Mary Rossi and Noreen Wojtan, two full-time art teachers from George Washington HS, a Chicago Public School, were chosen to participate in a collaboration with C
Â Â Mary Rossi and Noreen Wojtan, two full-time art teachers from George Washington HS, a Chicago Public School, were chosen to participate in a collaboration with C.A.P.E. Chicago this spring, and I was chosen to be the designated teaching artist in a three month long collaboration involving community outreach and the visual arts. It would be my first ever residency with C.A.P.E. (Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education), an organization Iâve deeply admired for years and was thrilled to finally get an opportunity to work with them. Both teachers had already begun to reach out to not only students from George Washington, but also to the parents of the students, and parents of students in neighboring elementary schools. We presented the following questions to our prospective participants and ourselves: Can the classroom community expand into the neighborhood, and vice versa? How do communities work together to achieve a goal? How do people within communities collaborate with each other? How can a community of young artists create a unified work with limited resources? How are those resources designated?
After about a three week period of recruiting artists through flyers and word of mouth, we finally gathered a core group of about 7 girls and a couple of boys who would be willing to participate in about a dozen sessions. Most of the kids involved had no painting experience at all, so I proposed we consider hard-edged abstraction as a vehicle to get some of our fundamentals down. The kids loved it. Technically, itâs a relatively easy way to get exciting results in a short amount of time. I showed them paintings by Brigitte Riley and Sol LeWitt (and of course some of my own work), and we discussed âlimitationsâ, that is, a self-imposed rule system that we might be able to use in our collaboration. I was searching for a method to operate within where we could all feel united with one common goal, and they bought in. Â After scouting locations in the school, the boyâs entranceway was finally chosen as the spot our collaboration would be installed.
What to do?How do we keep all our members engaged?What would be a common theme the members of this artistic community deem worthy? Are there any contemporary issues that directly effect the teen community?
Since the location is by the âboyâsâ entrance, is there a message the girls would like the boys to see everyday as they enter school? Is this an opportunity for the girls to inform the boys about things that matter to them?How have other artists dealt with messaging?We proceeded to look at the works of Barbara Krueger and Jenny Holzer, to women whose work revolves around the concept of messaging and advertising.
Questions abounded. Why is this becoming limited to âgirls and boysâ? What if you donât identify with either gender, are those kids being left out of the conversation?Do we need to use text like the other artists did?And most importantly, how can this group of unique individuals create an artwork that appears unified and consistent?Can the group propose ideas that can be âvotedâ on? Can they agree to follow a set of rules? Will these rules allow enough freedom to create an interesting work, or will they stifle the community of artists involved?
After a couple of meetings, the students actively voted on the following:-Only triangles are allowed.-There will be no more than 12 but no less than 9 triangles on each panel.-The colors will be the same colors used on the Gay Pride flag, their symbolic gesture of solidarity with the LGBT community within George Washington and the world at large and a replacement for âtextâ, as the colors speak to a universal subject that should be understood regardless of language.
Making progress on our collaborative at George Washington HS, a Chicago Public School, in the Eastside neighborhood, a CAPE Chicago production
Making progress on our collaborative at George Washington HS, a Chicago Public School, in the Eastside neighborhood, a CAPE Chicago production. #capechicago #teachingartist #jamesjankowiak
Untitled for now
Untitled for now. 12"x12", acrylic on wood, 2015.
The Hyde Park Art Center “Art Shop” teens are spending the day organizing their amazing photos into themes for a future presentation
The Hyde Park Art Center “Art Shop” teens are spending the day organizing their amazing photos into themes for a future presentation.
Meanwhile at George Pullman CPS, third graders were challenged to create their own unique shapes using either 5 or 6 lines, then redraw their shapes on this old blackboard with colorful paper tape
Meanwhile at George Pullman CPS, third graders were challenged to create their own unique shapes using either 5 or 6 lines, then redraw their shapes on this old blackboard with colorful paper tape.
Tetrahedron lesson, 4th graders at Namaste Charter, Chicago, IL
Tetrahedron lesson, 4th graders at Namaste Charter, Chicago, IL. Wish I was taught math like this when I was a kid.
My first residency with CAPE is an after school painting program at George Washington HS on the Eastside of Chicago
My first residency with CAPE is an after school painting program at George Washington HS on the Eastside of Chicago. Students and community members meet to propose and design a permanent public artwork in the school. After a few weeks of some fundamentals, prep and planning meetings, the priming of our panels was finished today. Our goal is for the work to be completed by mid June.
