Sweet Relief

Local art lovers have probably seen Annelies M. Dykgraaf’s woodblock prints around town. The images are hard to miss: Bold hues of red, green, blue, black and yellow depict scenes from the artist’s Nigerian childhood — roosters, children heading to the local market and a mother wearing her infant on her while back mixing food. Armed with a BFA from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., Dykgraaf moved to Jacksonville in 2001, and has since made a name for herself within the local art community. She is current vice president of Jacksonville Consortium for African American Artists (JCAAA) and current president of The Art Center Cooperative Inc. (TAC), as well as a founding member of both organizations. She’s also a board member and visual arts coordinator for the Beaches Fine Arts Series and has shown her work everywhere from The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens to The Haskell Gallery to Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum.

While the artist is accomplished in acrylics and oils, her medium of choice is woodblock prints. Dykgraaf currently has 11 woodcuts on display at Midtown Deli & Cafe and various pieces at The Women’s Center of Jacksonville. She is the featured artist at The Art Center Cooperative Gallery for July. Folio Weekly spoke to Dykgraaf about her colorful heritage and equally vibrant work.

Folio Weekly: You had an interesting childhood — born in Nigeria, West Africa and your parents were teachers and missionaries. How did those experiences affect your art?

Annelies M. Dykgraaf: Yes, I was born in Nigeria — Jos, Plateau State, to be precise. That is where I went to school — first grade through high school — at Hillcrest School. I lived away from my parents in a boarding school while they worked in Benue State. I had about 32 classmates in which 15 different nationalities were represented, and a handful of different religions. My art mainly depicts people, the vast and unique personalities and relationships, and also tells stories of my childhood and the uniting of cultures and races. Often incorporated into my reliefs are drawing motifs from the tradition of wood carvings, textile patterns, Uli motifs and symbols from various West African tribal folk tales and myths.

F.W.: What influenced you to pursue a career in art? Are your parents creative people?

A.M.D.: I have always been drawing and creating since childhood and felt that was an integral part of me and thus a natural progression to pursue and fine-tune. It is what I know and have been gifted with. Both my grandparents on my mom’s side were painters. My mother enjoys making jewelry and makes wonderful wall hangings combining quilting, different cloths and jewelry, and my father enjoys woodturning.

F.W.: You’re most known for your woodblock prints. Could you describe that process?

A.M.D.: I first sketch onto a piece of wood my general idea, then proceed to carve by hand into the wood with various “v” and “u” shaped wood tools. I also use a Dremel tool and will occasionally burn into the wood, as well. After all the cutting has been done, I then roll ink onto the wood and then put a piece of paper on top of the ink and rub the paper until an impression is seen on the paper. I hand-pull all of my prints and keep the editions limited to only five.

F.W.: Why do you incorporate the lizard motif in much of your work?

A.M.D.: Lizards are everywhere in Nigeria — big and colorful. The lizard is often seen tattooed down the middle of the forehead among the Avadi people who live in Niger State. It represents good luck in the forms of a protective spirit, fertility symbol, household tranquility, bounty and wisdom. I have adopted it as my own.

F.W.: Aside from growing up in West Africa, what are some other things that influence and inspire your work?

A.M.D.: Relief printing and wood engraving has been around for centuries in both Europe and the Far East. In Europe, woodcut is the oldest technique used for master prints developing around 1400 A.D. — Albrecht Durer brought woodcuts to the foreground. In the 1860s, Japanese prints influenced some of my favorite artists like Edvard Munch, Paul Gauguin, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Mary Cassatt. In the 20th century, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner of the Die Brücke group developed a process of producing colored woodcut prints using a single block, by applying different colors to the block with a brush à la poupée and then printing (a process halfway between a woodcut and a monotype). I tend to use this technique quite a bit. And current artists I admire include Betty LaDuke and David Driskell.

Kara Pound

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Annelies M. Dykgraaf is the featured artist during First Wednesday ArtWalk on Wed., July 4 from 5-9 p.m. at The Art Center Cooperative Gallery, 31 W. Adams St., Jacksonville. 355-1757. tacjacksonville.org