She spends her days teaching art to elementary and high school students. But when Weehawken resident Janet Tsakis leaves the classroom, it’s time for her creative juices to flow, using her talent to create drawings, paintings, embroideries, and other pieces that reflect the world as she sees it.
“I have painted a lot of figures and portraits over the years, but now I am more interested in metaphor and the human condition,” said Tsakis. “These works are designed to be less literal and to tell more of a story or bring out someone’s personality.”
Her dedication to her craft has earned her a place in numerous exhibitions as well as awards, but none so prestigious as her induction into The National Association of Women Artists, Inc. in New York City, the oldest women’s fine art organization in the country.
The ceremony took place in November at the Rubin Museum of Art in Manhattan as the organization juried 83 new members, whose work became part of an exhibition at the N.A.W.A. Gallery at 80 Fifth Ave.
“So many great female artists have come through this organization.”— Janet Tsakis
“We jury new members twice a year in March and September,” said Susan Hammond, executive director of The National Association of Women Artists, Inc. “Only about one third of the applicants are accepted. Janet applied in January and the fact that she got in on her first try is pretty remarkable.”
She added, “I am looking forward to getting to know her better as she participates in our many exhibitions around the country.”
The public education of an artist
“We came from humble beginnings,” said Tsakis’ sister, Peggy Blum. “The fact that she has been able to crawl up the ladder on her own and get where she is today is amazing. It was very emotional for me to see her on stage at the Rubin Museum being recognized for her works.”
“I still have many of Janet’s nudes and self portraits,” said photographer James Putnam, a longtime friend of Tsakis and Blum. “I especially enjoy the self portraits that she has done of herself and the way she is able to express her many personalities and twisted sense of humor, which fits perfectly with mine. I am not surprised at her induction into the association. She is very dedicated to what she does and puts herself out there. I am very happy for all that she has accomplished.”
Born in New Brunswick, Tsakis and her sister moved around several times during their childhood, living in Edison, Lake George, N.Y., and eventually Perth Amboy. It was during her years at Perth Amboy High School that Blum said her sister first showed promise as an artist.
“She did an abstract of Marilyn Monroe which I still have and got an A on it,” said Blum, who serves as fashion director at The Art Institute of Austin in Texas. “Ever since then her career has taken off. What I think is unique about my sister is her ability to use so many different media. One minute she is creating the most amazing pastels; the next she is crocheting a new scarf or hat. She is a real renaissance woman who is never afraid to take risks.”
Tsakis attended Rutgers University, where she received her bachelor of arts in visual arts, later securing a master’s degree in arts education from Kean University. She moved to Weehawken with her husband, Chris, in 2007, and currently teaches art at Wyoming Elementary in Millburn, and at Millburn High School.
“It’s interesting teaching older and younger students at the same time,” said Tsakis. “It gives you a complete picture of the process.”
While teaching is far from an easy profession, Tsakis said she has always made time for her art. “I work in the evening and on weekends and I also make it a point to take classes,” she said, “which helps me with both my art and as a teacher since I can see what it feels like to be on the other side.”
Many exhibits and awards
Most recently her work has been featured in the New Members and Small Works exhibits at The National Association of Women Artists Gallery, the BIG small Painting Show at the Drawing Rooms in Jersey City, the Monmouth Musuem’s 34th Annual Juried Exhibit, and Proteus Gowanus’ “Yes or No? Project” in Brooklyn, New York.
Tsakis has received the Leila Gardin Sawyer Memorial Award from The American Artists Professional League in New York, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation Full Fellowship Award from the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation Fellowship from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. She is a member of Pro Arts, The Monmouth Museum, and the Surface Design Association.
Looking back on some of her work, Tsakis said one of her favorite pieces is a painting that she did of her grandparents. She painted it five years after they passed away.
“The painting of my grandparents captured the magic of what it was like when they were around,” Tsakis said. “It just seemed to flow out of me effortlessly. It was my way of honoring them.”
With her induction into The National Association of Women Artists, Inc. behind her, Tsakis, now 52, is working on another big dream.
“I would love to be represented by a gallery in New York,” said Tsakis. “I will work to make it a reality or die trying.”
For more information about this artist, log on to janettsakis.com.