Untitled (Red, Black and Yellow) acrylic on wood 12″x12″ 2014
Untitled (Red, Black and Yellow) Â acrylic on wood 12â³x12â³ 2014
Untitled, silkscreen and spraypaint, 11″x 14″, 2014
Untitled, silkscreen and spraypaint, 11â³x 14â³, 2014
Last year I ran a "Family Day" event at the Museum of Contemporary Art
Last year I ran a âFamily Dayâ event at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Kids went nuts with colored masking tape for three straight hours. And yes, we had to remove all the tape off the floor and windows afterwards, a detail I didnât fully process beforehand.
Untitled as of now
Untitled as of now. Acrylic on canvas mounted on wood, 40â³x 40â³, 2015.
Untitled (After Monument) One complete set of 8 hand pulled three color silkscreens, 11″ x 14″, 2014For individual work please contact me at jamesjankowiakstudio@gmail
Untitled (After Monument) One complete set of 8 hand pulled three color silkscreens, 11â³ x 14â³, 2014
For individual work please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Monument” 20’ x 6’ Acrylic on marine board, installed October 21st, 2013 Located on the corner of Division and Marshfield (the “old post office”), Chicago, IL
“Monument” An Orange Walls Mural Project
20’ x 6’ Acrylic on marine board, installed October 21st, 2013
Located on the corner of Division and Marshfield (the “old post office”), Chicago, IL.
Fairfield Academy, a Chicago Public School
Chicagoans see a lot of stories being written about our problems. Even my favorite lefty sources of information seem to delight in reporting the bad news here in Chicago. The right-wing of this country unabashedly point to our children’s suffering to make cheap political points at our civic expense, completely oblivious to their transparent disregard for the children they supposedly care about. They love to call it Obama’s city, even though we’ve had ridiculously high homicide counts all through the Reagan, Clinton and Bush years. They make moronic statements about our strict gun laws not working (even though the majority of the guns on the streets were purchased legally by dirt bags who make illegal transactions with our gang leaders, thank you for not doing a background check at the gun show!)I could go on…
As a lifelong Chicagoan, I’m at an all time high on the frustration meter. I’m tired of all of the negativity, I’m tired of the boorish contingent of people, a lot of them Chicagoans themselves, who do nothing but criticize from their sofas at home, and I especially wish the folks with the “it’s not my problem, I don’t live in that neighborhood” syndrome would just shut up the next time they want to spout some more disingenuous bile about “the good old days”… their nostalgic fantasies of when Chicago “was a safe place to be”. Anyways, I thought it would be nice to highlight some of the more awesome things our kids are working on for a change, so please forgive the rant.
The children who have to navigate and inhabit the neighborhoods where violence is common have constantly been shortchanged an opportunity to speak for themselves. I’ve devoted a large portion of my professional artistic life in these communities, with the belief that local participation in the arts gives under served public school children a chance to be seen and heard in a positive way, to think critically, and to mold a positive blueprint for meaningful social change on their own block. I started teaching about a dozen years ago, and as a white southwest sider, I came with a lot of the racial baggage that accompanies the territory, although I didn’t necessarily know it right away. It’s revealed itself over time, it still does. I’ve not only gotten a chance to work with some fantastic students over the years, I’ve come to recognize my own ingrained shortcomings and realize that I had a lot of room to grow as well. Combined with that and the fact that my teaching life has evolved into an almost daily form of civically minded social practice, I’ve created an extension of my studio practice that allows me to tackle art making in a different manner than my usual way of painting. One of my idols is Tim Rollins and KOS, and he described his experience of teaching and art making with his “Kids of Survival” as him being “the conductor, the kids are the orchestra”. That’s where I try to take my cue from, in every residency I work in.
This is my documentation from a 16 week, 32 visit Urban Gateways residency at Fairfield Academy CPS on 62nd and Fairfield, in the Marquette Park neighborhood. Growing up in the Back of the Yards until I was 16 years old, I lived through and endured many of the destructive consequences of living in a “white flight” neighborhood. My own grandfather, who lived below us at 53rd and Winchester,had to explain to us when I was 11 years old that the landlord of our building had just asked if it would be possible for our whole family to move as soon as possible. My grandfather had to explain that moving at that time would be almost impossible… my grandmother was bed ridden, my own dad was unemployed and gambling all of our money away at the time. Then my grandfather said something I couldn’t wrap my head around: The landlord wanted us to move because he wanted to torch the building. He said because black people were moving on the block, his building would be worth more money from burning it down than trying to salvage or resell it. This was my first lesson in institutionalized racism. Marquette Park though, has historically represented all that was wrong with our city’s general attitude towards integration. Martin Luther King suffered a concussion from a brick thrown by a white mob counter-protesting his “open housing” march there in 1965. The American Nazi Party opened shop in the neighborhood. By the late 1980s though, most of the white people had fled. Whether it be from the economic consequences of racist home insurance policies, or just plain old hatred of people that weren’t white, integration would never be given a fair shake in this neighborhood, along with dozens of other areas on the south side of Chicago.
