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Life on display: Julian Van Dyke’s ‘A Retrospective’


Hard at work on a new mural for META Collective, a paint-splattered Julian Van Dyke recalls a conversation he had many decades ago — his parents’ reaction when he told them he wanted to be an artist.

“They told me, ‘When you get out of high school, get a job. You’re not going to make it as an artist. But if you really want to, we have no problems with that.’” But decades later, Van Dyke, the Benton Harbor-born, eventual transplant to New York

City and now Lansing-based author, painter and Keys to Creativity president, has made it.

His new exhibit, “A Retrospective,” shows off a loose chronology of his work, which Van Dyke described bluntly.

“It gives me a chance to get the junk out of my studio, house and garage,” he said. “This was done over time. Some stuff I didn’t feel like parting with or selling — it’s just the nature of the beast.”

Van Dyke was approached by META Collective co-founders Greg Zivic and Trisha Wilcox after they became enamored with his work following his participation in META Collective’s debut gallery.

“I said, do you know what you’re asking for?” Van Dyke laughed.

Stepping into the gallery, one immediately notices the visually dominant motif in Van Dyke’s paintings: jazz. Highly animated vignettes of musicians wail on the trumpet, double bass, sax or drum kit. And the focus is noticeably never placed on just a single member. In honor of the synchronicity of jazz music, the groups are presented as a proudly cohesive unit.

“I’m a big lover of jazz. When you’re listening to music you say to yourself, let’s create something new, something different. It’s your abstract period of time.” Van Dyke explained.

One such painting is “The Further Adventures of Fat Boy and Jive Turkey,” based on a local jazz outfit of the same name. The broad paint strokes and blurred lines between each artist and their instrument make the painting pop with kinetic energy.

Perched in the righthand corner of the same wall is another portrait of a jazz artist. It depicts local virtuoso Michael Dease, an MSU jazz studies associate professor and three-time Grammy Award-winner.

“A Retrospective” also features a selection of art inspired by the Newberry Medal-winning children’s novel “Bud, Not Buddy,” by Michigan author Christopher Paul Curtis. Van Dyke starred in Riverwalk Theatre’s adaptation of the book, which tells the story of a young African-American boy on a road trip across Michigan during the Great Depression, earlier this year.

Van Dyke beamed as he recalled the experience. “I had a few different roles. The first role was a barker called Doug the Thug. I’d come in and announce the band, Herman E. Callaway and the Dusky Devastators of the Depression,” Van Dyke said. “It was really fun. People are like, “Why don’t you do more productions? Well, I don’t have time.”

Van Dyke’s “Road Out of Owosso” depicts a gripping scene from the book. The titular Bud is hitchhiking outside of Owosso, which, during the time of the novel, was a sundown town — cities where African-Americans were met with emphasized aggression.

Thankfully, the young and naive Bud is picked up by an African-American baseball player named Lefty Lewis before nightfall.

Van Dyke has always loved creating his own interpretations of literature.

“When teachers, or your parents start reading to you, without pictures — you imagine your own images,” Van Dyke said. “I would draw on paper what I thought the author was writing and what the teacher was reading.”

And then there’s Van Dyke’s Christian inspired pieces, such as “The Announcement of the King.”

“There’s always been biblical stories painted by well-known artists — their take, and I’m no different,” Van Dyke said.

On his visual stylistic influences, Van Dyke mentions Romare Bearden, Picasso and Van Gogh.

“Being a student of art, you’re going to look at their art. When I was in New York I saw Monet’s ‘Water Lilies.’ For me it was bad, because I started imitating,” Van Dyke. “But I think it’s very good to see how artists before you came about.”

And, finally, it’s impossible to discuss Van Dyke’s work without mentioning his inspired murals. He’s got several gracing the outer walls of Lansing businesses. Even if you don’t immediately recognize his work, if you’re a Lansing resident — you’ve undoubtedly come across a Van Dyke piece.

“A Retrospective" has two prominent landscapes. On one end of the gallery is “Old Town Jazz Fest,” which depicts the 2010 Lansing Jazz Fest. On the other is “Blossomtime Parade,” a 1998 visualization of a parade in Van Dyke’s native Benton Harbor. “Blossomtime Parade” is an earlier look into the evolution of Van Dyke’s style — this piece in particular harkening to an aesthetic akin to the ‘20s Harlem Renassaince.

“At this point, I’m getting the balance of what I’ve been doing all these years. You just keep pushing your craft, hoping people will like it and invest in your stuff,” Van Dyke said.

“A Retrospective” will run through the entirety of August.

“If we’re not open, give me a call and I’ll come open the doors,” Van Dyke said.

“A Retrospective,” by Julian Van Dyke Visitations available by appointment META Collective Art Gallery 718 E. Grand River Ave., Lansing www.vandykeart.com (517) 393-5632


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