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“Prismatic Vernacular”: the language of color

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James Jankowiak’s art exhibit “Prismatic Vernacular” features a striped wall made with colorful tape.

James Jankowiak’s art exhibit “Prismatic Vernacular” features a striped wall made with colorful tape.

Kristen Wuerl (‘18) | Chips

Kristen Wuerl (‘18) | Chips

James Jankowiak’s art exhibit “Prismatic Vernacular” features a striped wall made with colorful tape.

Kristin Wuerl, Staff Writer

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Chicago artist and educator James Jankowiak wants gallery visitors to feel as alive as his artwork when they step into the Kristin Wigley-Fleming Fine Arts Gallery in the Center for the Arts (CFA) to see his exhibit, “Prismatic Vernacular.”

“The feeling of being alive makes art so valuable,” Jankowiak said. “Everything that you make is kind of a testament to your existence and that you’re alive. Art doesn’t have to be painting or on a canvas. It can just be the way you live your life.”

Jankowiak is an abstract artist who works primarily as a painter but also incorporates tape installations into his gallery shows. In “Prismatic Vernacular,” Jankowiak presents 16 paintings and one multicolored floor-to-ceiling tape installation spanning a curved wall.

Walking into the gallery, visitors first encounter a large painting of black, red, yellow, and blue vertical stripes hanging on the wall. On either side of this painting are smaller, square paintings with silhouettes of a Bundt cake mold, one of Jankowiak’s signatures shapes. The largest piece is the tape installation, a combination of bright yellow, green, pink, blue, red, and orange artist tape.

“I love color and mixing up color,” Jankowiak said. “I’m all about abstraction, and nothing has to look like anything. Abstraction is a distraction from reality.”

Jankowiak used color as an inspiration for the title of his exhibit, “Prismatic Vernacular.”

“Vernacular is a form of speech,” Jankowiak said. “The art is a reflection of the chatter that goes on between an artist who realizes he’s talking to artists from the past and artists of the future at the same time. It really is about a language of color.”

Jankowiak’s language of color spoke to Sai Oo Hseng Ngin (‘20) when he attended the opening event on Feb. 16.

“I love Jankowiak’s art because his use of color is very new to me,” Ngin said. “I’m typically very minimalist, and using black and white colors is my favorite. Seeing Jankowiak’s use of color is really nice, and the use of tape [in his installation] is a brilliant idea.”

Along with creating his own work, Jankowiak is an art educator.

Kristen Wuerl (‘18) | Chips
Ryan Koning (‘19) visits James Jankowiak’s art gallery and observes the vibrant colors and geometric shapes used throughout the exhibit.

Jankowiak visits high schools in the Chicago area to teach art lessons, often with projects that involve class collaboration. This aligns with his goal to make art more accessible to under-resourced students living in his home city of Chicago.

“The most important thing when you’re teaching is to really represent the subject that you are,” Jankowiak said. “The students know I’m there freely teaching something I absolutely love, and that’s when it becomes contagious and when good things start to happen. Some really magical things can happen if you can get young people to collaborate on a project.”

According to Gallery Coordinator David Kamm, Jankowiak has been invited to Luther for the past couple years partly because of his work in schools.

“[Adjunct Faculty in Art] Lea Lovelace (‘97) knows Jankowiak from Chicago, and she was interested in the work he does intersecting with public school students and underserved populations,” Kamm said. “We look for a variety of ways to expand artists’ exhibits. It’s very special when artists can do this.”

Art major Martha Hall (‘18) finds these expanded exhibits and artist visits at Luther valuable resources.

“Anything I’ve learned from visiting artists I’ve been able to apply to my studio practice,” Hall said. “[These artists] give me hope that I can find jobs and make art work outside of Luther. It’s great to apply art in the real world and in a future career.”

To teach Luther students more about his work, Jankowiak held an artist talk on Feb. 15 in the CFA. He spoke about his past as an artist and inspirations for his art. He also showcased past work and special commissions and told personal stories about his work with Chicago schools and after school-programs.

Channeling Jankowiak’s profession as a teacher, art education students at Luther used Jankowiak’s colorful, abstract style as inspiration to teach elementary and middle school students in Decorah. Students enrolled in the course, Elementary Methods for Art Educators, collaborated to write lesson plans and teach contemporary art lessons.

“[The other art students and I] introduced Decorah students to Jankowiak’s work with lines, color, and shapes,” art education student Ryan Koning (‘19) said. “We wanted students to create abstract forms, so we worked with contour line drawings.”

These elementary and middle school artworks are displayed in the Gregerson Gallery in the CFA as a supplement to Jankowiak’s Prismatic Vernacular. Both exhibits will be on display through March 20.

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