Amanda Gregornik is one of the most humble people I’ve ever met. Half-hidden by her side swept bangs, her smile lights up the room. She’s a 24-year-old teacher in her third year at Barrington Christian Academy, and much to her bewilderment, she has been “discovered” by her colleagues.
Gregornik is a closet artist. Painting has always been one of her passions, along with photography, but unlike most millennials, she doesn’t post her work on every platform of social media she can. In fact, she had never even thought to take pictures of her paintings until a friend asked Gregornik to paint a piece of artwork for his new house. “I didn’t even know he knew I painted,” Gregornik confessed. After Gregornik completed the commission, she sent her friend a photo of the piece to gain final approval, and it was only for this reason that Gregornik happened to have a photo of her artwork on the day of BCA’s Spring Artshow.
That was the day Sandy Townsend, art department chair at BCA, discovered Gregornik’s ability. “I was just blown away,” she said. Gregornik’s artwork reminded her of the Swiss-German painter Paul Klee, whose painting happened to be on display as the school’s featured Artist of the Month. “The timing was very extraordinary,” she noted. Both Klee and Gregornik are abstract artists, using colorful, geometric shapes that have a touch of the whimsical, but what stood out to Townsend was the depth of Gregornik’s pieces. “She invites the viewer into her work on so many levels,” Townsend explained. “Initially there’s a abstract grid, geometric shapes in beautiful color palates, but underneath that you can find hidden objects and animals. Amanda really invites viewers to travel into her pieces to see the next layer.”
It’s true that Gregornik incorporates hidden objects and meaning specific to the person who inspired the piece into each painting. As a lover of old-fashioned letter writing—another of Gregornik’s hobbies—she describes her artwork as “writing a letter to someone without words; painting a letter to them.” Each of her pieces is entitled, “Dear ______,” and she really tries to get a sense of each person for whom she paints; if she doesn’t know him or her already, she interviews them, asking about their favorite things, their favorite places, what inspires them. “If they happen to like a certain type of music, I’ll paint while listening to that music,” she says. Each piece is personalized, not only in execution, but in emotion, and that’s what’s so alluring about her work.
With so much talent and an obvious passion for art, I was surprised to learn that Gregornik wasn’t an art major in college. “I was one class short of an art major,” she said, “but that wasn’t my intention. I was just squeezing in art classes whenever I could.” Gregornik graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois with a degree in education, secretly hoping to one day be an art teacher. “But it wasn’t something I felt capable of,” she admits. In fact, she was not hired at BCA to teach art; she began as, and still works as, an ELL teacher, among her other classes. It was Townsend who first suggested to the head of the school that Gregornik might be a good fit for the open mixed media position.
“She has an artful style of living—her persona is artful,” Townsend said, thinking back to her initial observations of Gregornik. Both Townsend and I also distinctly remember the first moment we saw Gregornik’s cell phone case: a vividly realistic-looking watercolor paint set—so realistic, in fact, that restaurant waiters have asked her to remove her cell phone from the table thinking she had real paint. The phone case suits her perfectly.
Much like her layered artwork, of which Townsend said, “the more you look, the more you see,” there is more to Gregornik’s story than seen at the surface. Despite her joyful exterior, Gregornik has faced many difficulties. As a senior in high school, she was given six months to live. Diagnosed at twelve years old with lupus, it became particularly severe when she was 17 years old. “I felt like a human zombie,” she said, “but I still wanted to get good grades.” In between chemotherapy she was taking AP classes, determined to keep up with the class. One of her best therapies, however, was art. Although she wasn’t able to take art in school, she worked on paintings to donate for charity while in the hospital. Without explanation, she miraculously recovered, although she still lives with symptoms of lupus. Her drive, however, is still just as strong today as it was then.
Barrington Christian Academy is excited to celebrate Amanda Gregornik with her first art show. It will be held on October 29th from 6-8 PM at BCA, located at 9 Old County Road. The show will be open to the public with over a dozen paintings on display, and refreshments will be served. “If I could, I would have people pay me in ice cream,” Gregornik says with a smile (one more reason why I want to be her best friend). She’s looking forward to the event, not because her talent is finally being acknowledged, but because to her “It’s kind of like a party—a community of people excited about art and creativity coming together to talk and have fellowship.” Come join the conversation and celebrate this beautifully spirited young artist.
Gregornik’s work can be viewed at www.cargocollective.com/amandajo
by Jennifer Currier