Car culture

Via Unsplash.

Jake Wilson, who graduates this December with a BFA in graphic design, made prints of abandoned homes in St. Louis and an extinct butterfly species to highlight the harmful impacts of suburban sprawl.

Wilson said he took inspiration from infrastructure of suburbs from the past, such as areas of north St. Louis and East St. Louis, which both have very similar infrastructure to places like Edwardsville.

“What I’m really trying to do is prove a point, that the style of development or the style of infrastructure that we’re implementing has both devastating consequences on individuals and the environment,” Wilson said.

One portion of Wilson’s work is prints of an extinct butterfly species to demonstrate the environmental impact of suburban infrastructure, while the other is prints of three homes made from photos of north St. Louis.

“I combined that with architecture of more modern suburbs, bringing those together. In my opinion, [bringing] the thought that suburbs of the past prove it’s a potential future for our modern suburbs,” Wilson said.

Wilson said initially in his research, he looked at his immediate surroundings, but realized the topic is larger because there are suburbs everywhere.

“With sprawling [and] new developments where we’re knocking out large lots of diverse plant [and] animal species and we’re replacing it with monocropping, you see a lot of grass and not a lot of diversity there, so lack of diversity isn’t good,” Wilson said. “And it just has a chain reaction from then on.”

Wilson said like most suburbs, Edwardsville is built with the car in mind and doesn’t have great public transportation, which makes car pollution a big concern. He said traveling to walkable cities with better infrastructure, such as Amsterdam, inspired his work.

“Seeing that and then seeing St. Louis, of places I’m really familiar with, I started to notice the abandonment, like especially everything north of Delmar Street. It’s almost totally abandoned, right?” Wilson said. “So having that perspective of seeing a city that’s high functioning in terms of infrastructure and then having that knowledge coming back and then that just opened my eyes to, ‘Why are we living this way?’ And that there also is this alternative.”

Wilson said he hopes his work can prove that there is a problem.

“I try not to offer any solutions, at least at this point in my work,” Wilson said. “I think to start, we need to realize that there is a problem.”

Ryan Horvath, printmaking instructor, said Wilson has taken printmaking with him every semester since Spring 2020. Horvath said Wilson is passionate, dedicated, curious and really strives to articulate his content clearly.

“Jake came in with a very strong kind of formal sensibility. His technical skills obviously improved as you’d expect through intensive study, but probably the biggest area of growth for him is just the depth and complexity of the contents of his artwork,” Horvath said.

Horvath said Wilson has found a voice in the media he’s chosen.

“He’s found a way to really combine his passion of graphic design and printmaking in what I think is a very unique way. I’m really fascinated by the rich textures that he’s able to create in his prints and just how dynamic and engaging his compositions are,” Horvath said.

Horvath said he and Wilson talked about how Edwardsville’s setup encourages car culture. He said for example, Edwardsville has a great bike trail system, but that it is recreational and doesn’t support a ride to the grocery store.

“I think that he noticed some of the kind of lack of infrastructure in north St. Louis, of how detrimental that can be for everything, but even particularly low income individuals trying to access things like food and health care, getting to and from work,” Horvath said.

Laura Strand, a professor in the art and design department who teaches the textiles arts program, had Wilson in a beginning textiles class and a book arts class. Strand said the first project he made in her class focused on a road from Edwardsville to St. Louis. According to Strand, Wilson made several books focused on different places across the river. She said he went to north St. Louis and photographed abandoned brick buildings that spoke about the loss of life in those neighborhoods.

“He’s coming into a place where he’s really able to speak about all of the problems of our economic system and how it’s detrimental to very, very many people,” Strand said.

Strand said Wilson is always asking if he can push an idea further, not to be competitive or obnoxious, but because he’s always looking for more from himself as an artist.

“He wants to be making work that discusses, that plays, that has interest that is deeply embedded in the human condition. He’s interested in social justice. He wants to talk about people,” Strand said. “He wants his artwork to be directly linked into a social dialogue.”

Wilson’s post-graduation plan is to attend graduate school, although he’s not sure where he’ll go yet.

“Currently I just want to keep working. I just want to keep producing prints, keep spreading awareness,” Wilson said. “I don’t plan to deviate from this subject matter anytime soon.”

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