I never realized just how segregated Chicago really was until I was 19 years old and made my first pilgrimage to my version of Mecca, New York City, in 1989. I’ve always been enamored with NYC, as far back as watching King Kong climb the Empire State as a toddler. As a teenager, graffiti turned me on to street art, so I learned about how these young, interracial groups of kids from the hood were starting to be shown in art galleries around the world. That in turn, turned me on to contemporary art, and the rest is history. But almost all of my artistic heroes hailed from the Big Apple. Hip Hop and graffiti art saved my life, like thousands of others from around the world. Graffiti allowed me to make friends with kids from every neighborhood in my own city, and I freely traveled to any area where I could hang out with the like-minded. One of the problems with Chicago and it’s youth (and many of it’s grown ups) is they never venture out of the neighborhood, so I deliberately chose NYC as our starting ground in this residency.
“THE WORD: HIP HOP CULTURE AND CONTEMPORARY ART IN THE 1980s” was the title of my residency. I had one class each of fifth grade, sixth grade and eighth graders study how the “high” and “low” art worlds connected during that very important decade. A lot of their parents are from the 80s generation, so I didn’t want to go back too far in time, plus I used Hip Hop as my hook. Through a series of power point presentations, we looked at socially conscious artworks by Jon Fekner and photos by Mel Rosenthal. We focused on subway graffiti art by Lee Quinones, who was a pioneer of using meaningful visual metaphors in his work. We had a segment devoted to Jean Michel Basquiat, and we talked about youth and race. Amongst all of the artists we looked at though, I focused most heavily on the collaborations between Sandra Fabara and Jenny Holzer. Fabara is better known as Lady Pink, a legendary subway graffiti writer. I felt it was really important to present a female face on not only art, but on Hip Hop as well. The collaborations between Holzer and Pink occurred during a time when both artists were creating street works with a social purpose.
Lady Pink modeling a Jenny Holzer Tshirt, 1984
The T-shirt idea is based on this collaboration. Two artists from completely different sides of the art world’s spectrum, yet united in their feminism, social concerns and their prolific street/public work. After viewing the above photo, I simply asked the kids if they knew who the perpetrator was, who was it that was “abusing power?”
Several of my students offered up real life stories, particularly my 6th and 8th grade artists. Things you’d expect from that age… Stories of bad teachers, of power struggles at home with parents and siblings, but most alarmingly, lots of stories of unwarranted police searches and other kids of harassment. After viewing several of Holzer’s “Marquee Signs”, I asked how they felt about this one:
The classroom stayed quiet. “Soft” was not a cool word to them. They deconstructed it’s meaning. They turned it inside out. “Is this a message that would do well if it was seen in this neighborhood?” I asked. “I don’t think people would get it at first” but “it might be a good idea to try it”.
Another marquee had the sentence “Savor kindness, because cruelty can always come later”.
Again, silence. Until one of my kids raised his hand and said, “Make you think”.
And that’s what it’s all about.
Big thank you to Karl Kuhn who helped me document this project (and responsible for the pictures without dates imprinted in them). Karl also videotaped a large portion of this residency, a project to be completed on it’s own. I must also thank Fairfield Academy staff, and Urban Gateways, for giving me this opportunity to return to the same school and work with the same kids over a four year span… it really makes a difference.
Art in its Own Terms: Doing What You're Third-best At
Captain Beefheart quit music to paint. Steven Soderbergh has threatened to quit film to make art and Kevin Smith has said that he'd rather do a podcast and make live appearances than movies anymore. I don't know whether Julian Schnabel still paints but I hope he stopped because he's so much…
Get the Led out
Get the Led out.
Tully Monster 3
Tully Monster Â 3.5" x 14" x 2" Â acrylic on panel on wood Â 2012
James Jankowiak @ Firecat Projects Opening reception - September 28th, 2012
James Jankowiak @ Firecat Projects
Opening reception - September 28th, 2012
Gallery will also be open Wednesday, October 3rd for the “Journey to a Cure” Gala from 6:30 - 9pm