Tag Archives: Banksy

Art is Life

September 4, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

 

This article appears in the Sept./Oct. 2015 issue of Omaha Magazine.

When Laura Vranes and John McIntyre celebrated their first wedding anniversary in October 2008, they wanted to do something special. Not only was it a year since they exchanged vows, they also both had birthdays that month. They didn’t go out to dinner. Nor did they exchange gifts. Instead, they bought one piece of art. It was something they saw as the beginning of an annual tradition: they would buy one piece of art for every year spent together.

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Except it didn’t pan out that way. The next day, they purchased another artwork. Yet another quickly followed after that. Seven years later, their collection numbers over 300 pieces, and there are no signs the couple will quit acquiring anytime soon. Collecting art—street art in particular—has become more than a hobby. It’s their passion.

Vranes has always been attracted to street art, which, loosely described, is a blend of graffiti and pop culture. “When I was six my family went to New York City, where I saw graffiti,” she recalls. “It just stayed with me. I thought it was beautiful. People are intimidated by it and don’t give it a chance, but lots of stories can be told through street art.”

McIntyre was more than willing to give street art a chance. “My interest began with Laura,” he says. “We like the same things. I had no problem jumping on board. I had liked street art for years but was too busy to look into it. Laura pushed us in that direction.”

Pushed she did. Their collection includes mostly emerging artists as well as some of the genre’s most famous names, including Banksy, Mr. Brainwash, and Shepard Fairey, who created President Obama’s iconic “Hope” campaign poster.

But for the couple, collecting big names isn’t what their passion is about. Through their collecting, Vranes and McIntyre have gotten to know artists all over the world in countries as far afield as China, Russia, Norway, and Ireland. “I’ve communicated with just about each of them,” remarks Vranes. “I’ve had conversations. I’ve emailed, I’ve phoned.”

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While most people might be intimidated at the thought of contacting artists out of the blue—particularly ones with such names as Zombie, Zeus, and Polar Bear—Vranes is unperturbed. “I just say, ‘I love your work.’” she explains. “I’m interested in collecting your work. I’d like to inquire about a piece.”

“She just goes after it,” McIntyre laughs. “It’s quite interesting to see!”

This is what makes their collection so much more than the works that comprise it. It’s the people behind each and every acquisition. “We’ve made so many friends,” comments Vranes. “For almost all of the pieces, there is a personal relationship.”

When the couple purchased a work by Kansas City artist Ryan Haralson, for example, they did so on a payment plan. McIntyre communicated with him over seven months, and the two established a rapport, so much so that the artist visited the couple. While in Omaha, he created a painting of Alice in Wonderland, a character Vranes loves, and presented it to her. “We didn’t know it was going to be a gift,” recounts McIntyre. “Not only did we get a fabulous piece of art, we got a friendship.”

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Still, if one were to choose any of the 300-plus works that best sum up the couple’s often quirky passion, it would perhaps be one by Paris-based street artist Polar Bear. It features a little girl in pigtails scrawling graffiti on a wall.

And what is it that she is writing? “Art is life.”

For Vranes and McIntyre, nothing could be closer to the truth.

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Courtney Kenny

March 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and Courtney Kenny

Courtney Kenny’s favorite piece, currently, is a self-portrait in charcoal. Tousled pale hair is set off by a careless smirk. And a huge, red, acrylic “F” circled over her face and checkmarked for emphasis. The unforgiving letter is the epitome of every student’s nightmares.

“When I was doing Failure,” Kenny says, “I was stressed and frustrated. I’d just got declined from some gallery, so I was stressed about that and kind of feeling like a failure.”

Her friends couldn’t understand it. “They’d say, ‘Why do you feel like a failure?’” Kenny recalls. After all, she of all her peers from Bethany College (she graduated last December) had been in juried shows as a sophomore and had her first solo exhibition as a freshman. She’s what you might call driven.IMG_4256 copy

The reaction she gets when applying to galleries and shows is usually along the lines of “You’re how old? What, 23?”

“It leads me to believe more artists wait till they’re older to show,” Kenny says, adding that most students aren’t even thinking about shows in college, just making art. “I was doing things my peers weren’t,” she says. Determined to get her work seen, she felt her way along with “lots of research, lots of trial and error, lots of rejection, lots of failure.” And even if she doesn’t sell as many pieces as she wants at the shows she does get into, she knows each show is an addition to her résumé. “It’s always better to be able to say, ‘Hey, I currently have a show here,’” Kenny points out. “That alone, other galleries perk up a little bit.”

All the while, she’s amassed a body of work in what she calls “unrealistic realism.” The style is realistic, with people and animals portrayed in fine detail with graphite, charcoal, acrylic, or oil, but the subject matter is unrealistic. Elements are drawn in such a way as to make viewers look twice. Is that…real? Could it be real?IMG_7354 copy

Consider, for example, the Nude Bitch. At first glance, the charcoal and acrylic piece is a study of a tired beagle sacked out on a couch. But upon closer inspection, a viewer might notice the rose petals. And are those draped sheets? “That one’s making fun of the nude model,” Kenny says. “No one gets it at first.”

She’s always looking for the quirk, the sense of humor, the hint of tongue-in-cheek. Artists such as Banksy, Chuck Close, and Francoise Nielly encourage her to embrace a subtle wit in her own work. And, perhaps, a tendency to poke fun at art itself. “I’ve always respected artists more who, if they do a piece that’s just three stripes on a canvas, and then I see another piece of theirs that does show they have the technical skills, I can accept the first piece,” Kenny says. “Then you know it’s intentional, not a cover-up for the fact that they can’t draw.”

For Kenny, drawing is where it all began, and she’s taken certain elements from drawing into her painting. For example, nearly all of her work is in black and white. Drawing in black and white is typical, but a black-and-white oil painting raises eyebrows. “It’s more honed in,” she says. “Minimalist. That’s also why most of my pieces don’t have a ton in the background.” A good example of this stark minimalism would be Unravel, a mixed media work with yarn and acrylic.IMG_3961 copy

Kenny does reserve splashes of color to draw focus, such as the In Bloom series. “Too much color,” she says, “and you’re almost noticing the color over the medium.” But she lets her viewers be the judges, saying she wants to provide a direction but not specific answers as to what her art has to say.

Kenny recently wrapped up a month-long show at the Crossroads Art District in Kansas City in March. Her next show will be at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts in Nebraska City in July. For more information, visit courtneykennyart.com.