Tag Archives: artist

Giving Shape to Standing Bear’s Enduring Voice

May 7, 2018 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

In creating the larger-than-life likeness of Chief Standing Bear for the Nebraska state capitol’s Centennial Mall, sculptor Benjamin Victor felt communion with the late Native American icon. Victor was “captivated” by the principled ways of the Ponca leader, whose eloquent advocacy for his people led to a historic federal court ruling at Fort Omaha that declared the nation’s indigenous peoples to be legally “human” for the first time on May 12, 1879.

“He was a true servant-leader,” Victor says of his subject. “The things he wanted were very basic, inalienable human rights everyone should be afforded. He carried himself with dignity even through demeaning treatment. He had a higher moral code of ethics during a time when the laws were not moral. He had the courage to stand up for right through many injustices.”

Based in Idaho, the Boise State University professor and resident artist felt connected to Standing Bear through every stage of his artistic process—from preparatory research into the famous Nebraskan, through molding his clay form, to casting the Ponca leader in bronze.

“His story and spirit definitely were speaking to me,” Victor says. “As an artist, you try to get that voice through your artwork to speak to viewers who see it. I felt humbled to be working on it. In the sculpture itself, I tried to keep the spirit of Standing Bear alive as much as I tried for an accurate portrait. An accurate portrait is important, but to me a spiritual portrait is just as important. I hope it really inspires other people to study his life. If my work does that, then it’s a success.”

The Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs and Donald Miller Campbell Family Foundation commissioned the 11-foot-tall sculpture, unveiled Oct. 15, 2017. Then, over the winter, a pair of Nebraska state senators (including Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha) introduced a bill to replace the state’s two sculptures—of J. Sterling Morton and William Jennings Bryan—in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall with those of Willa Cather and Standing Bear. A donor, Donald Miller Campbell, pledged funds for a copy to be made of Victor’s Standing Bear work.

“To have him as a towering icon in the U.S. Capitol would be important. His story should be on the national scale. He should be known in every school,” Victor says.

The artist already has two works in the Hall. One is of Northern Paiute activist Sarah Winnemucca on behalf of the state of Nevada. Anything Native holds profound meaning for Victor, as his late step-grandfather was a member of the Juaneño—a coastal California tribe engulfed by Spanish missions. “It’s always a big deal to me whenever I do a Native American piece that it’s done right and with purpose. I always think of my grandpa when I do them. He liked the images I created of Native Americans with a strong stance and with dignity. That really meant a lot to him. If he’s looking down, he’s really proud of this one.”

Victor’s second sculpture in the U.S. Capitol represents Iowa—Norman Borlaug, the father of modern agriculture’s “Green Revolution.”

Working from photos, Victor “modified” Standing Bear’s pose “to capture a hint of motion,” as if the chief were moving forward slightly. In an attempt to “capture every detail,” he created folds and the look of heaviness in the blanket draped about his subject. Ornamental details included intricate beadwork, a bear claw necklace, and peace medals. Victor symbolized the chief’s dual roles as warrior and ambassador by having him holding an ax-peace pipe.

The bronze is positioned in front of a wall carved with the eloquent words of Standing Bear on trial (as translated by Omaha Native Susette “Bright Eyes” LaFlesche): “That hand is not the color of yours, but if I pierce it, I shall feel pain. If you pierce your hand, you also feel pain. The blood that will flow from mine will be the same color as yours. I am a man. The same God made us both.”

The project selection committee for the state capitol’s Centennial Mall learned about Victor from George Neubert (director of the Flatwater Folk Art Museum in Brownville, Nebraska), who befriended the artist when he did a commission for Peru State College, where his bronze of a hulking football player adorns the Oak Bowl.

Although Victor originally hails from California, he developed deep roots in the Great Plains while attending Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota, where he discovered his love of sculpture.

“When I picked up clay the first time in college, the medium just clicked for me,” he says. “I felt like the concepts I was trying to get across were very readily expressed in sculpture. I really like the physicality of sculpture, how you move the clay with your hands and manipulate it. I like everything about it. I also work in marble—so I do the subtractive process of carving, the additive process of clay work, and the replacement process of bronze.”

He was still in school when he landed his first big commission—for the Aberdeen airport.

“I had a family to support,” he says. “I worked at the YMCA part-time, took odd jobs, and went to school full time. I was on food stamps and rental assistance. We had nothing. To get the commission was really amazing because you can struggle your whole life as an artist and never get a commission like that.”

Soon thereafter came the Winnemucca project. Demand for his work has never ceased.

“I never thought I’d get the opportunity to make it on my own in my dream field and career,” he says. “It’s a true American success story. I still don’t take it for granted. Every day I get to do this, I feel very blessed. And then to do something inspiring like Standing Bear. What a dream commission to commemorate him and everything he stood for.”

Upon graduating, Victor was a Northern State teacher and resident artist before Boise State courted him.

“They gave me a beautiful studio space and gallery. It’s been a great home,” he says, adding that he maintains close ties with his former colleagues in South Dakota. “I’ve got so many friends there that are just like family.”

Back at his Boise studio, his studio life intersects with students, patrons, and his three children. Meanwhile, he continues to always keep his ears open to the spirits of his subjects.


Visit benjaminvictor.com for more information.

This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Fresh Paint

March 18, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

From a very young age, Omaha artist Stephen Kavanaugh had a raw talent for art, as well as a wise-beyond-his-years understanding of what it takes to be a professional artist. 

“The first drawing I did was of me and my grandpa fishing, and I was like 4 years old, but I was able to draw all this detail, and ever since then my mom pushed me to keep doing art. She saw something in me, so she even paid for outside art classes,” says Kavanaugh, now 29. “But even at that age, I remember having the thought that it wasn’t easy to do art as a career. Looking back now, that seems like a weird realization to have at age 5, but even then I couldn’t imagine not doing art. There’s something about it that gives me a stability that I don’t get from anything else. So, I’ve always kept with it because it feels wrong to leave it.”    

Kavanaugh’s penchant for drawing ultimately blossomed into an interest in everything from painting to sculpture to graphic design. At age 19 he discovered street art.

