Headline: Van Wijk Graphics
Subhead: Former professor kicks off full-time art career
Used with permission from the Sioux Center News.
By RENEE WIELENGA
“Good artists borrow, great artists steal.”
The one-line quote posted on a balcony’s edge is one of several lining the walls
in Jake Van Wyk’s rural Ireton art studio.
“I keep little statements all over, a little for inspiration and motivation because I
essentially work here on my own,” Van Wyk said. “I start at 5 in the morning and
typically don’t stop running until about 8-8:30 [p.m.]”
Such dedication to planning, production and setting up his art studio the past 16
months led to a recent open house on his 10-acre farm as a way to publicly kick off
Van Wyk’s career as a full-time working artist.
Van Wyk, 64, launched into his full-time artist career under the name “Van Wijk
Graphics” after retiring from teaching art at Dordt College for 23 years. He helped
start the graphic design emphasis in the art program after managing a print shop in
North Carolina for about a decade.
“I’m an admitted workaholic,” Van Wyk said. “Some may say I don’t have a life
because I work but others may say I have a life because I work. I have a lot of
projects, a lot of goals. I love discovering new possibilities. I love to take risks and
let the work in progress speak and establish a dialog. I think good art transcends
itself, and I love being a part of that process.”
Prior to working in the print shop, Van Wyk had quit teaching to start a business
“I went out on my own like I’m doing now but back then I knew nothing about
how to run a business or marketing,” Van Wyk said. “I did it all wrong and sort of
failed, which led me to the printing business.”
His real love, however, is fine art studio instruction and production, especially
ceramics, printmaking and drawing.
“Dordt gave me many opportunities to advance my skills in teaching a wide
range of studio techniques, including extensive research in art theory, design, art
history and art appreciation,” he said.
Van Wyk completed several large art commissions for Dordt, including the large
figure outside the classroom building called “The Gift” in 1995, the plate assembly
in a case he designed in the B.J. Haan Auditorium for the Rev. John Hulst’s
retirement in 1996, and he completed a large tile work in 2014 for the new science
building expansion in collaboration with David Versluis of Dordt’s art department.
Versluis designed an enlarged grid system based on markings from one of Van
Wyk’s clay vessels and Van Wyk made and fired the 300-plus tiles for the project
based on Colossians 1.
“I rarely stayed anywhere for more than five or six years, but I stayed at Dordt
for 23 years because it was always interesting,” he said. “But I realized that while I
had still my wits about me, my skills and I think my work is strong, I wanted to see
how far I could go as a full-time artist.”
His art production covers a range of complicated technical work including
printmaking, which involves transferring images to plates and stones and chemically
processing them with acids and grounds and then printing the images on fine
papers using a press to create etchings and lithographs.
Another specialty is making ceramic vessels and sculpture, which is also very
technical because it requires critical construction, drying and finishing with
homemade chemical glazes in extremely high temperatures in a kiln. Van Wyk has
two kilns at the studio, both rebuilt structures that have been adapted to wood
firing or propane gas with natural gas burners.
Van Wyk also prefers to use a manual camera and develop his own negatives.
“There are chemically safer ways to do everything that I do, like no turpentine
and acid-free ways, but I have found that the quality is not as good,” he said.
“Using old school art techniques may seem like doing things the hard
way, but it just seems to be important to preserve the past to be
more authentic for me.”
He has recently completed 400 teacups for conferences sponsored by Mission
India and communion and baptism clay vessels for Trinity Christian Reformed
Church in Rock Valley.
Van Wyk also travels with a notebook, which he fills with gesture drawings.
“It is the act of sketching a scene quickly that doesn’t focus on the details but
rather trying to capture the essence of the scene,” he said.
Trees and landscapes fill many of Van Wyk’s pages — an interest that stems
from growing up on a dairy farm in Washington.
“Growing up on the farm you’re immersed in the land,” he said. “Nature is all
around; it’s just a visceral experience with the land. You’re immersed in the land,
the soil, its makeup. That was the first motivation I had to do art.”
He didn’t realize how much the love of the land was ingrained in him until he
attended Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., for his undergraduate degree.
“Calvin was an urban setting and too far to go home on the weekend,” Van Wyk
said. “I wanted to be as far away from home as possible, but it didn’t take long to
realize that the farm makeup was part of me and my love for landscape came
through in most of my work. In fact, what I enjoy most about moving to Iowa was
the big sky.”
He’s created several prints that involve the sky/land compression to express
that beauty and complexity of Iowa’s landscape.
“A lot of people work with landscape, but I take you back to that saying, ‘Good
artists borrow, great artists steal,’” he said. “That’s really my favorite because it
means you can own it. As an artist, you learn to take a technique and adapt it to
your own style and make it your own. I’m excited to be doing this full time, and I
hope this is just the beginning of sharing my work with the area, and beyond.”