Tag Archives: drawing

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April 13, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A boozy brunch between girlfriends, a meeting of coworkers over coffee, a couple splitting a glass   of wine—conversations captured around the city, all serve as fodder and inspiration for Brion Poloncic’s work. In the quiet corners of Omaha’s local coffee shops and wine bars, Poloncic puts pen to paper, his ear tuned into the surrounding babble, creating art that he feels represents those around him and the experiences they discuss.

But don’t expect a still life of women gossiping between sips of their Venti mochas. As a visual artist, author, and former musician, Poloncic is a man of many hats but always remains a creator of thought-provoking and idiosyncratic work that paints middle America in a psychedelic wash.

“I’ve always fancied myself an artist,” Poloncic says. “My art is an affirmation of my peculiar skill set, and it just so happens to make me happy. It’s my own blend of therapy.”

It was through chance that Poloncic was first bitten by the creative bug. After he didn’t make the baseball team, he traded mitts for guitars and started writing music. A fan of everyone from Pink Floyd to Johnny Cash, he parlayed his early love for listening to his parent’s records into seven albums, all released under the moniker “A Tomato A Day (helps keep the tornado away).” A prolific songwriter, his discography is filled with character and colorful song titles, including ditties like “You Little Shit” and “Weirdo Park.”

For Poloncic, music wasn’t enough. He needed to sink his teeth into his next artistic outlet. So when a friend needed help setting up an Iowa art studio, he asked Polonic to draw pieces that illustrated his career. With no formal training or experience, unless coloring backpacks with magic markers counts, he dove in.

Two years later, Poloncic sold his first piece at a gallery in Lincoln. He has also shown work in Omaha and Kansas City and has a collection represented at Gallery 72, all those diploma-yielding pros be damned.

“My art isn’t constrained by my knowledge or training, and I think this makes me naturally less critical of my work,” Poloncic says.

Filled with abstract shapes, haunting faces, and stark use of color, his off-kilter yet original drawings mirror the tone of his written work. Through The Journal of Experimental Fiction, he published his first book Xanthous Mermaid Mechanics in 2012, following this up in 2014 with his second printed work On the Shoulders of Madmen. Both explored concepts of the subconscious mind, and the novel he is currently working on will follow suit.

“I’ll be surprised if anyone can read it,” Poloncic says. “It’s got no characters, no story arc, and isn’t about anything in particular.”

And he admits this is his niche, comparing his art to improvisational jazz or free-style rap where “things just happen.” For whatever he’s working on, he says the hardest part is just getting started. Once that happens, everything else just falls into place, and if he can’t get over a block, he always has another craft to turn to.

“If I stumble off the creative wagon with drawing, I get back on with writing and vice versa,” Poloncic says. “As you work on one, the other comes right along with it.”

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Encounter.

Jeff Koterba

January 16, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Political statements in Omaha, it would seem, don’t originate solely from behind a podium or during photo ops.

For Omaha World-Herald editorial cartoonist Jeff Koterba, his catalog of more than 7,200 cartoons means he has an important voice on the political stage.

“I want to be part of the discussion, the great conversation,” Koterba says. “I’m like anyone else reading the paper or paying attention to the news. I just happen to be able to draw about it.”

 

Koterba, whose 25-year cartoon collection Koterba: Drawing You In hit stores last fall, has drawn editorial cartoons for the World-Herald since 1989. Although initially a sports cartoonist for the Kansas City Star, Koterba confesses he has a “bigger world in his head” than just athletics. Politics, for him, was the next logical step.

“I’m always trying to find not just the middle-ground,” he explains, “but a third or fourth way of looking at an issue. I get really sick of looking at right versus left, red versus blue. I try to go beyond the visible, predictable route.”

Which, predictably, provokes some backlash: “I piss off both sides of the aisle frequently.”

Koterba admits that he receives a fair amount of both fan mail and hate mail, but both have occasionally been cause to reassess his position on specific topics—topics that Koterba brainstorms from sometimes the oddest of angles.

“I try to find inspiration in places beyond the obvious,” Koterba says. “It might be reading the side of a cereal box, listening in on a conversation in a coffee shop, or going to a concert. I never know where an idea might come from.”

That diversity of ideas might come easier for Koterba, given the versatile life he leads. His rockabilly/swing/blues band, the Prairie Cats, although currently on hiatus, have released three albums. He’s the author of two previous cartoon collections and has penned a memoir. He even survived a lightning strike in high school.

Koterba’s subjects of drawing can range anywhere from ebola to Huskers football to the Omaha weather, but he tries not to be predictable. For him, substance rather than technique is the “meat and potatoes” of any given cartoon.

“There are plenty of people out there that can draw way better than I can, but if you don’t have a concept or substance, the drawing falls flat. It’s empty,” Koterba says. “I’d much rather have a great idea. Drawing is sort of like the frosting on the cake.”