“The day I saw Exit Through the Gift Shop I went to Blick, bought all the stencil work to make my first street art piece, and did it that night at 3 a.m. Ever since then I was hooked, and I did that for a year,” Kavanaugh says.

A decade later, now a father of two, Kavanaugh says doing street art isn’t as feasible, but it’s a passion that continues to shine through in his work. His current focus is on painting, particularly mural work and live painting, where an artist creates a painting in front of an audience, often in tandem with live music.

“The live art is something that replaces that rush I would get from being out doing street art. I still feel like a street artist, just not on the streets,” he says with a laugh.

Kavanaugh’s vibrant style is characterized by intensely bright, rich colors and, typically, rounded outer borders. There’s a geometrical feel to his work. An array of shapes, symbols, and characters—in both senses of the word—come together in an animated flash mob of sorts, jumping off the canvas like an unruly, moving mosaic.     

artwork by Stephen Kavanaugh

In addition to street art, murals, and painting, Kavanaugh hasn’t been shy when it comes to exploring niche art forms. He illustrated a children’s book called Number Mountain and also self-published two original art coloring books, Bloom and Roon Toon. From city streets to college classroom seats, and everywhere in between, art has always been Kavanaugh’s driving force. The Omaha native earned his BFA in painting and graphic design from UNO.   

“Graphic design was me trying to take art seriously, but after realizing what graphic design really was, it just didn’t satisfy me enough as an artist,” Kavanaugh says.

But he has no regrets, noting that he got to work on some “cool projects, dream projects, really,” including branding work for Borgata (later Brickway) Brewery & Distillery, creating a key to the city, and design duties for a production of The Wizard of Oz at the Omaha Community Playhouse. Kavanaugh’s also done logo and design work for local bands like Ragged Company and Domestic Blend, not to mention uber-talented musician Aly Peeler, who is also Kavanaugh’s wife and mother to their children, 3-year-old Asher and 18-month-old Otto.   

“She’s an amazing singer,” Kavanaugh says of Peeler. “I really enjoy being married to somebody who works in a different spectrum of art. There’s a great balance there.”

In 2017, after three years supporting himself as a working artist, Kavanaugh took a position at AngelWorks, an arts nonprofit which fortuitously allows him to make a steady living while still doing what he loves.

“AngelWorks is the only art studio in Omaha that works with adults with disabilities, provides them a place to create and display work, and really tries to get them involved in the local artistic community,” says Kavanaugh, who leads classes and outings to various local studios and galleries, and helps create personal portfolios and set up shows allowing AngelWorks clients to showcase and sell their art. He’s also done some stunning collaborative pieces with individuals he works with there.   

“It’s a really awesome program and it’s uncovered a new skill [of mine]. I love those guys, and it’s really cool to see how excited they get when they finish or sell pieces,” says Kavanaugh, who calls his job “challenging and very fulfilling.”

As for his personal artistic pursuits, Kavanaugh hopes to do more live paintings and shows, starting with a January 2018 exhibition at The B Side of Benson Theatre with Maggie Heusinkvelt. Another chief focus for him is doing more mural work.

“Murals bring so much vibrancy and I think Omaha is starting to accept that as a different way of showing off our buildings or as a way for places to show off [what] they are,” Kavanaugh says.

Much as his artistic pursuits have been a patchwork of various endeavors, his mural work graces various, diverse corners of the city—from the Down Under Lounge to UNMC to a local
orthodontics office.    

“For a while I was all over the place, doing live paintings, coloring books, illustration…but it’s nice to have a center and to grow as an artist,” Kavanaugh says. “I always want to evolve instead of being stagnant. Lately, I’ve been coming up with work that’s more quality over quantity, work that I feel proud about.”

This article appears in the March/April 2018 edition of Encounter.

Trevor Amery

March 10, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts resident Trevor Amery is a well-traveled maker. The artist, whose Bemis stay began January 11 and runs through mid-March, has done residencies in Mexico, Hungary, and Finland. He’s completed projects in Alaska, Florida, and many points in between.

After years on the East Coast, he now makes California home, though he’s often just returning from or embarking on a new art-life adventure. This summer he expects to go to China.

Some journeys have proved transformative. In the course of a 2011 Finland sojourn, fate or circumstance intervened to change his practice from painting to sculpture.

He had just left his former risk-adverse life as an admissions counselor at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore to heed the very advice he gave students—to live freely and fearlessly. He’d no sooner broken away from his higher education rut to go to far-off Finland when, en route, all his oil paints were confiscated by airport security.

There he was, adrift in a strange country, unequipped to create in the manner he’d come all that way to do.

“I didn’t have a lot of money to go and buy all new oil paints in one of the most expensive countries in the European Union,” Amery says. “I just had to figure out how to start making.”

Enraptured by the dense forests of the residency’s idyllic rural setting and the ubiquitous, large firewood piles he saw outside every home, he surrendered the idea of painting to create instead in wood. It helped that he had an extensive woodworking background.

“I started splitting wood to understand it as a material. I’d wake up and split as much wood as I could handle, and I learned so much more about it than I ever did working in a wood shop,” he says.

“I started doing these stacked firewood piles. I made a 12-foot tall spinning wood pile on a children’s merry-go-round as a kinetic permanent sculpture. I did a 6-foot by 6-foot by 6-foot cube of firewood on a floating dock in the middle of the lake outside the old schoolhouse I stayed in. I went into town to do woodpiles in urban niches–between buildings and mailboxes–and left them to be reclaimed.”

His “big epiphany” happened paddling wood out to the floating dock in the lake.

“I had this eureka moment of, ‘Wow, this could be my work. I don’t have to sit in a studio illustrating an idea with oil paint. I can actually be out in the world engaging nature and people, having the social aspects I crave.’”

For Amery, the journey in the making is everything.

“I just like process–problem-solving, engineering new solutions, and stuff like that. I do have an interest in DIY culture, which also informs my practice.”

Since Finland, Amery’s gone on to cast pieces of firewood in porcelain stoneware. This summer in Wyoming he taught himself how to make his own charcoal using wood.

