Tag Archives: Encounter

Skater Slant

November 17, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

With his hair pulled back into a ponytail, a cigarette behind his ear, and a tattoo of his own design edging from the sleeve of his T-shirt, The up-and-coming videographer is measuring his rapid success carefully. Twenty-year-old Dax Sukstorf offers boyish smiles sparingly, but he’s quick with a kind word.

The 2015 Omaha North High grad knew from a young age his future lie in visual media. From polaroids up to his current Nikon D5300, Sukstorf has always had a camera in his hands. He got his start working with his mother’s photography business, helping to shoot and edit for weddings. “It was nice, but it’s just not really my kind of thing,” he says. Still in high school, he found the process of shooting and editing “nice” photos pleasant, but unfulfilling. “Taking photos of something is cool,” he says, “but I want to make a photo.” He resolved to take the risk of starting his own business, where he could push the limits of photography and challenge himself creatively.

While friends were changing their majors every semester or resigning to career fields they had no passion for, Sukstorf was methodically building his company. He experienced house parties through a camera lens, experimenting with different shooting techniques and networking with the local musicians who would become his client base.

A young man on a mission, it wasn’t long before the photographer uncovered a uniquely raw and irresistible creative voice. Perhaps influenced by the polaroids of childhood friends on their skateboards, Sukstorf finds himself adamantly against reliance on digital editing tools in his work. “I would rather take a photo and work on it for a very long time, you know, not use Photoshop,” he says, “but use the camera to take the photo and print it, and sell it as what it is: art.”

And his photos are art—not the Instagrammable portraits or cityscapes many 21st century photographers are producing. Sukstorf’s photos have a texture to them.

Subjects—usually local rappers—appear to move in the still images. Lighting, which Sukstorf refers to as “the most important thing always,” takes on an almost tangible form in the foreground of many photos.

Sukstorf has owned several cameras in his career, but his weapon of choice in creating art is an old Canon 30D with an external flash. He maneuvers the clunky camera expertly, aiming to capture the essence of an entire moment. By strategically leaving the shutter open for an extra couple of seconds at the perfect time, the decade-old equipment produces photos that appear “burned” instead of a static image that appears “frozen.” Sukstorf says of his method, “It’s like a video and a picture.”

After endless experimentation with photography, the transition into videography seemed only natural. “I definitely just learned photos as a base,” he says, “but videos are definitely the main interest.” After only one year of shooting and networking, he landed his first visual media contract with local rap group R0ach. Once the photos and videos of the rappers in action were
posted, the “Dax Visuals” video brand exploded from there. His ever-expanding client list is essentially a roll call of local hip hop artists, including work with $wipes, PB, Big Tate, and Absolut-P’s Movie House Radio project on
101.3 FM.

The immediate spike in demand for video work can be attributed to a uniquely slow and diligent editing process. A distinctive texture similar to his photography is present in Sukstorf’s music videos, making them unmistakably his own. Images fade and movement and light are intricately manipulated to create a hazy, mesmerizing effect. The artist is understandably hesitant to reveal too much about his process or estimate the amount of work that goes into a video, but he offers this breakdown of his craft: “There’s 25 pictures in every second of video. And each flicker that you see in my music videos…each little flash you see, it takes at least five seconds to do that effect. And there’s 25 of those little pictures in each second.” For one of his most recent works, “Adi Boyz,” (created for R0ach rapper Cheechy), that’s about 3,725 frames in the 2 1/2-minute video. “It can take me five to 15 minutes, even 30 minutes, on that one frame.” A hand-drawn video component that lasts three seconds amounts to 75 drawings.

Fortunately for a budding young artist who has yet to obtain his own studio, Sukstorf says DoSpace at 72nd and Dodge offers free access to all the digital tools one could need. Sukstorf often spends hours and days there editing his videos to perfection.

Despite a constant stream of new project offers coming in, Sukstorf doesn’t want to rush his learning process. “I could get better,” he says. “You know, I’m learning this all by myself.” He compares starting and growing his business to another big passion—skateboarding. “Once you start a business, you can keep failing,” he says. “But that skateboarder in me is like, ‘come on, you’re like that close to landing that trick.’ ”

Along with the high demand for music videos come decisions for the beginning business owner. Sukstorf intends to expand in his work within the local hip-hop scene and is learning the art of graphic design for album covers. “I’m open to anything,” he says. “It’s really a
visual business.”

facebook.com/daxvisuals

This article appears in the November/December 2017 issue of Encounter.

 

A Fluid Life

November 10, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Fluid.

That’s how digital graphic designer and fine art painter Dana Oltman describes her aesthetic.

As art director for Identity Marketing Group (she was previously at Rebel Interactive) she fulfills client project wishes. She says her branding design work consistently features “minimal, simple, clean” looks that, well, flow.

“Fluid is what I love,” she says. “Fluid is where I’m at now.”

Her abstract expressionistic fine art, especially her poured art work, is all about the swirls and natural organic fades of liquid flows.

