The Marilyn Citron O’Rourke Gallery at the Benicia Public Library has named master printer Thomas Wojak as their invited artist for 2023. An exhibition titled Road Trip, New Work by Thomas Wojak, will be on display from April 7 through May 18. A public reception is planned on Sunday, April 16, from 3 to 5 pm.
Wojak is owner and founder of The W.O.R.K.S, a screen printing studio located in Vallejo that specializes in limited edition work for local, national, and international artists as well as designers and various regional commercial clients. Wojak’s fine art prints and mixed media artworks have been exhibited extensively locally, nationally, and internationally. He has also been active as an educator and curator.
The exhibition features a series of mixed media screenprints based on photographs taken by Wojak during trips to national parks and monuments with his partner Misty Youmans.
The works incorporate photographs printed in layers or juxtaposed, as well as found motifs and figures. Wojak hand-paints portions of the prints using oils, pastels, or colored pencils. “Each print is a way of recapturing the experience of being there.” Wojak describes the use of figures as a way of inserting himself into the piece. “Sometimes it’s a photo of myself that I incorporate, other times it’s a silhouette of a figure that I have created or found somewhere and used repeatedly. I insert things that are personal to me, and they become symbols that reflect my experience of that place. It’s not a photo album, rather I am reinterpreting the experience as I remember it now.”
Wojak grew up in Memphis, where he was raised Catholic and later entered the Christian Brothers, a Catholic teaching order. “I started drawing at age 19 during my novitiate period, a time of prayer and silence.” He graduated from Christian Brothers College in 1966 with a BA in Philosophy and Theology, and a minor in English and Education. “Later I enrolled at Memphis Academy of Arts to work on an art major on my own time. I was focused on sculpture but learned screen printing as well.” After graduation, he taught high school in Memphis and Lansing, Michigan. He moved to California in 1970, taking a teaching job at Sacred Heart High School in San Francisco.
Wojak founded his printmaking studio on Clay Street in downtown San Francisco in 1972.
“I had a side job working for a commercial screen printer in the Sunset District for the previous two summers. It was extra income to supplement my high school teacher salary, but I learned the ins and outs of the screen printing business. The owner trained me, passing on knowledge he gained working as a printer in the 1930s during the WPA project. I learned a lot there that I would never have learned in school.”
“I opened the business with a partner, Allen Klein. He had the design skills, and I was the printmaker. We rented a huge space and put a sign in the window. A guy from one of the design companies came in to see if we could do promotional posters for the Venetian Room at the Fairmont Hotel. Eventually we were doing all the posters for all the Fairmonts, nationally.”
Wojak bought out his partner in 1978, and eventually narrowed the focus of The W.O.R.K.S to fine art screen printing.
“I’m not in the business of reproducing images as so many other printers are. I’m in the business of creating original prints.” The studio relocated to the historic downtown district of Vallejo in 2002, where he and Youmans created a distinctive live-work space.
Wojak received his MFA degree from California College of Arts and Crafts in 1992, studying with mentor and printmaker Charles Gill. “Charlie asked me to teach following graduation, and that continued for many years. CCAC completely changed my professional trajectory. It opened doors that weren’t open to me before, like connections to other artists and galleries.” Wojak was named Professor Emeritus of Printmedia upon his recent retirement after a 30-year teaching career.
Over the years, Wojak has worked to balance the demands of his business with his teaching and studio work. “I’ve taught all the print processes and I love them all but none so much as screenprinting. Size, the number of colors, what substrate you use…not an issue, it’s an endlessly flexible medium.”