Jeroen Nelemans claims to be a “late bloomer.”
“Mr. J,” as he is known to the Kansas Wesleyan University community, is in his second full year as an assistant professor of Graphic Design.
Born and raised in the Netherlands, Nelemans was not sure what he wanted to do in life, though he could always sense the creative juices flowing inside him.
“I did a school of journalism in Holland, didn’t like it; I did a school of economics, didn’t like it,” Nelemans said. “Then, all of a sudden, I did a course in photography in Amsterdam and something clicked, something natural came to me, and I became really obsessed with photography.”
The click led him to venture across the Atlantic Ocean in 1999, where he landed in a program in Boston shooting analog photography.
“It was a trade program and not associated with a BFA,” Nelemans said. “I wanted to continue thinking about the image and making imagery, so instead of becoming a photographer, I got my bachelor’s in Miami.”
After earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Florida International University in 2004, he moved north and west to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in 2007. Nelemans would stay in Chicago for another decade-plus, some of it as a part-time instructor, some of it running a gallery, all of it creating.
A visual artist who shoots and presents in a variety of mediums, he has developed his style over the course of two decades.
“The last artwork or art series introduces the next one,” Nelemans said. “There is always a common thread between all the art works from the beginning of 2000 until now. That thread can take different directions and different mediums. I didn’t want to be bound by one medium. Concepts can be explored in different mediums and different ideas.”
“Jeroen brings an international flair to the department,” said Lori Wright, chair of the Department of Art and Design. “His experiences in art and design are diverse and important for our students to hear about. He has practices in design, installation, video, photography and more that bring new expertise in the department.”
In the classroom, Nelemans is always looking for ways to challenge his students to think outside the box, to create something never seen before.
Some recent examples of this include making exhibit posters for the shows held in The Gallery in Sams Hall of Fine Arts on campus and designing the cover for the academic course calendar. After creating the artwork, students then have to present it to the visiting artist or the person on campus who is responsible for publishing the final project. These projects then become resumé and portfolio builders for those wishing to further their career in the field.
“The stakes are higher because they have to present to someone else,” Nelemans said. “I love to implement these projects where students learn how to present and how to talk to somebody else.”
Having studied with the first version of Photoshop while a student in Boston, Nelemans’ students are many generations ahead in the software program, which allows them to create in ways he never could have imagined 20 years ago.
“I always introduce these programs as a tool for them to use,” Nelemans said. “It’s still their input and creativity that makes the assignment, that adds to the project, that convinces the client. You learn to manipulate the tool to your concepts and ideas.”
Now in his second year in Salina, Nelemans evaluates daily how both he and his students are faring in class.
“I tell myself, every time I have a successful semester (teaching), it is the equivalent of having a solo show in New York,” Nelemans said. “I had incoming students when I came here a year-and-a-half ago — seeing their work right now is amazing and puts a big smile on my face.”
Story by Dan Froehlich