Tag Archives: 402 Arts Collective

Painting New Worlds

September 26, 2018 by
Photography by Keith Binder

Can you get to know an artist through their Instagram posts? Scroll through Keegan Baker’s portfolio, and you will flip past years’ worth of fantasy portraits, life drawing sketches, and miniature paintings, eventually coming across side-by-side self-portraits of the current artist versus himself five years ago. 

The man in each portrait peers stoically at the viewer, painter’s apron hung around his neck. But the Keegan on the right looks strikingly realistic, as if he could be sitting across from you discussing his progress in craft and future creative plans. Keegan’s catalog of work is full of surprises spanning a variety of mediums. Upon meeting him in person, he reveals that his most intriguing work has yet to be seen.

Keegan’s current obsession is a created place called Tarmia. This is where he lets his new work live and breathe within a true fantasy world. Keegan says, “It has a really grand story of corruption. I built this mythology around gods and deities. Tarmia is this made-up fictional world where I want real, everyday things to transgress—with a crazy overarching theme going on.” The paintings for this series are based on ordinary things and people that Keegan uses for reference. Then they are immersed in a dark, Hidetaka Miyazaki-inspired world. 

Keegan has been hashing out Tarmia’s storyline—by means of classical architecture research, costuming, symbolism placement, and character studies—for the past year. The logistics behind the art are mapped out in an extensive Google Doc. “Now everything I make is in reference to Tarmia,” Keegan says.

He began his journey on the road to Tarmia while receiving his degree at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he studied art. “I was looking at friends and people to use as reference material for bigger compositions,” he says. “I was trying to think about narrative and telling my own story.” 

These depictions of friends riding animals, with added embellishments such as swords and mink furs, show how Keegan got to the imaginary world of Tarmia. “I like the creative challenge of using what’s around.” Family members or friends placed in this fantasy world create a juxtaposition of reality against fiction. The result showcases the artist’s otherworldly homage to manga but also displays his tact for planning and craft.

Recently, Keegan has shown a series of horror-inspired miniature portraits at the 402 Arts Collective in Benson, where he works as a teacher. These dark creatures and faces are presented on tiny canvases between the size of a quarter and a packet of hot sauce. While small, the figures could easily work themselves into the larger scenes of what Tarmia may look like. 

Keegan is interested in utilizing oil paints as well as digital media to create his new world. “It’s hard for me to stick to one thing. I like the broad spectrum of art,” Keegan says. 

Regardless of the style, he pushes himself to continually sharpen his skills, whether in more labor-intensive oil painting or through the “immediate gratification” of rendering a digital sketch. This toil can be seen in Keegan’s blend of polished portraits and character sketches. Through his work as a teacher, he has been inspired to revisit anatomy drawing and perspective study. He says, “It has been the most refreshing thing since college, for just actually vibing ideas off of someone.”

Despite his self-proclaimed “nerdy background” and early obsession with Neon Genesis Evangelion, Keegan reveals a love of classic material. He says he is drawing from classic works such as “Romans during the Decadence” and the portrait paintings of Hans Holbein for a succession of Tarmia paintings. Where these two styles meet is an intriguing, necessary place for Keegan to be. “Telling a story with a single piece is what I’ve been really chasing,” Keegan says. In melding these influences, he hopes to finally capture his quarry.


For more information, visit instagram.com/keeganbakerart.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Encounter. 

The 402

February 6, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A band takes the stage, awash in colorful lighting. Below them, an audience murmurs and sips their drinks, sitting tall or standing around various corners of the room. The first few notes of an opening song are strummed on the guitar and a cheer rises from the crowd.

This may sound like your traditional Omaha bar featuring your favorite band, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, all of the drinks were made next door to the venue at Aroma’s Coffee shop. Plus, one third of the audience is under 21. “We really think that there are a lot kids out there who are under 18 who need to be exposed to amazing talent and be inspired by greatness,” says Ben Shafer, executive director of the space.

