding a new angle, putting yourself in the other person’s position and seeing what works and what to anticipate.

CL: What are you working on next?

Kezelis: My wife suggested I try something using black art quality paper and then using an oil pastel on top of that. I never thought working with black paper could be so much fun, but the way you can work with color and light … it’s just a wonderful application of the medium. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have this 6-foot origami shrimp in segments at my studio, which is in a separate garage at my house. It’s so heavy and large that I need an assistant to finish welding it. That I plan on doing soon.

CL: How do you divide the time between your art and your practice?

Kezelis: With great abandon! I don’t think there’s another way to put it, because I love to do the right thing for my clients. I love getting a great result. I love taking bizarre cases and coming up with a surprising approach. For example, I had a tree fall on a little girl in a forest, crushing her back and I got a very good result on that from an entity that was involved. The family was ecstatic, let’s put it that way.

If I don’t do art, if I don’t sketch, if I don’t fold origami papers, if I don’t make some small sculpture or wire figure, it feels like my hands are itching and I get edgy and I get restless. I’m just compelled to do work. So every day I’m working on something.