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Print Jazz artist Pete Morelewicz riffs on his work

Fredricksburg Today

Pete Morelewicz’s modus operandi is a piece of advice he received from an illustrator years ago: “Between the sketch and the final, you have to leave room for the jazz.”
Today, Morelewicz is one of three artists operating Print Jazz, a studio in LibertyTown which produces many of the posters, logos, and even fonts to be found around Fredericksburg. Some of Print Jazz’s most recognizable works include the “sunny hug” mural at the Fredericksburg Food Co-op, an entire wall in Blue Cow Ice Cream Co., and the design for all of Downtown Greens’ materials.

As their name implies, Morelewicz and his “coworkers” – a pair of lazy cats named Graham and Emerson – embed “leaving room for the jazz” into all of their work. For Morelewicz, this means being willing to change or abandon the concept of a piece if it so demands: “I try not to be too dominated by what my preconception is of what I’ve sketched, so I don’t know where [the piece] is going to go in the end. It’s the most fun [that way].” The cats, for their part, create “the jazz” by contributing their pawprints to his drying pieces.
Morelewicz’s mother prompted his artistic career. She worked as a commercial calligrapher and used to create her designs at the kitchen table in his childhood home; he recalls sitting across from her as a child, working as diligently on his crayon drawings as she did on her work. When he felt she wasn’t paying him as much attention as he deserved, he would hit the table, causing her hand to jerk – “I was a bratty kid,” he says. His most valiant efforts notwithstanding, she refused to quit a “spoiled” piece. “She would always recover and put a little swoop or make it into a little flower. She was ‘the jazz’ – she was showing me the jazz.”
With his mother’s wisdom and encouragement in hand, he pursued a degree in architecture, though not so much out of a passion for architecture itself as because he saw it as a means by which he could reliably get a job whilst still making art of some form. “I really liked the ‘designing things’ more than the ‘building things’ part.” He spent the first two decades of his career working as an art director for various magazines and companies in the D.C. area, commissioning art more often than creating it, and worked several years at a think-tank, for whom he created infographics, maps, and book designs.
It was thanks to his wife’s accepting a job at the University of Mary Washington that Morelewicz moved to Fredericksburg and decided to strike out on his own as a freelance artist in 2016. He set about learning his new home by incorporating it into his art: “There’s this trope about artists being inspired locally and by whatever is closest to them, and that was true.” Many of his projects are directly inspired by his new home: Cellophane Dreams is an imagination of how the Sylvania cellophane plant might have looked in its prime, Darbytown is a study of the landmarks in his neighborhood, and Fauxstage Stamps is a collection of illustrations of Fredericksburg’s best and worst attributes.
Though he hadn’t known of the arts culture in Fredericksburg prior to the move, Morelewicz was pleasantly surprised to find a “super supportive” community in which to start this new chapter. “The artists [here] are giving, welcoming, helpful, supportive… [and] I find that the businesses, the restaurants and bars, are very receptive to having local art. Having patrons like that is as important, I feel, as the fellow artists.”
“Being able to kind of be hugged into that existing atmosphere was great. I would encourage any person who feels like they want to be an artist to come here because, my gosh, it’s super welcoming. Do it here rather than Richmond or D.C.”
Among the most receptive of those local businesses is Sunken Well Tavern, which has hosted several of Morelewicz’s shows over the years and will be featuring yet another show, Calm Chaos, beginning on March 10th. He describes the Calm Chaos collection as containing “a sort of visual freneticism, but a sense of mental calm.” Each piece imbues a fairly mundane scene with awe, using the interplay of light and shadows over various textures to imply the scene beyond the edge of the canvas. “You don’t see the window, you don’t see the blinds,” he says of one piece, “but you see the pattern of the sunlight, so you know that it’s there.” Another piece suggests the presence of a photographer not by showing them but by including a lens flare.
Such details epitomize ‘the jazz’. “It wasn’t in the original picture,” Morelewicz says of the lens flare, “But it’s something I felt like I should try, so I’ll try it. As Bob Ross tells you, it’s your world: you do what you want.”

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