Koterba’s verve, then, is perhaps his strongest asset.

“I try to find some different takes on things,” he says. “I try to keep it fresh.”

Two Perspectives

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Nancy Lepo and Corey Broman are expert draftsmen. Both use the tools of their medium to create precise markings which address color, the movement of light, a sense of direction and shape, and the nuance of mystery, depth, and genesis. She carries her tools in a canvas lunch sack; his require a studio. Lepo uses traditional pen and ink on paper; Broman draws with a diamond wheel on glass.

Both artists’ work will be on view in a dual exhibition at the Nebraska Arts Council’s Fred Simon Gallery this summer. NAC staff, who determine the exhibition schedule, found the work of both applicants compelling and promising interplay.

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Broman has been blowing glass for about 15 years, following a spark lit when he was a child on vacation, “watching an old man crafting a glowing ball of molten glass.” That spark was reignited by an exhibition of Chihuly glass at Joslyn Art Museum. Finding a glass studio in the phone book, he went immediately to Crystal Forge (hotshopsartcenter.com/crystal) and knew with certainty that “that’s what I want to do.” For months he watched, took classes, and assisted. Owner Ed Fennell encouraged him. “He referred me to Hastings College,” says Broman. “He gave me hope.”

Today, Broman is a full-time glassblower with a growing online business, Corey Broman Glass. In contrast to most studios, where a master works with a team of specialized assistants, he works solo, adapting and improvising his unique system of handling glass heated to 2,000°F. Molten glass is a thick, viscous material, constantly changing temperature and plasticity. This calls for a calculated choreography of gathering, blowing, rolling, and swinging a blob of hot glass on a 7- to 10-pound rod. He also does all his own cold work—the design and finishing of cooled glass—switching the emphasis from the physicality of sculpture to the precision of surface detail.

Lepo’s attention seems always to be on a small scale, but one can find infinity in her intimate landscapes. There is the expanse of a Southwest sky, opening over the canyon to our view just as surprisingly as it did to hers. Or sensing in the density of a spinning planet the cold vacuum of the surrounding void. “Drawing,” she says, “is a means of looking at something again for the first time.” And how better to really see than to map a landscape with tiny dots of ink, to define a tree branch or the trace of wind across sand by the proximity of one dot to another?

Lepo’s unconscious apprenticeship as a pen and ink artist began with her exposure to a variety of cultures during her childhood, her curiosity, her wondering. Later, as an engineering technology student, she understood the power of a drawing to convey information. “Looking again” is her impetus to move such utilitarian drawing to a deeper level of engagement. With the simplest of equipment—sketchbook, India ink, pens (the nibs rattling around in a small tea tin), water dish, pencils, an eraser—the self-described “nature-centric” artist can create a sketch whenever her wandering says “pay attention.”20130507_bs_4431-Copy_web

Finishing, then inking the drawing in her studio, Lepo employs pointillist techniques to describe form, light, and movement in detail, using only black ink and the white of the paper. The tonal gradation she achieves via stippling, hatching and cross-hatching, and layering is extraordinary—a picture may take up to 100 hours to complete. Working in her spacious north-facing studio at Hot Shops, her attention articulates the relationship betweenherself and a particular moment and place (whether real or imaginary). Surrounding that focal point, the world expands in scale and scope: Wind and falcon’s cry become the voice of the North Rim, the persona of the Grand Canyon, the panorama of the Southwest. Lepo’s anchor is a tree silhouetted by sunset.

Broman’s studio is an efficiently organized cubicle in a busy industrial plant. In just a few steps, he can reach his three furnaces (furnace, for melting glass; glory hole, for reheating; annealer, for controlled cooling to room temperature), his workstation/bench, a cupboard of supplies, and wall of notes, sketches, and recipes. There’s also a sandblaster, which he can use to create surface effects of layered color or a frosted appearance. Glassblowing is a sequential process, and running three furnaces is expensive, so time in the studio is carefully planned.20130507_bs_4464-Copy_Web

Vista embodies several techniques. Three blown glass pieces are assembled in a custom-welded stand. The diamond wheel was used to make thousands of light-reflecting cuts in the stem, and to engrave the disc with its delicate scene. The graceful leaf was treated with an acid bath for a matte finish.

Like Lepo, Broman appreciates the outdoors. He finds peace in moments of stillness and challenge in the variability of light. Both artists use the language of art to express a unique response that, in turn, informs and enriches viewers and bids us to pay attention. Finding the affinities and distinctions between their work, we learn to see again for the first time.

Nancy Lepo, Drawings/Corey Broman, Glass will be on display at the Fred Simon Gallery, Nebraska Arts Council in the Burlington Building (1004 Farnam St.) from June 24 – July 26, 2013. For more information, visit nebraskaartscouncil.org.

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.