Patrons can get a glimpse inside the mind of a budding artist with the exhibit “My Inner World” at the North Bergen Free Public Library through Dec. 22. Christopher Walinski, 43, was on hand for the opening on Nov. 22 to talk about the 26 pieces on display.
“It’s a passion,” he said of his drawings, rendered in pen and ink and magic markers in what he calls “explosive colors.” Spanning from 1991 to today, the subjects run the gamut from crude, childish takes on popular culture (Mighty Mouse, Spiderman, John Lennon) to highly detailed and distorted images with a retro-psychedelic feel.
“He was born hearing impaired,” said his mom, Nilda Agront. “He could only hear from one ear. He didn’t speak for a while so he kept all to himself and he started drawing.”
Raising Chris as a single mom since he was three, she explained, “He’s mildly autistic, and this is the gift that he has: he’s a very good artist. I devoted my life to him. Anything for my son.”
She encouraged his artwork, from his earliest days copying comic book characters and creating his own superheroes and wrestlers to his more personal and expressive recent renderings.
“The first thing that grabs your attention is the colors, of course,” said his proud dad, Joe Walinski, at the opening. “But some of the pictures have a psychological dynamic to them and those are the ones I especially like. It’s a wonderful outlet for him.”
Return to art
In recent years Walinski had drifted away from drawing. He was working in Jersey City on a crew picking up litter, but that contract expired in 2010, after which he did a variety of jobs and piece work at Hudson Community Enterprise in Jersey City.
“They work with people with disabilities and train them for jobs,” he explained.
It was his mom that reached out and found Kathy Gvardijan, who got Walinski back into his artwork. “I came in as a creative arts therapist, working on life’s challenges through creativity and making art,” she said. “Each one of these pictures has a story and a topic that we talked about as we were working on it.”
The creative process works in different ways, sometimes beginning with an image copied from an art book or a magazine. “He’s inspired by everything from comic books to other artists. Or National Geographic would spark an idea and he just take an image and just go nuts with it,” said Gvardijan.
Other times, “Whatever comes to his mind, that’s what he puts on paper,” explained his mom. “That’s why it’s called ‘My Inner World.’”
The drawings run the gamut from crude takes on popular culture to distorted, expressive collages of mythological figures, Jersey City street life, and global travel.
That can include collages of comic characters, mythological figures, Jersey City street life, and Walinski’s travels with his dad over the years to places like Egypt, Paris, Mexico, or their recent trip out west.
“What I have been doing lately is looking at a little section of each piece and finding interesting details that I overlooked at first because I was taking in the whole thing, the colors, what first hits you,” said his father. “I started to see all the places that we’ve gone to that made an impression. For example we saw a moose painted on the side of the wall of a building in this little town in Wyoming, and the moose shows up here in a drawing.”
Bringing out emotion
Music is a big part of the creative process for Walinski. “Any kind of music, either R&B or rock or heavy metal, sounds of the ’70s disco,” he said. “The best of the music I grew up with. It brings out the emotion in you, the expression of yourself. If you’re in an excited mood or a calm mood you choose the music to fit that mood.”
Each week when Gvardijan visits they put on music and chat while setting pen to paper. Initially Walinski would begin a drawing one week and pick it up again on her next visit, but then he started to get more inspired.
“He began doing it when I wasn’t there, finishing pieces before the next session,” said Gvardijan. “One of the goals was to have this be a regular thing that occupies his free time.”
With practice came more detail and changes in the subject matter, with whimsical, personal imagery like “My Kingdom” and “Caged Blimp” and “Deep in Thought.”
Mom was the one who approached the library with the idea of hosting an exhibit. “They’re longstanding patrons of the library,” said Library Clerk Tracy Rivera. “We host things from time to time of this nature and it came at a really great time. The artwork is great. He did a beautiful job.”
Walinski’s deeply personal pictures clearly connected with some of the patrons. Four pictures were sold on opening day.
The exhibition runs through Dec. 22 downstairs in the back room of the North Bergen Free Public Library, 8411 Bergenline Ave. For more information call (201) 869-4715 or visit nbpl.org.
Art Schwartz may be reached at email@example.com.