The 402 Arts Collective in Benson is an all ages venue all the time. It’s a place to not only expose your children to music and culture, but also, it’s a chance to enjoy a night on the town even when parents can’t find a sitter.

The 402 isn’t just a musical venue. They offer music lessons, too. Artist Instructors are available to teach just about every popular musical instrument and, Shafer adds, some not so popular ones as well. While most students are under 18, Shafer says they welcome adults into The 402 as well. Granted, it is nice for mom to take a break while her child learns. “People come to Benson, and drop their student off while they just relax in the coffee shop and sip on a latte,” Shafer shares. Worried your kid is too young? Shafer adds that children can begin learning an instrument as early as six years old. Additional offerings, such as “Rock Academy” can be found online at 402artscollective.org.

Registration for programs can be done easily by going to their website and clicking “lessons.” Parents can see musical and artistic offerings, as well as bios for the individual Artist Instructor. The 402 also offers scholarships to in-need families.

Shafer says The 402 strives to offer two shows every weekend—Friday night and Saturday night.

Perhaps The 402’s most noticeable asset is its location. Parents not only have the opportunity to expose their child to music, but also to a variety of people. “The culture down here is a melting pot of so many tastes and flavors,” Shafer says. “I think some of Omaha’s greatest thinkers and artists can be found just walking the street on any given day.”

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Ben Lueders

August 4, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The afternoon sun shines through the window, illuminating an armada of Lego creations. Large pirate ships defend one side of the room while, a few feet away, an opposing counter displays Star Wars vessels and such action figures as Anakin and Luke Skywalker manning their battle stations.
Ben Lueders, owner of Fruitful Design, is sitting at a rustic wooden table discussing upcoming projects with intern Nicholas Jones.

Lueders spent most of his childhood in Hawaii, during which time he was trained in classical piano and enjoyed creating things with Legos. Though he started off studying music in college, he often spent time in the library between classes drawing caricatures of his friends. After hearing about a job opening with the Hawaii Coral Reef initiative, Lueders headed downtown on whim. He surprised even himself by becoming their art director, a position he held for eight years before moving to Omaha in 2006.

He had never imagined that he could make a living drawing sharks, and music soon took a backseat to his newest creative outlet.

Lueders went on to work at local creative firm Eleven19 after winning, of all things, a coloring contest for Big Omaha. It was there that yet another light bulb went off. “I realized my love for working for a small local shop with awesome long-term clients and being able to do very creative work,” he says.

With that vision in mind, Fruitful Design was born. His business offers such services as branding, illustration, print media, and web design. His body of work also includes the background typography seen on the Best of Omaha™ cover of the January-February issue of this magazine.
All that was missing was the perfect space. As with so many young professionals, the thriving scene in Benson beckoned. A client would later morph into a landlord.

Lueders learned of the ambitious mission behind the 402 Arts Collective and director Ben Schafer’s ideas for the old Foundry building on Maple Street in Benson. Schafer planned to turn the space into a coffee shop, recording studio, live performance venue, and more. Lueders began by creating their new logo and branding. The 402 Arts collective became one of his first regular clients, and now is the location of Fruitful Design’s offices.

“I love Benson, it is such a magical place,” he adds.

Now with a space of his own, Lueders’ imagination moves far above and beyond a sketchpad and pencil. A room next to his office is where he teaches lessons on Wednesday nights. And, rekindling a once dormant passion, he is known to write his own music. The 402 Arts Collective’s recording studio shares a wall with Fruitful Design, and Lueders has some studio time saved up that he’s dying to use.

As business grows, the Legos continue to multiply, and musical notes waft back and forth through the walls, just like the innovative thoughts bouncing around in Lueders’ head.

There is still one question left unanswered. Why the “Fruitful” brand?

“I don’t measure my [design] successes by how much cooler they look,” he says, “but what I love to see is that my clients become more fruitful because of them.”