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Aerial View of the Dowagiac Campus

Art Gallery features SMC graduate

Twenty-three two-by-three-foot mixed media works by Southwestern Michigan College alumnus Brian Makowski hang in the Art Gallery of the Dale A. Lyons Building through Jan. 31.
The Art Gallery is open Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., at no cost.

Makowski, from Edwardsburg, teaches art at Delton-Kellogg High School, 20 minutes north of Battle Creek.

At a reception on the Dowagiac campus Jan. 15, he explained the pieces span 2008 (“Ode to Francis Bacon”) to 2014 (“Encoding It”), minus 2010-11, which he burned.
“I didn’t like anything I made,” he said.

From SMC, Makowski earned an art degree at Western Michigan University.

“I want people to be engaged by what they visually see. Then I want them to dig in a little more. These are all united by duality. When we try to process things in our brain, we don’t always do it correctly, quickly or at all. There is a duality in how the body and brain are separated. Everything I’ve learned about art started here at SMC. I spent more than two years, taking every class I could, so when I went on it was easy. SMC was my springboard.”

Having an autistic daughter influences his approach.

“Watching her grow and try to interact with the world is much different than other children,” he said. “That’s driven me to start a lot of this processing. Think of these as that moment when something goes from one nerve to another and doesn’t jump right.”

A series in blue combines his “fixation” with that color and the sensation of falling.

“They have a sense of movement,” Makowski said, “where others are very static. Technically, they are accomplished using house paint and letting it start to dry. I take a big ruler, lay it on the paper and drag it away. There’s a ghost image I go back and fill with oil pastel, colored pencil and gold paint, paying particular attention to blending. Sometimes I come back with that ruler, its edge filled with paint, and beat the paper. There’s writing in some.”

Where he embraced surrealism at SMC, during four years at WMU he delved into realism and figure drawing, “which became my focus for four years. Then I walked away and gave myself freedom. Figures almost always come pre-charged with viewers’ ideas, so it’s hard for me to get my ideas across. Adding abstract meaning became most important to me. I’m lucky when I can finish one of these in a two-week period” influenced by loud music, such as Red Hot Chili Peppers and Led Zeppelin, but no country.

Professor Emeritus David Baker has known Makowski for 27 years, since he first arrived at SMC in 1987.

Baker said, “Brian is an outstanding example of something I’ve been telling people about this place for three decades: People who do well at Southwestern Michigan College do well wherever they go.

“Brian, like many of you, came with pretty good skills out of high school. What distinguished him was he’d also done research and knew about artists and aesthetics and thought about how he might integrate those into his work. He studied art history, design, drawing and ceramics, but he also took four painting classes. I saw him move from another kid in class to an individual relationship where I was sort of his mentor.”

“A number of times he paid me the highest compliment a student can pay his teacher,” Baker said, “which is to come back after you leave and tell me how you’re doing. Many years later at Ox-Bow, the art camp in Saugatuck run by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, a retired elementary art teacher raved about this wonderful department chair they had at Delton-Kellogg. It was Brian. I had another student who got her first teaching job at Delton-Kellogg. Brian mentored her. Brian gave my own daughter (Arianne) some sound advice on transferring. At school, he assumed a strong leadership role as president of their teachers organization. When I needed to research school law, I called Brian. Our roles reversed. He became my mentor.”