It’s true that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. And so, the tinder graphic artist Pete Morelewicz kindled with his printwork has burst into small fires of admiration across the city of Fredericksburg, the most notable being his current exhibit D1G1TS at The Sunken Well Tavern.
It’s only been a year since Morelewicz starting making art professionally. He’s always had a keen interest in art and has worked in artistic fields in the past. But when his wife Christine took a job at the University of Mary Washington, the two moved from Washington, D.C. to Fredericksburg. That transition prompted this 44-year-old “recovering” career graphic designer to take a gamble on the city with his artistic ambition, selling printwork and freelancing design under the name Print Jazz. Since then, word about his work has set off a chain reaction of local interest.
Morelewicz was contacted by The Sunken Well Tavern to prepare the solo show D1G1TS, which he describes as an “abstract graphic design exploration with textures and layers.” The show opened November 9 and features ten screenprints, 15 letterpress mono prints, and nine digital prints that explore the shape of numbers, as well as texture and layering of patterns and techniques. “I’m saying yes to everything, to the adventure,” he said.
He said Fredericksburg has an artistic community that is willing to share tips, support each other, and offer wall and retail space. His greeting cards are sold at LibertyTown Arts Workshop, Agora Downtown Coffee Shop and the Fredericksburg Visitors Center. He’s also worked with Fredericksburg Virginia Main Street on a series of posters featuring local attractions and events. They will be displayed in the downtown parking garage and will rotate seasonally. “There’s this low barrier for entry here,” he said. “And it’s all been helpful. Like most artists, I don’t sell myself well.”
The centerpiece of D1G1TS are the letterpress prints, which Morelewicz makes by inking up antique wood blocks and pressing them to individual pages. Each print is its own exploration of shape and takes form as he visits— and revisits—it to add layers and create balance.
In these pieces, letterpress is used less to create representational forms, and more for the pure shapes and patterns that the characters inherently possess. He starts with a number, for example, and then comes back to it later, adds a pattern, notes where there should be more weight, and waits again to respond to what is on the paper. All of his work results from layering multiple digital and printing techniques including antique wood type, lino cuts, freeform inking, and whatever else is at hand. “There’s a patience and rhythm to working with reality,” he said.
He was previously an art director at the Center for American Progress, a think tank in Washington D.C. There, designing on a computer, anything could be squeezed in or changed to fit. “Working as a full time graphic designer, I couldn’t wait to come home and work in actual physical space with wooden letters,” he said. “There are spacing restrictions, unlike on a computer, and I had to be responsive to the limitations of the press.”
This exhibit is an exploration of numbers born out of that last job. “Teasing out the relationships between data, I’m always looking at numbers,” he said. “But numbers have something to say, too. We are always just talking at them. We heap baggage on numbers and associate them with our everyday lives.”
Morelewicz’s art explores more than just numbers. He went to architecture school before his career in graphic design, so Fredericksburg’s towers, spires, and other historic fabric made him swoon more than a bit. “Coming from D.C.—D.C. doesn’t make anything but red tape —I appreciated the industrious past of Fredericksburg,” he said. “I like industrial architecture and that past is still very present here."
The Purina Tower, a grain elevator constructed in 1919 that still bears the Purina checkerboard pattern, was the first building that stuck out to him. It looms over the surrounding railroad tracks and his neighborhood of Darbytown “in a good way.” He has made, and continues to make, prints featuring Fredericksburg’s historic architecture. One series of prints features the “Buildings of Darbytown.” His series of notecards depicts city landmarks like Kenmore and its Georgian balance, the Rappahannock River bridge’s undulating arches, Mr. Dee’s in all its fast-food glory, and the long-dark former Embrey Power Station lit up once again.
To have Morelewicz describe his process, his pieces are constructed rather than designed, hearkening to his architectural background. “It’s call and response,” he said. “It makes a move. I make a move.” He also described it as an active, balancing of pieces, “like Jenga backwards.”
Saying yes to the adventure can be exhausting, but Morelewicz isn’t planning on slowing down. He’s still open to new venues, people, and inspiration.
“I’m just starting to breathe after making the pieces for this show,” he said. “A week out before the show, I knew I was an artist because I hated all of it and laughed knowing that was wrong. I kept making new pieces. That’s what everyone goes through.”
Having time to reflect about what it means to be an artist, Morelewicz said he finds something beautiful in the making and selling of art. He calls the process of art one of self-love. “It’s not a necessity, not food, not shelter, not clothing,” he said. “People buy art because it brings them joy. The fact that someone is giving themselves the gift of joy—as an artist—feels fucking awesome."
It’s a gift to the artist as well, he said, since he gets to keep working on what brings him joy.
“It’s all this amazing circle of self love,” he said.
D1G1TS is currently on display at The Sunken Well Tavern. The show runs through January 10. Morelewicz has also designed a holiday gift wrap, a sheet of which can be found in the print edition of the December 2017 issue. See more of his work at printjazz.com. Additional wrapping paper can be ordered at spoonflower.com/profiles/printjazz.
Photography by Aaron Spicer