Engineering Art

To long-time building services employee John Oilar, the university’s engineering program epitomizes not only advancements in technology but also in artistic expression.

“I’ve worked for four engineering departments, I’ve known a lot of engineers and I’m inspired by what they do. I’m inspired by their positive outlook and work ethic; they work constantly and love it. I draw like an engineer, I go step by step,” he says.

Describing his style as somewhere between German and French Expressionism, Oilar is heavily influenced by renaissance masters Michelangelo and Da Vinci who, he notes, were also engineers. His medium is black and colored permanent ink. The difference between the two comes from the observer’s reaction. “Colored ink is more whimsical and creative; it sort of explodes before the eye and makes people happy when they see it,” Oilar says. “Black ink is about the interplay between light and dark; how they interact with each other. One makes you happy while the other makes you observe and think, color radiates out and black ink draws people in to look at it.”

Oilar’s art career spans over 40 years. As a college student, he studied art in Europe and sketched the rooftops of Florence. He graduated as an honor student with a degree in art from Western New Mexico University. Since 1989 he has had 10 one-man shows in Indianapolis, Crawfordsville and Lafayette. Oilar has been featured in international art magazines and is also a prolific writer with over 500 published articles on various topics. He feels that his career as an artist has been heavily influenced and supported by Purdue.

His artwork can be seen in over half the major buildings on campus. The Purdue Employees Federal Credit Union uses one of his drawings for a check design. Presidents Beering, Jischke and Córdova have each had their portraits drawn by him. His work has been featured in the Exponent and over 250 of his drawings have been donated to fundraisers and support groups. Oilar has designed the covers of Purdue textbooks and the logos of various campus groups like the Campus Safety Committee, of which he is also a member. Physics professor Ephraim Fischbach has lined the wall outside his office with nine of Oilar’s colored prints.

As a staff member, Oilar has spent over 21 years in building services, which he compares to artwork, “It’s like art to the extent you are making something better and more appealing. Making areas more attractive and better to work in; plus it gives me time to think about my art.” Oilar’s partner in his artwork is his wife of 20 years and fellow Purdue employee, Diane. She organizes his shows, schedules and takes him to events, and is the person who convinced him to do more professional shows. Oilar and his wife will be the coordinators for this year’s professional art gallery at the Indiana State Fair.

Oilar believes it is the different cultures and “great students and teachers” he has been exposed to at Purdue that have had the most significant influence on his artwork. “Purdue is a worldwide entity and culture. I believe that a culture’s artwork and its engineering are the things that seem to last.”

John Oilar can be contacted for sales and commission work at (765) 362-3436.

–Joseph Fowler