While assisting with the setup of a towering geodesic installation there, he salvaged a broken sledgehammer handle made of ash and converted it into a 30-inch, hand-hewn spoon sculpture. He carved a tiny geodesic dome in the bottom of the spoon.

“Function plays a role in the work,” he says. “But this object also now has a really important history to it. I love the kind of shift in value that comes with provenance of objects and materials that I use. Because of a personal story with it, it has this new significance.”

In 2012 he came back from a residency in Hungary only to find himself “back to square one” in his work. Absent a project, he thought long and hard about finally realizing something he always wanted to make: a boat. Made of wood, of course.

“After some research, I set out to build my own Aleutian- style kayak, and I did. I made all the ribs out of green bent branches I cut in the woods in Maine.”

The design for the 17-foot vessel came from a downloaded PDF.

“The first year after I built it, I kind of denied its function. I was more interested in its making, its coming into being, the history of it. I built part of the frame in Maine and then drove it to Michigan, where it spent a year with me as this omnipresent, dope object I couldn’t finish because I didn’t have the space to do it.” he says.

“It hung above me in the apartment making me feel bad for not working on it. I eventually brought it back to the East Coast and then came to California with it, where I finished it. But I was still using it as this studio-exhibition object and skirting its function. Then I decided I have to put it in the water.”

He secured a grant for a performative project whereby he drove the kayak to Alaska to make its inaugural launch off the Homer Spit. He documented the experience with his Mamiya C330 camera.

On-site, he split a log to make his own paddle from tree branches. When the moment arrived to place the kayak in its heritage waters, he was overjoyed this object that traveled so far with him “actually worked great.”

The kayak trekked with him again when he took part in the Performance is Alive satellite art show in Miami.

“I kayaked through the different waterways of Miami to document the coastline and the relationship of these important spaces to water recreation and the city’s economy and looking at how this essentially sea-level city will eventually be underwater.”

He successfully negotiated the voyage only to have curator Quinn Dukes ask him go out again and finish in South Beach.

Tempting fate, Amery recalls, “I went across the channel out into the ocean like a fool. Everything was going fine actually, and then the ocean floor dropped off at this one place that turned the ocean into a washing machine. This wave came from behind and capsized me many football fields away from the coastline.”

He says he thought he was “done for” but was eventually rescued by a jet skier. His kayak and camera both survived the mishap.

“Out of all that came a whole new body of work of wooden wave sculptures I call ‘Capsized.’”

The artist is approaching Omaha the way he does all his residency stops (by ”keeping that opportunity for discovery”).

“A huge part of it is what comes out of the relationships in a place,” he says. “Yes, the landscapes inspire me, but also the people and the conversations.”

This article appears in the March/April 2018 edition of Encounter

Moroccan Door DIY

March 7, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Costa Rican fine artist Elisa Morera Benn and her husband, Dr. Douglas Benn (a professor in the Creighton School of Dentistry), are patrons of the arts. Their stylish home located near Leavenworth Street features great views of downtown Omaha and a vast array of compelling works of art—a mix of hers and others.

Benn’s surrealistic artworks are also showcased around town at places like the Artists’ Cooperative Gallery, the Jewish Community Center, and Hot Shops Art Center. Benn—whose work has been featured at the Louvre in Paris—studied with art masters in Costa Rica and has been a professional artist for over 35 years. A popular theme of her work is children and women who have overcome obstacles.

Just off Benn’s home art studio in the basement, however, is a guest room that features a fully functional and wholly different type of art. Benn transformed the back of an ordinary bookshelf into a pleasing, extraordinary work of art—a portal, if you wish, to other lands.

The bookshelf divided the guest room that also includes a small office area. So, Benn painted the back into the style of a mythical Moroccan door to transform it into an “attractive, surrealistic gateway for the guest.” Her inspiration? The royal arches and neon lights of Morocco. “I love the Morocco style. I have never been in this country, but it is on my bucket list,” she says. 

The project took her about three days and cost less than $75. She was inspired to create the door after finding the Moroccan handles on sale at a craft store. Her array of tools also included acrylic paint, masking tape, dimensional texture acrylic paint, some chalk, glass tiles, flat and clear glass gems, flat and round metal pieces, and a ruler. 

She first Googled examples of Moroccan doors, then she chose her favorite model. “I transferred the design to the back of the bookcase, measured it with a ruler, and then marked it with chalk.” She then put masking tape around the border to prepare for painting. She used Moroccan blue, brown, white, and black. After painting with the plain colors, Benn used a dimensional fabric paint for clothes called “Tulip Slip Black” to paint the flowers and symbols. “This gives you an acrylic texture,” she says.

Benn then finished by adding the handles, round metal, flat and clear glass gems, and glass tiles. “The glass gives you the sensation of looking at a wall with a nice Moroccan door.”

Through her handiwork, Benn created a passageway that often surprises and delights visitors to the Benns’ home. The creative door serves as a continual reminder of her wish to travel to Morocco one day and gives her guests something nice to look at. “As an artist, I love the intervention of making artistic things with normal pieces. Blending new things with old things is part of my inspiration.”

Items used:

  • Free-standing bookcase
  • Moroccan handles
  • Acrylic paint: Moroccan blue, brown, white, and black
  • Dimensional fabric paint (Tulip Slip Black)
  • Ruler
  • Masking tape
  • Chalk (two pieces)
  • Pieces of flat, round metal (approximately 16) the size of a nickel
  • Flat, clear glass gems (approximately 26)
  • Glass tiles (1-by-2-inch tiles, approximately 200)

Visit the artist’s website at artistamorera.com for more information.

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of OmahaHome.

Christy Chan

February 22, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This is the first in a series on artists in residency at The Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts.

Christy Chan was at the tail end of her residency when we spoke; it started Sept. 20 and ended Nov. 17. The theme was Art, Empathy, and Ethos. The artist and storyteller is now back home in Oakland, California.

Christy Chan says she enjoys the view from her room at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, even though it faces the train tracks downtown.

“I actually really like it,” she says. “I think trains are romantic.”

Chan lived at the Bemis for two months in the fall while doing a residency there. She is an interdisciplinary artist who enjoys telling stories through video, audio, performance, and installations. The Bemis residency offers her a chance to work on her latest project and to do all the things she doesn’t necessarily get to focus on at home. Perhaps most importantly, it provides her a unique experience.

