Personal History Imbues Graphic Artist’s Efforts

David Kasparek is an associate professor of graphic design at Messiah College.

But academe is not his foundation.

The 42-year-old Harrisburg man spent his formative years as a graphic designer for five different firms, the last of which was Graphik Communication of Alexandria, Va. This history explains, in part – or perhaps in total – the work that he is currently producing.

Two of his latest forays have been in the serigraphic medium.

“The silk-screen process is a bridge between graphic design and fine art,” he says. “Unlike technology-generated images, it produces an artifact, something that you can touch, feel, hold in your hand.”

In March of this year, Kasparek participated in an exhibition of Messiah art instructors at Mechanicsburg’s Metropolis Gallery in which samples from his Transitions series were on display. They are assemblages of discarded wood pieces onto which screen images are printed.

“I obtain the pieces from the wood scrap box in the sculpture studio at Messiah,” he says. “Most are birch plywood. When forming the assemblage, I try to use the pieces as they exist, but occasionally it is necessary to cut them to strengthen the overall composition. Contrary to most of my work, which is well-planned, the assemblages are created in a more intuitive fashion.”

The compositions are formed by gluing and clamping together the pieces, and then Kasparek applies a clear varnish to the surface that resembles the finish on skateboards. It is no accident. During his youth in Greensburg, Pa., he was immersed in the skateboarding culture.

“It’s what I did, the community with which I identified,” he says.

Some of the imagery from that subculture is featured in his work.

Why the assemblage process?

“This work explores the fragmentation and reconstitution of various images, visual styles and motifs from a period of my life, about 1981, when I was 11 years old,” he says. “It can function as a metaphor for how memory, identity, cultural engagement and tastes are constructed and informed.”

Another venture influenced by the artist’s past is Wordscapes of Western Pennsylvania. The series of approximately 60 screen prints was created in collaboration with the staff at Artist Image Resource (A.I.R.) of Pittsburgh.

“Having grown up in the Pittsburgh area, I have always been fascinated by the way people in the region, including myself, speak,” says Kasparek. “The goal of the work is to visualize this unique way of speaking and, in addition, to explore and synthesize the typographic landscape of the region.”

He adds that the book Pittsburghese by Sam McCool was a major source for the project.

The prints are not unlike the assemblages of the Transitions series, with multiple elements intermingled and overlapping. In several, the familiar outlines of Allegheny and Westmoreland Counties are juxtaposed with words that any native of the region would instantly recognize: Pennsivania (Pennsylvania), Stillers (Steelers), yunz (you people), pop (soda), dahntahn (downtown), Arn City (Iron City) and Ahia (Ohio).

In his artist statement, Kasparek declares, “For me, meaningful work is most often achieved when I situate my creative process between seemingly opposite ‘categories’ such as…simplicity and complexity, structure and chaos, style and substance, functional and decorative, serious and playful.”

The Wordscapes series successfully illustrates those criteria.

Kasparek earned a bachelor’s degree in graphic arts at Greensburg’s Seton Hill College and was awarded a master’s in graphic design from North Carolina State University. His work has appeared in national and international publications. He has exhibited at a number of venues, including Seton Hill University, Franklin and Marshall College and Biola University of California.