Celebrate Life

Wedged between two brick buildings on Forsyth Street is a one-story office space occupied by a law firm and other businesses. I’m buzzed in and directed to a waiting area. Then Annelies Dykgraaf appears. Her creative accomplishments are such that, even in this mundane setting, it’s difficult to see her as anything but an artist. I’m here to talk about her new solo exhibit, Water. Life. Art.

“Yes, 24 hours as an artist first is what I do,” she said. “This is my second job … it supports [me] and puts food on the table.”

Beyond a nine-to-five work week, Dykgraaf perfects and shares her craft. Her main area of expertise is relief printmaking, and she’s clearly passionate about it.

“I used to do only black-and-white,” she began, “because that’s what I started with—and oils—but now I do acrylics … you roll multiple colors; that way, on the block of wood, you never get the same … because you can never [duplicate] exactly how you’ve rolled before.”

Dykgraaf describes the technique à la poupée, which involves layering various inks, usually with a cloth, onto a copperplate. She uses a roller and woodcut or linocut.

Her love for art began in childhood; she learned techniques in her homeland of Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria. Dykgraaf’s parents, doing mission work, enrolled her in a small school where she studied with 32 students from more than a dozen nations.

Dykgraaf eventually went to Michigan and studied art at Calvin College. She stayed in the Midwest until 2001, when a coworker put her in contact with the Beaches Fine Art Series director. She landed a show, packed her things, and moved to the Sunshine State.

Through her prints—reminiscent of her childhood, depicting fish, families, freedom and religion—Dykgraaf has connected with organizations such as Ritz Theatre & LaVilla Museum and Jacksonville Cultural Development Corporation. She met Marsha Hatcher, a local African-American artist, along the way.

“Actually, Marsha had her own gallery,” Dykgraaf recalled. “It was called ‘Brown Sugar,’ across from Reddi-Arts. When I first came [to Jacksonville], I looked for galleries to represent me. She had a gallery, and she was in JCDC.”

The two traveled to Ghana last summer for an art residency, partly funded by The Jacksonville Landing-based Art Center Cooperative (TAC) and local artists. Upon her return, Bill Carter, a Beaches Museum board member, offered to stage a show. With fresh material and inspiration from Ghana, Dykgraaf agreed. She hopes viewers see similarities of Jacksonville and Nigeria in Water. Life. Art The artist explained that both Nigeria and Florida are on the ocean and each has a main waterway—Nigeria’s is the Niger River; we have the St. Johns. Both rivers flow north.

Dykgraaf faced two unexpected—and major—obstacles before she could mount the exhibit: lung cancer and the end of The Landing. She was diagnosed with cancer in the spring and had surgery on April 30. The tumor was removed, along with the lower section of her right lung. She left the hospital a week later, and though she’s still in recovery, she’s cancer-free. She thinks of the show as a celebration.

Amid all this, the city of Jacksonville bought The Landing and announced the waterfront entertainment complex would close. The Art Center Cooperative, which Dykgraaf and other artists formed in 2005, had to find a new home. The nonprofit has relocated several times.

“We’ve been lucky with the [low] rent we paid … and we’re appreciative of all the places we’ve rented, but there was absolutely no place Downtown we could afford,” Dykgraaf explained. “That forced us to look elsewhere.”

What other local landmark would offer competitive rates? Regency Square. A mall representative approached TAC as Landing tenants searched for new sites. The price was right, so they signed a lease, and began to make the space its own. The official grand opening is July 28, two days after Dykgraaf’s exhibit opens at Beaches Museum. Water. Life. Art. features 20 acrylic paintings and relief prints.

“I’ve done four—they’re 30 feet by 40 feet, they’re big pieces—acrylics from photos I took in Ghana,” Dykgraaf said. “I did a linoleum of the Hart Bridge that will be in there … another piece relates to water, life on the water, and the cultures that develop.”