'Twist of fate' gives painting grad space to come into her own as an artist

Contact: Erin Flynn

Rozlin Opolka stands in front of a piece she created for her senior showcase depicting her grandmother.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—No. It's a word that has the power to change the trajectory of someone's life. In Rozlin Opolka's case, it gave her a blank canvas to paint a new vision of her future.

Initially intent on working in theatre, Opolka, who grew up in Fowlerville, Michigan, applied to Western Michigan University's stage management program her senior year of high school. She didn't get in, but instead of getting discouraged, she saw it as an opportunity to pivot and pursue visual arts.

"I think I was really able to come into my own and really change a lot and make some waves in the Frostic School of Art," she says. "So I was really, really happy that twist of fate happened. I think it was meant to be."

Opolka dove headfirst into the visual arts program at WMU, taking advantage of all the creative opportunities she could. In addition to sharpening her skills, the program also gave her the space to cultivate connections with her peers and expand herself creatively.

An art exhibition that includes paintings and sketches hung on gallery walls.

Opolka's senior show, "Button Box," on display in the Richmond Center. View more from the show on her website.

"It impacted me positively to come to a university like WMU because of the community aspect," says Opolka, who worked as a learning community assistant in the Fine Arts House, one of several living learning communities in WMU residence halls tailored to areas of study and interest. "It really impacts your view of the world and your view of art. At the end of the day, whatever you make is from your viewpoint, so you should be expanding your mind and your experiences in order to make more poignant art."

Outside of the art studio, Opolka developed her leadership skills as a LeadCorp intern with the Office of Student Engagement and got involved in United Campus Ministry (UCM), one of more than 350 registered student organizations on campus. Through UCM, she volunteered with the Boys and Girls Club and participated in a racial equity book club.

"It's really been beneficial in both my community development and growth here at WMU," she says.

While Opolka will graduate Saturday, Dec. 19, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts focused on painting, the interdisciplinary nature of her Western education opens the door for a world of opportunities in the art world.

"In the Frostic School of Art, we take a bunch of different studio classes so we can be well-rounded artists, and I think I've been able to actually break out of the role of a painter and define myself as an artist," says Opolka, pointing to her senior showcase, which featured sculptural and conceptual work in addition to painting that she believes made the show more powerful.

Opolka, right, helps carry a painting by Dwayne Lowder in the Richmond Center for Visual Arts.

Many WMU art students sing the praises of the world-class facilities on campus. Among those is the Richmond Center for Visual Arts, where Opolka gained professional experience as a gallery assistant.

"I did all of the work of putting up temporary walls, painting walls and general maintenance, as well as documenting artworks that were donated and interacting with visiting artists who come to the gallery for shows," she says. Opolka also considers her experience with the Kalamazoo Book Art Center—a nonprofit devoted to the creation and teaching of letterpress, printmaking techniques and bookbinding— a uniquely Western opportunity to explore an alternative art form.

"Western has really given me the technical and conceptual skills to become what I want to be as an artist," says Opolka, ready to make the world her canvas. "I've gotten a fantastic base here that I can jump off of and really thrive when I'm out of college and starting to establish myself in the art world."

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.