Tag Archives: Bemis

Artist Erin Blayney

October 2, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For visual artist Erin Blayney, who grew up in the great outdoors, it’s all about light and space. She has plenty of both at her Old Market apartment that doubles as her studio.

Natural light from six large, south-facing windows cascades over her easel and houseplants. “Not only is that perfect for the type of lighting I need to do my best work, it’s healthy for my overall well-being,” says Blayney.

erinblayney2Exposed brickwork, high ceilings, and an open floor plan contribute to a sense of spaciousness. Extra-wide windowsills provide great perches for her collection of succulents.

“I love nature and the outdoors,” she says. “This apartment allows me to integrate that love into my living quarters, and not feel cramped or experience cabin fever.”

Her spot above Urban Abbey in the historic Windsor Hotel building puts her right in the thick of things. “The Old Market for me is very welcoming, unique, and nourishes a diverse group of people of all ages and backgrounds,” she says. “It’s urban yet has some aspect of a small neighborhood as well.”

A Florida transplant and Art Institute of Chicago graduate, Blayney creates figurative drawings and paintings. She previously worked as an art preparator for California museums.

Her mother preceded her to Omaha to be near a sister, and Erin followed. “My mom lives three blocks away from me, so it’s wonderful to conveniently meet for coffee or go for a bike ride together,” she says.

This self-described “people person” is drawn to the human form. She variously works from live models or photographs.

“Drawing and painting people, mostly gestural, seems to be pretty consistent for me,” she says. “It’s capturing the physicality of a person expressed through facial expression or movement. I love capturing the realness of their character, even if it’s subtle.”

Recently, Omaha restaurant mogul Willy Theisen commissioned her portrait of his granddaughter for his new Paragon eatery in Dundee.

When approaching a new work, she says, “I never know how it’s going to look, so it’s a little adventurous. If I stop thinking about what I’m doing and just let it flow, it comes out naturally. That ‘diving into it’ mindset is what I have to be in for the work to really evolve. It’s mysterious.”

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Blayney’s work is not all figurative. “Occasionally, I’ll do still life,” she says, gesturing to an in-progress oyster shell rendered in a swirl of pastels. She is contemplating an oceanic-themed series motivated by her love of the water, marine life, and nature.

“I was brought up on water. I swam in the Gulf of Mexico. So that’s in my bones.”

In Omaha, she has twice worked at Jun Kaneko’s studio (most recently in 2006 as a painting assistant). Of the celebrated artist, she says, “We had a good connection. He’s very quiet, polite, observant, receptive. He was very trusting of me. Like when I did some mixing of colors, pigments—he trusted my instincts. I’m not a ceramicist, but I felt in my natural element.”

She feels at home in Omaha, where she says, “The connections I’ve made are so important.” The same for her day job at Alley Poyner Macchietto, where she curates art shows. She admires the local art-culture scene.

“I feel the creative community in Omaha is very supportive rather than super competitive. The friends I’ve made here are very authentic, genuine, and loyal.”

She enjoys what the Bemis and Joslyn offer as well as how “smaller, contemporary, progressive galleries like Project Project and Darger HQ are pushing the envelope. I’m a huge fan of Garden of the Zodiac. 1516 Gallery is just gorgeous.”

In the spring of 2016, Petshop Gallery in Benson exhibited her portraiture work. She regularly shows in the Bemis Benefit Art Auction and had a piece in the October 28 show (she described the colorful abstract portrait as “a little mysterious looking”).

Blayney also contributed to the Old Market Art Project; hers was one of 37 banners selected (from nearly 300 submissions) to be displayed outside the Mercer Building as renovations followed the M’s Pub fire.

“It’s an abstract painting that took forever,” she says. “There’s a lot going on in it. Finally, it just came together. I collaborated with another artist in the process of painting it, and then I finished it.”

She sees many opportunities for local artists in Omaha, but there is room for improvement, too. “There’s definitely room to grow—I’d like to see even more galleries because there’s so much talent here,” she says.

Going into the fall, several commission projects were “consuming” Blayney’s time. Her projects come from anywhere and everywhere. “Lately, it’s been more people coming to me and asking either for a portrait of themselves or of a family member. I can be surprised. I’ve given my card to someone and then a year later gotten a commission. It’s unpredictable.”

Visit erinblayney.com for more information.

Encounter

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The McBrides

July 15, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Caroline McBride sobbed as she left midtown Omaha with her partner, M.J., and the last load of their belongings from their midtown home. She was so happy there.

The tears quickly subsided as they arrived at their new home.

“It’s pretty easy when you are greeted with strangers bearing champagne,” M.J. says.

McBrides4The couple now live in The Rows at SoMa, a group of rowhouses along Leavenworth between 11th and 13th streets. Bluestone Development approached them about moving.

Bluestone owner Christian Christiansen was looking for buyers of his new development off the Old Market, and a mutual friend suggested he contact the ladies.

