Sunday, April 27, 2003
A lot of people approach Bob Zerwekh's booth at Art in the Park expecting to take a closer look at the artist's photography.
It isn't until they're standing right next to his work that they realize a camera had nothing to do with the images.
Zerwekh's tools are oil paints, brushes and canvases -- and an uncanny knack for rendering collections of objects that look real enough to reach out and grab. Perhaps his roots in science and his natural disposition for the empirically sound are what steer him away from abstraction.
"I messed around with abstract early on but didn't find it satisfying," says Zerwekh, a professor and associate dean of engineering at Kansas University.
That's right, engineering. Zerwekh has three degrees, and not one of them is in art. He graduated from the Missouri School of Mines (now University of Missouri-Rolla), the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and Iowa State University, all with degrees in metallurgy, the science and engineering related to metals and alloys.
Other than a single two-hour course at the Kansas City Art Institute, Zerwekh is entirely self-taught. So how did he get so good at painting snapshots?
"I think it's a matter of just keeping at it, persistence," he says. "Over time, you develop a technique and become somewhat comfortable with it."
Zerwekh's work will be for sale May 4 at the 42nd annual Art in the Park, organized by the Lawrence Art Guild. He will join nearly 100 area and regional artists who sell blown glass, ceramics, jewelry, mosaics, sculpture, textiles, mixed media, photography, and oil, watercolor and acrylic paintings at the event in South Park.
A social event
The day's activities will last from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (an extension of previous years' hours). In case of rain, the event will be held May 11.
Admission is free to Art in the Park, which, in addition to salable art, also includes live music, a children's art tent sponsored by the Lawrence Arts Center, the Balloon Man and a Lawrence Humane Society booth with dogs and cats available for adoption.
Zerwekh's been bringing his work to Art in the Park intermittently since the early 1970s, when he moved to Lawrence from Iowa and "got serious" about painting. He enjoys the social aspects of the event.
"I get to see a lot of people I haven't seen for a while," he says. "I like the atmosphere. I like to go around and see what other folks are doing."
Two years ago, Zerwekh's display was good enough to win best-in-show honors. He'll offer about 15 paintings for sale this year.
Looking at his work, it would seem Zerwekh spends quite awhile meticulously arranging still life settings before ever committing paint to canvas. But in actuality, his paintings usually grow out of an interest in a single object around which he builds an environment using his imagination.
"I usually just kind of dream it up out of my head," he says. "I'll be working from a drawing, but rarely, if ever, will I have it set up."
Most of Zerwekh's time is spent at the KU's Edwards campus in Overland Park, where he heads up the engineering management master's degree program. He also keeps a small office on the main campus in Lawrence.
Between the paperwork involved in an administrative position and his time spent commuting, Zerwekh only finds about 10 hours a week to devote to his artistic avocation. It's then that he retreats to his basement studio.
"It's relaxing, although you may look at that kind of paintings and think, 'How could that be relaxing?'" he says. "It's a nice diversion from my usual university activities."
Zerwekh's work was featured in 1999 at the Lawrence Arts Center in a 60th birthday show. He also has a few pieces at Roy's Gallery, 1410 Kasold Drive. He believes a good painting should say something to the viewer. Often, what he tries to convey in his work is humor.
In his "Friends of Art," a notice from a juried art show notes two works rejected, one accepted. The two rejected are called "Happy Clown" and "Artist's Cat;" accepted is "Sex and Death."
"I like to put a little touch of humor in a lot of them," he says.