Governors State University (GSU) lecturer and mixed media artist Gretchen Jankowski likes audiences to engage with her work and becomes animated when she sees students relaxing in a remote corner of the E Building on campus.
There, outside the art studio, the vision of Jankowski and her fellow art faculty has materialized in bright, colorful sofas and chairs, oversized art books, and student masterpieces that beckon visitors to enter, relax, and reflect.
“We wanted to create a student lounge, to make this area into an art space where people feel welcome to come check out. The lounge has an energy that makes me happy,’’ said the instructor whose passion is processes (“I’m a process junkie,” she says) and “pushing ink into paper.”
The daughter of an architect and graphic artist-turned-educator, Jankowski struggled to find her own career calling—first choosing social work, then English literature, and some time tending bar. Following a “painful” stint in a law office, Jankowski enrolled in classes at Columbia College.
She graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and then went on to California State University where she earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in 2010.
In 2011, Jankowski returned to Chicago to reconnect with family and began teaching in the art program in the GSU College of Arts and Sciences. Today, Jankowski carries a full load of undergraduate and graduate classes that covers the spectrum from Art Appreciation to Advanced Printmaking, and she revels in her students’ abilities at all levels.
Jankowski sees the artist in every student—even those who say they are not are naturally inclined. “You can learn art no matter what. If you can put a pencil in your hand, you can do it. If you can't put a pencil in your hand, maybe use your foot.”
GSU Newsroom: What is the overall philosophy behind the art program at GSU?
Jankowski: The faculty here have been proactive about being involved with students, rewriting curriculum, and thinking about the program in a broader sense. The result is a really good program. We offer ceramics, printmaking, sculpture, painting, photography, mixed media, stained glass, and more. In the art lab, we have three presses—two etching presses and one for lithography. We use these for the four processes: relief, intaglio, screen printing, and lithography.
It’s impressive when you consider not all institutions offer programs likes ceramics and printmaking. Running a studio is expensive, but if you are going to have a fine art program, the basic foundations are important for students to understand.
GSU Newsroom: What is printmaking and why do you call it “archaic”?
Jankowski: Printmaking is essentially how to push ink into paper, and there are several ways to do it. The most common technique is screen-printing, where ink is pressed through a mesh screen that’s been applied to a stencil. This is the technique used on t-shirts.
We focus on posters here. That’s a little more fine art versus industrial art. A lot of processes I teach are artistic ways of transferring an image as a repeatable matrix, such as etching and relief.
Printmaking is one of the most ancient forms of making art. In early western culture, printmaking originally came about as a means of communication, allowing for mass production of propaganda, having mostly to do with biblical or political material. In the early 1500s, it became more artistic with Albrecht Dürer and later Rembrandt. But to paint a painting took several months, while in that same timeframe you can get 20 to 700 prints depending on the process. So those copies—or editions—sell cheaper than a painting, but you can sell multiples.
GSU Newsroom: If printmaking is archaic, is it relevant?
Jankowski: I tell my students to do what they love, and we have some very talented artists here. But when it comes to art in general, jobs are hard to come by, and making it as an artist takes a lot of hard work and perseverance—but is not impossible. I’ve been encouraged by several articles that I have recently read that show a trend in which employers are hiring artists because they know artists are problem solvers. We figure out problems. And, artists are accustomed to putting in long hours. That’s a desirable quality no matter what the job is.
GSU Newsroom: How would you describe your art, and what do you want your audience to get from your work?
Jankowski: In my artist statement, I say, "I want viewers to stroke and even sit on the work, to experience it ﬁrsthand, to leave their imprints," and I do. I like the idea of my work being played with. I did a living room installation with pressure sensors that direct people to interact with it. We’ve been trained not to touch things in an art gallery, but I want you to experience my work.