“I was really intrigued to come here, because I’ve lived on two coasts, I’ve lived abroad, but I’ve seen more of other countries than I have of this country,” she says.

Aside from her general curiosity, Chan says she also felt that living in a time when politics are so polarizing, it was important to see more of the country.

“Because I do work about class and race and power, specifically in the United States, it’s important that I see more of it…I think it’s easy for different groups of people, different areas of the U.S., to be ‘cartoonized,’” she says, adding that this is something that happens all over the world and is not unique to this country.

She was familiar with the Bemis residency program and even applied four years ago. This time around, she applied because the themes seemed like a perfect fit.

Chan’s experience with the themed residency exemplifies the goal of the program. She says she enjoys meeting all the artists. The fact that the theme is empathy and they all lay claim to that attachment in their work gave them a lot to talk about.

Chan says a residency gives her the opportunity to step out of the day-to-day routine of her nine-to-five job as a freelance film producer. “The thing I love about residencies is going somewhere and having a natural response to the environment and stumbling onto things that I become curious about,” she says. “I think that really feeds my work.”

Though she’s working on multiple projects at the Bemis, she is developing a project called “Everybody Eats Lunch.”

“I guess most artists would call it a social practice project, to use fancy words, but I just call it a community art project.”

Chan’s parents were Chinese immigrants who owned a Chinese restaurant in her hometown in Virginia. She says she grew up seeing how coming together for a meal breaks down walls. “It just does,” she says. “Gathering and eating and talking is just part of our human nature.”

She says the plan is to have the project open to anyone and everyone who wants to participate.

Chan launched the project here, when she met with two Omahans. She also has friends in Oakland and New York who are participating, but hopes to see it spread far beyond that. “Right now, it’s sort of unfolding in this organic way,” she says.

For her two lunches here, she says Block 16 agreed to sponsor them. Come spring, there will be an official website where people can view those lunches and more.

She says the idea is to record the lunch conversation, and, if you’re comfortable doing so, taking a picture with each other. If not, she suggests taking a picture of the food you’re eating together. “No matter who we are or where we come from,” Chan says, “we all come together over food and conversation and that’s something we all share.”

“I really want to give people some freedom,” Chan says, “because it’s not about how good a photographer you are…it should be as easy as recording it on your phone. And the pictures don’t have to be great.” She says the idea is to collectively create a larger conversation that people will listen to, with one conversation leading to another.

“The premise of it is coming from the fact that we keep hearing that we live in this polarized time, how we’re all in these echo chambers,” Chan says, “not just because of digital media, but because we are on digital media all the time. That in itself is its own echo chamber.”

Chan says in an ideal world, you would be able to meet and talk to anyone, or just go deeper in a conversation with someone you already know.

“Politically, conversations are very polarized. I think there’s truth to that,” she says. “The idea of it is just to have lunch with somebody you wouldn’t normally have a conversation with, someone you consider a stranger and, for whatever reason, they at first seem too different from you, you haven’t had a connection…my intention is to give people an excuse to notice who’s around them and feel more connected to the people around them. It might be that someone has different political views or values. I think that will be interesting to see how these lunches go.”

She adds, “As all these really heated, political things are happening, it might feel good to be connecting in a way that’s just one-on-one.”

Chan says that for her, the project has made her think about all the people she sees everywhere, every day, who she hasn’t had a conversation with. “Everyone has a story,” she says, “everybody has something interesting about their life.”

“A lot of my work is really about humanizing who people are, sort of stripping away the easy categories—age, race, gender, sexuality, and just humanizing who we are,” she says. “So, I was really excited to come here.”

Chan says she’s been driving around Nebraska, even heading into South Dakota, looking at different points of interest. She finds homesteads particularly fascinating, and even planned a trip to Homestead National Monument of America near Beatrice.

“I don’t know when I’ll be back here again, so I want to see everything,” she says. “It’s been a really great place to do research and just feel inspired.”

As a storyteller, she says seeing the pioneer history and how that story was told interested her because a lot of her work revolves around that—storytelling and looking at the ways stories are scripted into our culture, whether they’re right or wrong. “A lot of my work is about using stories to subvert stories, or to create a fuller picture.”

Chan says that as she’s been exploring, she’s been making video and audio recordings. She has also read and reread a lot of books written about and set in the Midwest, from graphic novels, to autobiographies of Native Americans who were forced to go to boarding schools and assimilate, and even the Little House on the Prairie books.

“It’s felt really special to be here and see where a lot of things have happened in history.”

Chan says it’s important to look at things with a critical eye, as far as what are the narratives being told.

“Something that really blew my mind once I got out here and I was looking at where everything was, was realizing that where the Little House on the Prairie books, where those stories were set, were right next to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and that essentially those two stories are related,” she says. She finds it interesting how those two narratives
are represented.

While she obviously made that connection before, she says she felt it in a much more visceral way when she saw the land, adding that it’s different to be able to read the book and then drive over to see the site.

“The fact that we have, not just the Little House books, but other books that create this narrative of what we think our history is,” she says, “but there’s this other narrative that’s also completely true, and they coexist together…
it’s complex.”

Besides traveling around Nebraska to get a sense of what this part of the country looks like, she’s also been visiting art museums and galleries to see how stories are represented there.

“I feel like sometimes seeds get planted while in residency, and then later on, they take form. I feel that might happen here as well,” she says. “When I’m in a new place and something’s pulling me to look at it, I just kind of try to trust that feeling…and go with it.” 

All About the Residency

Holly Kranker is the residency project manager at the Bemis Center and has been with the program since 2013. She says themed residencies (like this year’s: Art, Empathy, and Ethos) are somewhat new to Bemis. This year marks the third one.

Kranker says two years ago, they started residency schedules, with the artists arriving and leaving at the same time, in a three-month block. In the past, the Bemis would have artists coming and going frequently, Kranker says, so they wanted to create more of a cohort.

Kranker says they wanted the residents to have a richer experience with the other artists they were meeting, “so it would be more fulfilling and give them a chance to really get to know each other.” She says residency blocks usually run from January to April, and May to August, with themed residencies developed by their artistic director lasting just two months—from September until November.

