The shapes and forms in many of Nadia Shinkunas’ works have a geometric rigidity about them. To achieve their three-dimensional feel, the angles are sharp and defined. Her career path, on the other hand, is anything but a straight line.
Born in San Bernardino, California, Shinkunas’ family moved to Iowa when she was 5 years old. She returned to California to study at Riverside City College in 2002. In 2005, she moved to Omaha and took photography classes at Metro Community College. She later studied at the Omaha School of Massage Therapy, and moved to Tulsa in 2008. A year later, she returned to Omaha and considered studying architecture, but instead opted to pursue a field in sculpture. In 2014, she received a Bachelor of Studio Arts at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
Her education isn’t done yet, though. This year, she is pursuing a tattooist apprenticeship at Artists Unbound.
“I love everything about tattooing,” Shinkunas says from her studio in Council Bluffs. “I always thought it would be a really cool thing for me to do, but I never focused on drawing.”
On top of the 30 to 40 hours she puts in a week at her apprenticeship, Shinkunas also runs Random Arts (formerly Random Arts Omaha). The group stages pop-up art exhibits each month with several artists participating in each exhibit.
“The theme is always really loose,” Shinkunas says. “But even if the theme is love, you can still make a piece about anger or hate, because it all connects.”
One of Random Arts’ exhibits last year, Portrait of a President, was nominated for an Omaha Entertainment and Arts Award for Best Presentation in a Non-Traditional Format.
Shinkunas’ experience with running exhibits began in 2012 when she submitted a piece of work for Benson First Friday. Alex Jochim, director of Benson First Friday, saw her work at one of the events. Soon after, Shinkunas was asked to handle the First Friday events at Jerry’s Bar.
“I love working with Nadia,” Jochim says. “She’s all about helping artists in the community.”
Laura Vranes and John McIntyre, two notable art collectors in Omaha, saw one of Shinkunas’ earliest First Friday forays at Jerry’s Bar. Impressed with Shinkunas’ energy and creativity, the couple began working with her on the Random Arts exhibits. McIntyre focused on promotions while Vranes contacted other artists to submit their work.
“The common thread was to help Omaha artists have a voice—to be seen by more people,” McIntyre says.
Like many artists, Shinkunas has worked “non-art” jobs to pay the rent. But last year, one of those jobs briefly sidelined her artistic work. While working in the bakery at Costco, Shinkunas began to experience pain in her arm. She went to the doctor, and had two MRIs. She went back to work, and the pain got worse.
“I was at work, and my left arm just went dead,” Shinkunas says. “It felt like all my bones were being crushed by a huge vice.”
More doctor visits followed. She was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease. Then more tests showed she didn’t have an auto-immune disease. She left Costco and went on disability, and the pain started lessening.
“Now, I have no pain at all,” Shinkunas says.
This July, Shinkunas’ work will be featured as part of an exhibit in the Michael Phipps Gallery, located on the first floor of the W. Dale Clark Main Library. She’ll share the exhibit with two other artists, Joe Addison and Jamie Hardy. In August, her work will be displayed at Petshop in Benson. Between the apprenticeship and the upcoming exhibits, Shinkunas said she had to put Random Arts on hiatus.
“With everything else going on, I don’t have time,” Shinkunas says, but not before adding with a laugh, “unless someone wants to pay me.”
Shinkunas does not take a commission for Random Arts. She says she took on the role because she wanted to see how different artists interpret a theme.
“Solo shows are great, and I love them, but seeing 50 artists together, and their ideas of love or hate is really, really cool,” Shinkunas says.
Visit nadiashinkunas.com to learn more about the artist.
This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Encounter.