“When we bought down here, it was dirt and not much else. We really had to trust and go on a wing and a prayer,” M.J. says. “Everything they promised has come true.”

Christiansen promised great people (in the neighborhood) and quality workmanship (in the building). The couple appreciate the diversity of The Rows’ residents. Their neighbors range from millennials to folks in their 60s, from single people to married couples.

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Caroline and M.J. welcome all the new friends. Caroline has even joined the board of the homeowner association, which hosts wine nights on Wednesdays.

“They’re great,” Jerre Tritsch, current HOA president and a retired lawyer, says of the couple. “They’re fun people. Very positive. We love having them here.”

“There’s always an eclectic group of people and dogs,” Caroline says.

Walking around the neighborhood, Caroline greets everyone by name, and they smile and say hello back. In fact, the only complaints that the couple receive follow M.J. starting her Harley-Davidson motorcycle before 7 a.m.

The wine nights take place in the community garden, which features two crescent-moon shaped benches on a paver patio. The garden includes 14 planting beds, available by a lottery system. The landscaping and gardens are all organic.

It’s also beautiful, in part, thanks to Keep SoMa Beautiful, a group started by the community that walks through the streets to make sure the sidewalks are intact and mess-free.

“Overall we’re looking to encourage an attitude of participation in the community,” says Tritsch. “Don’t wait for a contractor or management company to do something. Pitch in and help, because that helps to build relationships within the community.”

The first row house the couple lived in was a two-bed, 2-1/2-bath townhouse in the middle of the development. The 2,200-square-foot home looked out over the community garden. Sitting on one of the benches in the garden, a visitor would hardly know the heart of the Old Market lies a quick stroll down the street.

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“There’s a sense of openness by the total privacy that’s built in,” Caroline says.

The couple specifically wanted to live in one of the homes facing Leavenworth Street and the Old Market.

In 2009, they acquired one of The Rows’ eight 2,500-square-foot homes with three beds and 3 1/2 baths. They liked the floor plan, which is longer and includes more windows.

“One of the first questions people ask is about windows,” M.J. says. “Are you covering them? Are you leaving them uncovered? What about the kitchen?”

The creative couple, who established and operate Rebel Interactive agency, found an appropriately creative solution—sheer panels with black squiggly details running down them. The contemporary design fits well with their home, which includes brightly colored artwork and furniture throughout.

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The couple appreciate that art is a part of SoMa. The garden features a sculpture commissioned by Bluestone for the area. The community also features an art gallery that doubles as a commons room and is available to residents at SoMa. Caroline and M.J., who have been together since 1997, used the gallery to celebrate with their friends and neighbors following their marriage in Iowa in September of  2013.

This urban-living development embraces people (and pets) of all types. Amenities such as snow removal and lawn care help residents leave home with peace of mind.

“A lot of people are attracted to SoMa because they travel quite a bit,” says Tritsch.

The McBrides count themselves among those travelers. They spend many weekends at Lake Okoboji with their black cat, Reo, and Boston terrier, Bella. They also travel to Key West, Florida, once a year to stay at their time share, and to Arizona to visit M.J.’s mom.

Their travels always end back at their row home in Omaha.

“We love being close to Bemis and KANEKO,” Caroline says. “It’s nice being right across the street from world-class creativity.”

M.J. smiles brightly as she thinks about her downtown life.

“I’ve enjoyed living other places, but I love living here,” M.J. says. Encounter

Visit omahadowntown.org for more information.McBrides1

Nebraska Arts’ Passport to the World

May 6, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The 1516 Gallery is gorgeous. Newly renovated, the building is a lean, elegant structure that would be at home in the hottest districts of Vienna or Paris. The interior is deceptively spacious, but perhaps just as compelling is the luxurious guesthouse: 100 percent furnished with Nebraskan art, history, and sensibilities, suited for guests from the far corners of the world.

It would be difficult to profile Pat Drickey without first introducing the gallery, as the two are inextricably linked. The 1516 stands as the culmination of his lifelong dedication to local art. “I see it as a world-class platform for Nebraska artists, showing the good work coming from Nebraska and hopefully launching them to a bigger stage,” he says. Drickey believes the 1516 will fill a niche between “underground” galleries and “blockbuster” exhibitions at Joslyn. “I want it to become an institution like the Joslyn, or MONA in Kearney,” he explains. He envisions the 1516 bridging the gulf between Nebraska’s urban east and rural west, through partnerships like the MONA2Omaha landscape exhibit that started in late March.

Pat Drickey

Pat Drickey

At the same time, the gallery feels like a touchstone between the history of Omaha, Nebraskan art, and the greater world, made possible by Drickey’s dual nature as a deep-rooted native and world traveler. “Though I’d be happy to never set foot on a plane again,” he quips. A tour of the premises yielded a history lesson on the building and its generations of forms and purposes, as well as on the area, the nearby buildings, their owners, and their own genealogies— all effortlessly plucked from Drickey’s memory. If the gallery is a window to the world for Nebraska artists, it is supported by a deep foundation in Omaha soil.