Previous themes were Future of Food, Sci-fi, and the Human Condition. For now, the future of the thematic residencies is unknown. However, their regular residencies will continue.

Kranker describes the process of getting a residency as a two-panel process, with three panelists each. The first panel is given criteria to look for, including whether it’s contemporary, consistent, aesthetic, and whether the artist has a true command and understanding of the work they’re doing.

During the second wave, they tally up the first panel reviews and the top-scoring applicants move on. She says the top applicants end up being roughly 20 percent of the pool.

“For a full residency year, we generally receive around 1,000 to 1,100 applications. Of those, we’re able to place roughly 36 artists in the residency per calendar year.” This is about 3 to 4 percent of the total pool.

Unfortunately, Kranker says they won’t have a thematic residency for 2018. However, that’s not to say they won’t ever have them again.

“Residencies are a living, breathing thing and we’re always evaluating and being responsive to what artists needs are in contemporary art.” 

Visit christychan.com to learn more about the artist. To learn more about the project, go here everybodyeatsclunch.com.

Visit bemiscenter.org to find out more about the residency program.

This article appears in the January/February 2018 edition of The Encounter.

 

 

One Piece at a Time

January 7, 2018 by
Photography by Keith Binder

As tattoos become increasingly normalized, it’s clear they’re no longer for burly bikers or hardened criminals alone. They’re popping up on soccer moms, young professionals, and people of all social classes. The stigma that once surrounded body art has lifted, making it much more acceptable than it was in the past. Omaha-based tattoo artist Patrick Oleson has watched the shift firsthand — even over the last few years. He’s tattooed all walks of life and finds it impossible to box them into one neat little package.

“Past generations may have a specific stereotype in mind when they imagine a ‘tattooed person,’” Oleson explains. “This no doubt stems from the early popularity of tattoos with Navy men, bikers, and prisoners. I’ve tattooed people from many different careers paths and social classes. Most of my larger multi-session work goes on young professionals.”

Self-expression and high caliber body art will never go out of style, he adds. “Society is rapidly changing its prejudice towards people with tattoos in a very positive way,” Oleson says.

Born in Anaheim Hills, California, the 35-year-old Oleson relocated to Okoboji, Iowa, where he enjoyed the sandy lake beaches and well-known tourist spots such as Arnolds Park Amusement Park for most of his formative years. Like other hopeless romantics, Oleson chased his future wife to Omaha where he’s been for the past four years.

“It seems that all the big things in life happen due to the people you choose to share them with,” he says. “Two of my best high school friends started tattooing in Omaha before I did. I moved to Omaha to pursue the woman I later married. When I got to Omaha, coincidentally I had multiple tattoo opportunities, so it all fell into place.”

Oleson apprenticed at Omega Point Tattoo Studio, and now has his own spot at the shop, but he’s always had an appreciation for the physical beauty of art on skin. He used to spend all of his vacation time in Omaha visiting friends and getting his own ink. Over the years, he’s learned there’s more to tattoos than some people realize.

“I have a better understanding of how tattoos are not only skin deep,” he says. “People also use them for self-identity, sentimentality, and their own definition of aesthetics.”

Omega Point Tattoo Studio, which he describes as “an art studio collective of serious artists who have the technical skills to apply amazing museum quality art to skin,” has provided him some incredible opportunities, especially when it comes to new technology.

“Since I started in 2013, we now have tattoo machines that run faster and smoother, and disposable needle cartridges that are safer to handle,” he explains. “I once used tracing paper and a pencil. Now, I use a self-built PC to create my designs and an iPad to trace my stencils. Technology has enhanced my tattoo game tremendously, and I’m excited about future advancements.”

One of Oleson’s specialities is photo hyperrealism, a technique intended to resemble a high-resolution photograph. It’s also one of the most challenging and inventive types of tattoos he creates.

“I welcome the challenge of photo hyperrealism,” he says. “I love capturing every subtle shift in tone and hue. When you get all the little details right, you end up with a 3D tattoo that pops off the skin. A good example of this is my Heath Ledger Joker piece. I wanted to find a frame of The Dark Knight that has never been tattooed before. I watched the Blu-ray movie, captured a unique HD screenshot and overlaid my own dynamic changes. I presented it to the client, who was
beyond thrilled.”

Armed with a background in traditional fine art from Iowa State University, Oleson and his desire to hone his craft coupled with his innate artistic ability makes him endlessly dedicated to his work. In fact, he admits he’s “obsessive,” and is currently focused on the academic side of art. >

< “I’m studying anatomy, color, and light theory, and becoming fluent in more digital art programs,” he says. “I’m continually adding more ‘tools’ to my ‘bag.’ I will do whatever it takes to get the right starting reference. I have used many of my own photographs in my tattoo work. I took the reference pictures for the husky dog, gorilla, sternum skull, and ‘peek-a-boo’ tattoos you see in my portfolio. For my flower-skull piece, I actually hand plucked every flower into a skull model just so I could take the photo for the reference.”

Even when he finds himself with a break from work, Oleson is thinking about improving his art — it’s essentially a job that’s never done.

“You know you love your job when you spend your free time in the same field as your career,” he says. “I’ve been learning 3D programs like ZBrush and KeyShot. Photo realism is amazing, but using rendering software to get photo-realistic results from a fictional object is next level stuff. I’m trying to be a pioneer in the tattoo industry.” 

Visit patrickoleson.com, omegapointtattoo.com, or instagram.com/patrickoleson to view more of the artist’s work.

This article appears in the January/February 2018 edition of the Encounter.

Pigeon Bros

October 19, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Illustration by Pigeon Bros.

It’s like watching two parts of the same brain. When Jack Blanket and Ryan Showers are together, it’s just the two of them, taking turns finishing each other’s sentences and stories. Their words flow back and forth, forming a single curse-word-laden stream of consciousness. But that’s not to say these brothers are free from a little sibling rivalry.

“Stop. Stop. STOP. Don’t draw on my drawing,” Blanket says as his pencil glides over paper, doodling out shaded shapes, while Showers makes a move to add his own creative contribution.

