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An imagination as wide as the universe


Cooper Jank now revealing his remarkable artistic skill to the world

by: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTOS: VERN UYETAKE - Cooper Jank is going into the greeting card business. He thinks it will be a great way to introduce his art to people in Lake Oswego. The cards can be purchased at New Seasons Market.

“Endlessly creative” would be a good phrase to describe Cooper Jank.

The 22-year-old Lake Oswego man seems to create a new world every day of characters, places, colors, faces. In fact, Jank is so busy drawing that he doesn’t have much time for words. But his work is very eloquent.

His influences are immense. Jank is a fanatical fan of the great classical comedy teams like the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello and Three Stooges. Most remarkable, he owns all 31 movies made by the Bowery Boys. That is an awful lot of Satch and Slip.

Into Jank’s mix you can throw Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters, immortal children’s stories such as “The Wizard of Oz” and just about everything he experiences in life.

“He takes these characters, switches their body parts and shifts them around into different stories,” said his mother, Maggie Jank.

Having the Three Stooges show up in the Land of Oz is fun work. Yet what makes Jank such a unique and entertaining artist is that the characters and stories are strictly his own. Experiencing his work for the first time can be an electric experience.

One of the first things you notice about Jank’s art is that he has sheet after sheet showing tiny faces. You wonder how in the world he could have printed out such a collection of hundreds and hundreds of characters.

Yet the answer is simple. He drew them himself.

“Cooper has the unique ability to draw small with a ton of detail,” Maggie Jank said. “It is not uncommon for him to fill an entire grid sheet with his characters. His fine motor is so well tuned.”

What you see in Cooper Jank is not just a gifted, special man, but the end result of a person nurtured by friends, teachers, his employer, and especially his family (including father, Bob, and sister, McKenzie). Jank has autism, but because of his support system he has been able to overcome the obstacles that have faced him and put his gifts to work.

Jank was just 4 years old when he became interested in art, although he was not yet ready to take the plunge of becoming an artist himself.

“When Cooper started he told me he wanted me to draw for him,” Maggie Jank said. “One day he told me, ‘No, not like that!’ and he grabbed the pencil from me. He hasn’t stopped drawing since.”

Today, Jank always travels with an accordion file full of colored pencils, and he goes through hundreds of pencils a year. He would see something on TV and, as his mother said, “turn it into something bigger, better and different.”

“He does all of his own stuff,” Maggie Jank said. “He didn’t like art classes because he wanted to do his own ideas not their ideas. He would say, ‘It’s my art, not your art.’ He gets lost in his art, that’s for sure.”

Here is only a tiny sampling of characters in Jank’s world: a Scottish flying rocking horse, a ragged mammoth, a pied piper with a mouth like a flute, a centaur with a deer’s body and horns, a gang of characters he calls the “Mupples.”

Maggie Jank said many people should take a bow for what Cooper is today, not just as an artist but as an everyday productive person.

“The latest statistics show that only 12 percent of adults with autism are employed,” Maggie Jank said. “Cooper is one of that 12 percent, but it took a village to get him there.”

A turning point in Jank’s life came when he attended the Lake Oswego Transition Program and was given the assignment of drawing flowers on cards and bringing them for the annual garden party at Lake Oswego High School.

These cards were so delightful that New Seasons, Jank’s employer, has set up a whole section for his cards at the Mountain Park store. The cards were launched in August, and it is a nice way for Jank to make some extra money. He also donates 10 percent of his proceeds to autism research.

This is only the beginning. More and more people are asking Jank to draw them a picture, which he can do with such amazing speed, even when he goes to a restaurant. He can simply sit down and draw a cartoon of Moe, Larry and Curly. Out of Curly’s mouth comes a word balloon that says “Nyuk, Nyuk.” Next on Jank’s artistic agenda are a line of Christmas cards, which will include a Christmas cactus.

“All he wants to do is share his art,” Maggie Jank said.