Graduation Profile: Friendship through thick and thin

School of Art graduating senior Cody Zanowick gave a talk on “Printmaking in Its Primal Form” at the Library of Congress as a 2019 Denker Fellow. Photo provided.

When art and visual technology majors John Riley and Cody Zanowick met at a School of Art lecture three years ago, they knew they had some things in common but had no idea they would become such good friends.

Both were recent transfers to George Mason University—Riley from Lord Fairfax Community College, Zanowick from Northern Virginia Community College—and since both were commuting to the Fairfax Campus from Prince William County, they began carpooling. Now the friends are graduating this week with bachelor of fine arts degrees from the College of Visual and Performing Arts.

A lot has changed for Zanowick during his time at Mason, and Riley has stuck by him through it all. This month Zanowick is celebrating two years of sobriety, and his transformation has been remarkable. He said he has lost 130 lbs., his grade point average has gone from 1.9 to 3.4, and he has a new job as a professional tattoo artist, after completing an apprenticeship and earning his license.

Zanowick calls Riley “a rare friend.”

“Everyone in my life was pretty much done with me,” said Zanowick of his decision to change his life and enter treatment. “John was one of the few people who stayed my friend. He called and checked on me and never judged. He knew I was going through a lot.”

“Cody is a really great guy,” Riley said. “I always thought he deserved better.”

John Riley. Photo provided.

During their time at Mason, both artists took part in activities organized by the Chesapeake chapter of the American Printing History Association, which is led by School of Art Associate Director Don Starr. With the chapter, they volunteered at the Lancaster Printers Fair, which is the largest gathering devoted to printing and printmaking on the East Coast. Zanowick, whose concentration is in printmaking, also applied for and was awarded an APHA-sponsored fellowship. As the 2019 Michael P. Denker Fellow, Zanowick gave a talk, “Printmaking in Its Primal Form,” at the Library of Congress about his interests in printmaking, tattoo art, and letterpress printing.

“Cody, like his many tattoos, is one of the School of Art's most colorful 2020 spring graduates,” said Starr. “His fusion of drawing and printmaking techniques into his profession of creating detailed tattoos has evolved as his technical ability has.”

Riley, who has a concentration in graphic design and a minor in web design, plans a career in graphic design in Washington, D.C., or New York City, although the pandemic has complicated his job search. While at Mason, Riley also served as president of Mason’s chapter of the professional design association AIGA and is recognized as a leader in the School of Art.

"John is known to take a lead in building community within and outside Mason," said Robert Yi, the school’s academic advisor and academic program manager.

School of Art professor James Quigley also selected Riley to be a teaching assistant in his Corporate Design and Branding class.

“John is one of the most earnest and conscientious students I've ever had,” Quigley said. “His openness and willingness to discuss his design work has always been a welcome addition to my classes. He internalizes feedback and returns with work that is stronger and much improved. Whenever I show a portfolio of my students' work, John's pieces play a starring role.”

For his senior project Riley designed a visual brand campaign for a fictional eco-friendly music venue called Pedal, including marketing materials, merchandise, and wayfinding for the venue.

“I really wanted to work on something that combined music and nature,” said Riley of his logo design. Riley has also done work for several nonprofits while completing his degree.

For his senior project, Zanowick had planned a documentary showing his artistic process from line art to actual tattoo. Due to the restrictions of the pandemic, his presentation now highlights his drawings and flash art. 

“I have the coolest job in the world, and I get to make art daily,” said Zanowick.

At the end of the semester, the senior projects would normally be on display throughout the Art and Design Building. This year the School of Art is putting all the presentation online at