“I wouldn’t…” Showers begins.

“Wouldn’t be an ass? Yes, yes, you would,” Blanket continues.

Believe it or not, this exchange, like most of their conversations, is all said with deadpan, sarcastically saccharine love. To them, calling one another an ass is a compliment. While the duo play brothers, friends, and roomies in life, they’re yin and yang in the world of local Omaha art—Blanket an accomplished stop motion animator and Showers an eccentric and eclectic illustrator.

“As far as I know, we’ve always been drawing and creating,” says Blanket, the younger sibling by approximately one year. “There’s always been paper and pencil around.”

Born and raised across the river in Council Bluffs, Blanket and Showers are just two of eight siblings, each one living in different parts of the country, all of them dabbling in art either full-time or for fun. However, given their upbringing, it’s no surprise the family is now made up of everything from illustrators and animators to video game creators and programmers. They were homeschooled by their mother, who based her curriculum largely on creative expression. Their father illustrated.

Even though their childhood was awash in arts, crafts, doodles, and drawings, the two brothers didn’t graduate high school as mini Monets. It was through years of self-learning and discovery that their artistic talents began to bloom.

Blanket taught himself to animate through online tutorials. After all, who needs a fancy-shmancy liberal arts degree when you’ve got Google and YouTube as professors? Years of plugging and playing and numerous “crashed crappy computers” later, Blanket acquired the skills to land freelance animation work.

He’s made several animated games and music videos for local musicians and labels, One of his favorites was for a Chicago-based hip-hop and soul group, Sidewalk Chalk. Though simple, his flashing red, white, and black drawings in the video for their song “Dig” helps bring to life the message behind the lyrics, which details the effect media has on the public’s perception of police violence.

“To create it, you just go step-by-step, line-by-line, translating lyrics to images,” Blanket says. “Three minutes might really be three months of work.”

As for his artistic name, a high school girlfriend’s mother created it in an instant years ago. She said she knew too many Nathans, his real name, and chose to call him Jack Blanket instead. More than a decade later and the moniker has survived, further separating his work and artistic identity from his brother.

“We’re cut from the same cloth but we really are very different, both personally and with our art,” Blanket says.

One glance at their work and any viewer would agree. Showers steers clear of animation, instead creating detailed drawings, often sparse in color but big in imagination. Haunting images of monsters, animals in human clothes, and cartoonish people, he’s done it all.

“My process is much slower than my brother’s. I’ll start by making a rough skeleton and then sit on it for a really long time,” Showers says. “Music, my medicine, is always a huge catalyst to get me going.”

Beyond the musical styling of bands like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Showers is inspired by anime and fashion magazines, which he spent hours copying and drawing to perfect his craft.

“Life is f***ed sometimes, so I strive to create work that takes people somewhere else,” Showers says. “The potency of expanding imagination is so valuable. Maybe my pieces help with that.”

While he avoids collaborations, including with his brother, Showers aspires to create pop-up shops around town that feature work from a variety of local creators. For now, he shows pieces for sale in Caffeine Dreams and uses his Instagram as an online portfolio to market himself and gain more work. By displaying animations on YouTube, Blanket harnesses the power of social media.

“Artists need to have an online presence now,” Blanket says. “As a low-level artist, you do a lot better putting yourself out there and responding to your audience through these mediums.”

When they’re not turning news feeds into galleries, the two brothers share an apartment but hardly see one another. Showers admittedly disappears for days, often to look high and low for inspiration, even sifting through dumpsters and exploring vacant buildings. Since art isn’t always a field filled with money, especially for up-and-coming creators, the two spend even more time apart working odd jobs to pay rent.

“We’ve grown accustomed to a humble lifestyle,” Showers says. “I’m willing to wash dishes for a living if it means I can have an imagination.”

So when they get together, it’s a nostalgic celebration. On a particularly warm June day, the siblings got the chance to share an afternoon on the back patio of Caffeine Dreams. Showers veiled his eyes from the gleaming sun with oversized sunglasses while Blanket embraced the warmth, sitting outside the shade with his painted fingernails gleaming in the light. Just as with art, the two take different paths, each enjoying the summer day in their own way.

While you may not see pom-poms at their sides as they sip coffee and share memories, these two really are one another’s biggest cheerleaders, bonded by blood and a love for all things creative.

“Our fields are so highly different,” Showers says. “In my mind, there is no competition, no rivalry, no…”

“No reason not to be supportive,” Blanket finishes. “There’s just mutual respect.”

Visit instagram.com/thee_owl or instagram.com/score6 to view more of Pigeon Brothers’ art.

This article appears in the September/October 2017 edition of Encounter Magazine.

Pigeon Brothers

Bug Out

October 5, 2017 by
Photography by Dave Crane

Sexy moths flap their wings (and cleavage). Some dude dressed like a lightning bug flashes his butt. The audience swarms the stage at Midtown Art (formerly Midtown Art Supply)—with antennae, arms, and legs flailing—rocking to performances by local hardcore noise bands.

There are edible snacks made of insects. Bug-themed artwork covers the walls of the adjacent Harney Street Gallery. It’s like a mosquito trap for Omaha’s weirdest and most creative. But the main event? That would be the keynote bug lecture and photo slideshow by Dave Crane.

Crane—a wetlands biologist with the Army Corps of Engineers—is the co-founder and co-curator of the Omaha Bug Symposium, the strangest science-art-music combo this side of the topsoil.

Crane’s lecture is a psychedelic crash course in entomology (i.e., the study of insects), a legit science presentation packed with big words and Latin binomial names. His photo slideshow features beautiful imagery (zoomed and panned to show macro views of tiny insects like you’ve never seen before) along with ludicrous commentary.

At the 2016 event, Crane’s younger brother (Omaha artist Dan Crane) shouts a question, “Because I find them so fascinating, why are they called boring beetles?” The elder Crane responds to his brother, and other hecklers’ comments, with a genuine enthusiasm that is contagious.