Drickey’s own life is similarly rich. Not just a figure in the Omaha cultural world for decades (and close friends with the late Kent Bellows), he’s also a successful professional photographer. As a major name in golf course panoramas and printmaking, he’s proud of his work and deservedly so: “You know ‘Dogs Playing Poker’? Everyone does. It sold 350,000 prints. I have a print that sold 850,000.”

His work has taken him around the globe, but he has never lost sight of his love of Nebraska and Nebraskan art. “I’d go all over the world and hear about the work places like Bemis and Kaneko were doing. The good reputation they have is also good for Omaha.” With the right amount of attention, he sees little reason Nebraska artists cannot flourish on the world stage: “If you can get artists interested in staying here, there is a community ready to support them. You don’t have to wait for change; you can become the change you want.”

But what keeps pulling Drickey back to Nebraska? “The sky here, the variety of art, and the people. There’s something about people who actually touch the Earth that makes them admirable. With the way the gallery feels, it could be anywhere in the world. But I want it here.”

Visit gallery1516.org for more information.

Gallery 1516

Gallery 1516

Michael Jones McKean’s Rainbow

August 20, 2012 by
Photography by minorwhitestudios

Try to catch a rainbow.

Michael Jones McKean pursued this alluring and evanescent image for 10 years before “unveiling” The Rainbow: Certain Principles of Light and Shapes Between Forms at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts. An arc of iridescent light shimmered above the Bemis and admiring patrons, over the purr of tires on brick, above surprised Old Market visitors, above the sounds of music and laughter and evening birds. “The spirit of the rainbow is egalitarian,” McKean told me. “It can’t be owned; it can’t even be fixed. It’s very mischievous.”

Rainbows are made of sunlight and water drops. As light enters a water drop, its cargo of collective color refracts into a prism of brilliant individual hues. These are reflected and re-refracted, emerging as seven bands of color, from outermost red through orange and yellow, cool green, blue and indigo, to sweet violet. But there’s the first sign of mischief—rainbows shine in a continuum of color, not bands. One color mists into the next, and more or fewer colors may be seen depending on one’s vantage point, vision, and atmospheric conditions.

Bemis curator Hesse McGraw (left) with McKean.

Bemis curator Hesse McGraw (left) with McKean.

Rainbows are a universally recognized image. They appear in art, mythology and literature, religion, and science throughout time and around the world; they’re eye-catching marketing tools; they’re seen as magic by the child in each of us.

For McKean, the intrigue was in trying to understand such a complicated object. In a poetic sense, how does a rainbow, a timeless and iconic image, define our concept of beauty, of the sublime? That process of discovery began by studying rainbows produced by car washes, paint sprayers, and irrigation equipment. Step by incremental step, from these prosaic beginnings, McKean continued his autodidactic ambition. He devised experiments and tested equipment, read, listened, and persevered. He never doubted that he could catch, if not keep, this ephemeral quarry.

Hesse McGraw, Chief Curator at the Bemis, knew McKean’s work and of his rainbow trials. In 2008, newly hired by the Bemis, he contacted the artist to commission a project. When McKean described his ideas, McGraw wondered, “Is it possible to do this?” The following day, McKean faxed “the blue sketch” and three words: “Anything is possible.”

The water apparatus atop the Bemis in action.

The water apparatus atop the Bemis in action.

From this nebulous beginning, it was quickly clear that creating a rainbow would be enormously complex. A team was assembled that included, in addition to Bemis staff members, electricians, plumbers, structural engineers, experts in myriad aspects of water—harvesting, containment, dispersion, purification, etc., an atmospheric scientist, film documentarist, and computer wizards.

Recirculating rainwater is stored in six 10,500-gallon tanks; one of them near the Bemis entrance. Seen inside, a pump delivers water to nozzles on the roof at the rate of 2,000 gallons per minute. This visibility of the project’s working components celebrates the efforts and collaboration of its many diverse contributors. The Rainbow’s gallery component also includes a display of objects that represent what McKean calls “a small poem on the nature of space and time”: a bristlecone pine (Bristlecones may be the earth’s oldest living organism; this one is watered by the same rainwater that makes up the rainbow.), a meteorite from Argentina’s famed Campo del Cielo, a Micronesian conch shell, and a 19th century handmade quilt.

The project’s subtitle, Certain Principles of Light and Shapes Between Forms, expresses McKean’s sense of the rainbow as a bridge. Its arc connects the viewer to a meteorite hurled to earth 5,000 years ago; connects workers and thinkers from disparate fields; connects the forms, the buildings, people, plants, and activities of an urban landscape under its variegated canopy. It connects idea to reality…if rainbows are really real. Try to catch one.