By Simon Arpin Published Dec 27, 2021 at 7:15 AM

This article is in a series by emerging creatives at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) who explore the many forms of art in the Milwaukee area.

Jay Arpin is a Milwaukee-based printmaker who has created art for over 20 years. His works span the printmaking medium, from relief printmaking to etching, with themes of contrast, industrialization, and disarray. He has shown his prints in galleries and art sales all around the country.

Jay Arpin is also my father.

jay arpin artX

All of these artistic achievements were not made until recently. See, my father put a pause on his artistic career for a long time in pursuit of having a family. He stopped making art for a long time so he could support me and my brother and allow us to have futures, too. I wanted to talk to him about this pause, and more importantly, what it has been like being able to continue his artistic dream 20 some years down the line.

My dad went to the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee to pursue printmaking, graduating in 1994.

“I got asthma in college, and back then there weren't a lot of safe methods for printmaking, everything was so toxic. I ended up channeling a lot of my creative energy into music instead. We used to have a gig every weekend so it kept me busy. A few years later we had your brother and then you.”

For my whole life I remember my dad playing the drums in a jazz group (called Clamnation) with his friends. While he only did sketches or drawings occasionally, he had rehearsals and gigs very frequently. I always saw my mom as the artist of the house, as she went between several art-related jobs when I was growing up. A little further into my life my parents began an annual holiday art sale with a few of their friends.

“When you guys were in middle school (your brother was probably in high school) a friend of ours started telling me about all the non-toxic methods for printmaking so I thought it might be a good time to get into it,” says Arpin.

For a few years Arpin made multiple series of prints based on a theme. Many of these would include simple imagery like food or coffee with bold text, all of which sold quite well at the holiday sales.

“I mostly did stuff to sell, and then through that I started making the stuff that I wanted to make and people would still buy it. You remember to think like an artist,” says Arpin. “We also started ‘chain reaction’ around this time, and after the first show it was a way to force myself back into thinking like an artist, putting a lot of content and thought into the art instead of just making something to sell.”

Chain reaction was another artistic venture that my parents started. One artist creates a piece, and another artist would take that piece and react to it with their own art. This was the first time in my life that my parents were putting their art in a gallery setting.

After that, Arpin’s printmaking just started to get rolling again. He has been able to show his art all over the country now, even in the short time since I graduated from high school.

jay arpin artX

“It was just really good timing,” says Arpin. “If the bands had all worked out and kept going, maybe I wouldn’t have started applying to gallery shows and sales, but it was all just timing. Right as you guys were getting older it just made sense.”

My mother had some wisdom on this point to share as well.

“When you have kids you're willing to put everything aside. With life experience and time you have to find that part of you again,” says my mom. “There’s no resentment or anger, you just love your kids so much and know they are more important. As your kids become more independent you get back into it because you can.”

With my brother and me moved out of the house, my dad is able to fully focus on artmaking, and look toward the future of his printmaking practice.

“I still have a lot of ideas in my head and while I do I'm just going to keep making stuff. I’ve been able to build my space for making too, upgrading my printing press and getting everything organized, which is super helpful,” says Arpin. “Social media has been huge, too; Instagram has made me grow as an artist to such a large degree. I’ve sold stuff all over the country because of that. It’s weird, but it's great, allowing you to reach a far wider audience.”

Jay Arpin currently has 12 pieces at the Farwell Gallery in McFarland, Wis. Follow him on Instagram here.