His passion for bugs started at a young age. “I’ve been interested in nature, in general, all my life,” Crane says. “I was an adventurous, outdoorsy kind of kid. I wore holes in my clothes faster than anyone else I knew. Around the age of 7, I started attending week-long day camps at Fontenelle Forest and Neale Woods every summer. I think it was at these camps when I really honed in on bugs. I’d come home from the camps and start looking for the things I found while in the wild. Around this time, I started collecting bugs I’d find around my neighborhood. My parents picked up on this and started buying me field guides and insect preservation boxes. I started making my own collection tools, like a plastic bag duct taped to a long stick for catching butterflies and dragonflies. I had a terrarium out in the back yard that I would put captured praying mantids into to watch them fight, mate, and eat prey. I amassed a rather large insect collection—probably 40 species—by the time I was 12, but without knowing about proper preservation methods, the specimens were consumed by pests and all turned to dust.”

Discouraged by early attempts at insect preservation, Crane’s insectophilic tendencies lay dormant until roughly age 21. That’s when he received his first digital camera as a birthday gift.

“I was snapping away outside one day and noticed a damselfly on my car antennae,” he says. “I snapped a photo of it, and when I reviewed the image, it was like all the memories I had chasing bugs as a kid came rushing back to me. That moment revived my interest in bugs. I was hooked. Taking photos of all sorts of macroinvertebrates became my No. 1 hobby, if not obsession. From then on, I would dedicate more and more time to taking photos of bugs all around me—when I traveled, when I went camping, when I went to the bar, etc. I took photos for the sake of seeing things up close and learning about them, never really with the intention of printing them out as pieces of art.”

Crane’s photographic work captures the essence of bugs’ behavior, rather than focusing on images “that would look nice on a wall.” He prizes subject matter with informative storytelling potential over aesthetics.

Dave Crane. Photo by Bill Sitzmann

“I feel that presenting my photos in this style does them the most justice. I have some very high-definition photos, and they deserve to be blown up, zoomed in, and explored. The content in the photos is very well served by being plastered on a 10-foot-by-10-foot projector screen so every little detail can be magnified and scrutinized by the crowd. Before these bug shows, I started making calendars in 2007 for family and friends. Otherwise, I basically just stockpiled my photos for seven years—until I started showing them off as the bug shows.”

The 2017 Omaha Bug Symposium takes place at OutrSpaces (528 S. 24th St.) on October 7. It will be Crane’s fifth (and fourth annual) bug show. The inaugural event in 2014 went by the name “Nebraska Insect Showcase” because it was held at Midtown Art Supply the weekend following the Nebraska Hardcore Showcase.*

That first year of the event consisted of Crane “giving a two-hour presentation, followed by multiple sets of bug-themed noise bands, and topped off with one of the most bizarre, horrifying bug worship performance art piece I have ever witnessed,” he says. “It was a blast, so we started planning the second one instantly.”

The event’s format has since remained essentially the same. Bug food, bug art, and dance competitions joined the lineup in 2015.

The original Nebraska Insect Showcase co-organizer, Ethan Happe, parted ways with the event to focus more on entomophagy (eating insects). But Crane wasn’t ready to call it quits. He met Andy Matz in 2016 while planning his third bug show.

Matz, who has a degree in entomology, became a co-lecturer and co-organizer for the 2016 event, the first to go by the name “Omaha Bug Symposium.” Joining the party were bug costume contests, insect snacks prepared by local chefs, and kegs sponsored by Upstream Brewing Co.

Crane and Matz continued their collaboration in planning a special 2017 Omaha Moth Night to coincide with National Moth Week in July (which, despite the name, is a worldwide citizen science initiative encouraging the public to learn more about moths). Omaha Moth Night used the same Bug Symposium format with music, art, lecture, and costume contest.

“Ours had to be the weirdest National Moth Week event, but it fit right in with the spirit of the week, as well as the concept of the Omaha Bug Symposium,” Crane says. “The moth night really was a bit of an experiment just as much as it was something we were genuinely excited to put on. The turnout was similar to last year’s symposium, and I’d say we were highly successful in our attempts to interweave moth art, information, music, and the human connection with moths into a fun night for all.”

Attendance grows each year. Insect artworks continue to surprise. Meanwhile, Crane is thrilled to encourage others to share his love for bugs and the greater outdoors.

“A lot of people go ‘birding,’ but I go ‘bugging,’” Crane says, describing his photo-shooting sessions. “The most important part of bugging is to do it frequently. I think as you start out you’re just fascinated by everything, you’ll see a lot of things from angles and magnifications that you’ve never seen before. It’s like seeing the world the way it really is for the first time.”

Crane has developed what he refers to as “bug-eyes.” He’s usually the first (or only) person to spot a bug while out walking the streets or out in the field.

“If I’m walking through a field of weeds, I’m not searching for the next pretty flower, I’m subconsciously scanning every bit of green for that one bug-shaped discrepancy,” he says. “After so many years, I’m still fascinated with snapping a photo just to look at something around me close up. I love using my camera as a portable, photographic microscope, revealing truth that’s just beyond the naked eye.”

Visit facebook.com/omahabugsymposium for more information.

This article published in the 2017 September/October edition of Encounter Magazine.

*UPDATE: The host venue moved from Midtown Art and Harney Street Gallery to OutrSpaces after the publication of the issue. OutrSpaces is located at 528 S. 24th St. 

Visual Narrator

September 21, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Kristin Zahra says she knew from a young age that she wanted to work in film. “Maybe, 12 to 13ish? I remember really loving Pixar animation film shorts,” she says. “So I had a desire to do more of the 3D animation work.”

Despite her dad’s urging to go into engineering, Zahra attended College of Saint Mary and earned her bachelor’s degree in computer graphics.

“He was a civil engineer and also tried to get all my sisters to pursue that path,” she says. “He was one in four for that battle.”

After graduation, Zahra went on to Vancouver Film School, which she says was a great option for her.

Kristin Zahra

“Their program is unique in that it’s essentially a condensed version of traditional four-year film schools. It made a lot of sense to me, being able to invest one year solely to focusing on film, and I viewed it as an opportunity to really do something challenging and completely out of my comfort zone.”

While at film school, she studied 3D animation and visual effects, and kind of fell in love with the city and Canada.

