Friday, August 7, 2009

a worthy colleague

Past Go is a four-color lithograph, from stone, by Jacob Van Wyk (size: 22 in. x 29 in.). This print, from 1983, suggests a landscape (and black-top strip) that’s paradoxically presented in portrait format. It’s an important piece featured in a Van Wyk retrospective show at Dordt.

My colleague, Jake Van Wyk, who has been teaching at Dordt College for nearly twenty-years, has organized an impressive thirty-five-year retrospective exhibition. The show is on display at the Dordt Campus Center Art Gallery, and will continue until mid September. The show comprises a wide range of work—from drawings and prints to ceramics, as well as documenting the process of commissions. Van Wyk’s body of work is amazingly diverse with pieces that are representational, figurative, expressionistic, and abstract. With such a wide range it’s truly remarkable that each piece conveys a mastery of medium and technique especially evident in the multi-colored lithographs, printed from stone.

One similarity Jake and I have is we both have gone through the MFA program at Western Michigan University. As Jake was graduating from the program, I was just entering and actually moved into his old studio space on campus. We both studied under Mr. Curtis Rhodes, arguably one of the best multi-colored print lithographers in North America.

Artistically, Van Wyk explores traditional tools but he sees them in a new light, which presents exciting possibilities. According to a photocopied page (source unknown), that Jake gave me year's ago, entitled “Exploration of the Tool,” the author states, “tools may be considered more basically—not as ‘drawing’ or ‘painting’ tools, but as tools that make a mark of some kind when combined with some material.” This statement may be the essence for many of Jake’s pieces. He is very interested in action work, that is, as the piece continues to say, “the position of the hand, arm, or body, and how they are moved; the position of the tool and the portion of it that is grasped or used and the position of the material in relation to the tool enter into the exploration.”

I have great appreciation for Jake’s abstract work and one of my favorites in the show, a magnum opus, is his ambitious four-color lithograph titled “Past Go” from 1983. Jake works the space by dividing the layout with improvisational “marks” in gestured patterns, textures, and syncopated rhythms. With this work he emphasizes changes in direction through the marks, shapes, layering of subtle color, and slight fragmentation. Each mark, each stroke, of the lithographic crayon or the incredible richness of reticulated tusche made by a wide brush is expressively independent, autonomous, and yet coherent. This is a strangely beautiful piece that perhaps is best described the way Mikhail Baryshnikov described Merce Cunningham’s dance performances—as a “kind of organized chaos.”

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