“Vancouver’s film scene was really apparent when I was there, which heightened the experience in a lot of ways,” she says. “My two roommates were extras and had boyfriends that were stuntmen, one was a screenwriter—I’m guessing a lot like L.A. in that way.”

After film school, Zahra moved around the country—Chicago, Houston, New York City, Norfolk (yes, Nebraska)—but she ended up back in Omaha in 2011. She says she knew she would be “calling this home again for quite a while.”

Like most creatives, Zahra struggled when she first started working in the industry. Since she didn’t live in Los Angeles or a place more conducive to filmmaking, she was using her animation degree more in advertising and motion graphics than anything else.

“I realized there was something missing for me,” she says. “What drew me into film was just how alive I felt when I was able to tell stories.”

Over the last few years, she’s been trying to get back into that. She started reaching out to, and trying to work with, local filmmakers.

Which is how she ended up working with Shelly Hollis on his project, The Black O, a film about black crime in Omaha.

Strangely enough, the two happened to run into each other on the street. Zahra says they met one night at a falafel truck downtown. They started talking while waiting for their food and he told her he was in town visiting his family and filming a documentary.

“It piqued my interest and we got to talking more about the work I did and wanting to be involved in film here in Omaha,” she says. “I had been searching for people to collaborate with, especially on film projects that come from a sincere and honest place.”

Hollis’ background is rooted more in the documentary format, which Zahra says brought her back to some of that storytelling she was missing.

For his documentary, Hollis says they spoke with people in the black community—victims of gang violence, ex-gang members, and city council members—and asked them what they thought the issues were.

“We wanted to give the people their voice, to identify their own problems,” he says.

His passion for the project interested Zahra from the start.

“Shelly is that person, void of ego, and his intentions for the film had inspired me from our first conversation,” she says. She adds that working with Hollis, whom she describes as an “exceptional filmmaker,” has been an honor and he has reminded her not to underestimate her skills.

The admiration is mutual. Hollis says Zahra helped him out a lot with the film. “She’s awesome,” he says. “Just incredible.”

“So yeah,” Zahra says, “it seems we were meant to meet, being that we shared an interest in both film and a good falafel pita.”

While The Black O is in its editing process, Zahra still has to make her money. “I keep moving with my projects, that’s for sure.”

She says she continues to do a lot of animation designs that are strictly for income, but adds that she is currently working on a new passion project with a production/animation studio, Edison Creative.

“For me, the passion I have for filmmaking includes that feeling I get when I’m on a set collaborating with a crew or in a studio working on animation or post-production.”

She says this current project is more of a cartoon piece. “It’s got a lot of potential. I’m really excited for it.”

Visit kristinzahra.com for more information.

This article published in the September/October 2017 edition of Encounter magazine.

Have Marcey

September 14, 2017 by
Photography by Scott Drickey

When North Omaha native Marcey Yates talks about music, his face lights up and it’s as if everything makes sense in his world. From conversations swirling around hip-hop to his wild tales of past encounters with various artists, the 31-year-old lives and breathes his passion for music—and it all started at church.

Yates grew up on 49th and Fort streets, just north of Ames Avenue, where religion played an integral role in his community. The young Yates would often spend time with grandparents, who lived on 19th and Sprague streets, not too far from the home he shared with his mother and father. His grandfather was a pastor at the Church of God and Christ, and would routinely take him to service, where Yates started singing.

“I would say religion was big in my family and the black community,” Yates says. “It was definitely passed on through generations. Church got me into music on both sides of family, and it kept me in church until I was in high school. I sang in the choir.”

After graduating from Benson High School in 2003, he went on to take a few classes at the University of Nebraska-Omaha before leaving for Arizona, where he enrolled at the Conservatory School of Recording Arts and Sciences. By this time, his older brother Jeff had already introduced him to underground hip-hop and artists like Mobb Deep, Wu-Tang Clan, Slum Village, Jay-Z, and Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth. He felt it was time to learn how to make his own signature style of music and establish himself as a credible MC/producer.

“I wanted to focus more on the tech side of music and the other side of the industry,” he explains. “I learned how to make this a business and not just be a rapper. I was able to get a lot practice working on my skill and style doing shows. I got turned down in Arizona, but I had some great experiences. I met Canibus [rapper], who told me about his beef with LL Cool J, and once I was with Method Man passing around a joint in the VIP section.”

Shortly after, the self-proclaimed hip-hop head relocated back to Omaha in 2012. Since then has put much of his energy into the hip-hop collective Raleigh Science Project, which he founded in 2009.

“I established the Raleigh Science Project after my last son [Raleigh] was born,” he explains. “It started as my imprint for my music, but I expanded into a collective after bringing artists on board who shared my vision on hard work and good music. [We had] a focus on building up the hip-hop scene in a positive light, so I wanted to strip the negative vibe associated with hip-hop in my community. That means consistency, quality, showmanship, and being professional.”

The father of three is currently working on the annual New Generation Music Festival—now in its second year—an all-inclusive concert that promotes community awareness, drives traffic and support to other local nonprofits, and provides a platform to retain local talent.

“Our mission is to provide a world-class music festival that promotes inclusion and provides economic opportunities for local businesses, organizations and artists,” he says. “We want to cultivate local talent and artistry as a means to a more secure and sustainable economy in the urban core communities. There are so many resources out here that the people don’t know about because information isn’t made readily available
to everyone.”

Aside from the festival, which is scheduled for Sept. 16 at Aksarben’s Stinson Park, the busy creative is working on a documentary about the life and times of Marcey Yates, a solo EP, a mixtape series titled Chicken Soup, and the Flamboyant Gods II project with local rapper Mars Black.

“I’m constantly working on a new project,” he says. “I want to be one of the hardest-working guys in
the industry.

“Music is the only freedom that is really free,” he continues. “There are no rules to making music. It’s total creativity and a space you can go to anytime. Music is your life soundtrack for every genre in your life—from comedy to drama to suspense. When I get depressed or really bugged out, I create music to pull myself out of the sunken place. Everyone should have a creative hobby or passion because what is important to you, you will cherish and be passionate about.”

Visit op2mus.bandcamp.com to hear Yates’ work.