“Most of the paints I use are acrylics,” she says. “which have as their base water, and so they’re very fluid.”

She invariably listens to music when painting in order to activate or induce that state of flow.

“What I do is based on whatever mood I’m in,” she says. “While design is very rigid—I like to have a plan and justify everything I do—painting is exactly the opposite. I like to work with the medium, just pick a paint, pick some colors, and basically put it on a surface and see what it does. It’s very much working with my medium to get random results, trying to affect it minimally as I go, letting gravity and fluid dynamics do the rest. It’s all very in the moment.”

If she does manipulate the image, she says, it’s for texture, and in those cases she may apply etching materials, resin, linoleum carvers, and even a culinary blow torch.

The images she creates on masonry board or wood panels and, occasionally, on canvas are often expressions of things found in nature–everything from nebulas in outer space to severe storm skies.

Her favorite skies appear after a storm at sunset. “The clouds are stacking up to the east after they’ve already moved through and the sun is shining from the west and you have orange, yellow, purple, red—which is my favorite color palette,” she says.

Her natural hair color is red, and she often sports highlights in different shades from her favorite palette.

In August, she drove to Beatrice, Nebraska, to catch the total solar eclipse, and she knows it’s only a matter of time before it shows up in one of her paintings.

Music is another source of inspiration for Oltman, 26, who loves going to local live shows and festivals.

Occasionally, her work is featured at local concerts and entertainment events. She did a live painting of a musician at an Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards showcase.

She’s also taken on art projects for local bands, including an album cover for The Big Deep.

Some of her paintings can be seen at Curb Appeal Salon & Spa in the Old Market. A broad sampling of her work is available on her website, danaoltman.com.

Additionally, she draws and makes photographs, which she shares on her Instagram page.

Other influences and inspirations range from high fashion to poetry. She did a multi-week study abroad in Japan learning that country’s visual culture. The Japan immersion naturally showed up in her work, and she intends returning one day.

She’s also a Francophile who’s visited Quebec, Canada, and France. She expects taking ever deeper dives into French culture and returning to France—the home base for her favorite art movement: Impressionism.

Oltman grew up in Bennington, Nebraska, and graduated with a fine arts degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She draws a clear distinction between graphic design and art activities. She loves both, but one’s her job and the other’s purely for pleasure. She likes the balance of producing on a schedule as part of an office team and creating art alone when she feels like it.

“Since I don’t have art hooked to a vocation, it’s in my court totally. I don’t have to rely on anyone,” she says. “If I don’t want to make stuff, I don’t make stuff. If I do, I do. It’s just totally free.”

On the design side, she’s finding her most satisfaction working on websites.

“It”s such an advancing field,” she says. “Websites are so versatile, and you can do so many things. And it’s just so nuanced. It’s a really pretty time for web design.”

Motion graphics and animation are two new areas she’s learning fast. Coding is another.

“I enjoy learning new things,” she says.
“I’m a learner.”

Oltman enjoys the meet-ups that the local American Institute of Graphic Arts chapter puts on, including BarCamp.

She also stays connected to the design community via social media.

As a self-identified millennial, she admits, “I definitely fit the label in respect to being super connected online, being liberal, wanting a meaningful career that isn’t too constricting and gives me creative output, focusing on experience over material things in life, etc.”

A couple years ago when legalizing same-sex marriage was struck down in Nebraska, Oltman made a graphic of the Husker “N” with the Human Rights Campaign logo imposed in it. “I’m for causes that focus on equal human rights,”
she says.

At UNL she was one of several art students who created a mural portrait of George Flippin, the first African-American athlete of note at the university. The mural adorns the campus multicultural center.

When not doing pro bono work for things she believes in, she donates to the American Civil Liberties Union and to disaster relief funds.

In whatever she does, she follows her passion. Her personal credo-tagline says it all:

“Doin’ me a life.”

This article appears in the November/December 2017 issue of Encounter.

Vie et Mort d’une Etoile

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Concept & intro by Jared Spence | Photography by Bill Sitzmann | Design by Derek Joy
Art direction assistance by Jamie Danielle Hardy | On set assistance by Johnny Ireland
Modeled by Jake Rea | Agency Sasha Models

Life gives way to a passing.
A passing of shards of a former self.
A gaining of lessons learned.
A passing to transgressions of yesterday.
Death makes way for transformation.
Growth.
A rebirth. a new start, a new self.
Through the fires of the
journey awaits a restfulness.
Wisdom.
Peace.

This article was printed in the November/December 2017 edition of Encounter.

Surrealist Storyteller

November 3, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For Artist Joe Nicholson, life after college wasn’t the masterpiece he had imagined. Fancy-schmancy art degree? Got it. Dead-end corporate job? Yep, got that too. Plenty of dough to make ends meet? Check. Despite all this, Nicholson kept putting his faith into black-and-white doodles he drew in his basement—just pen meeting paper, his savior in its infancy stage.

“College asked me to focus on one thing, painting,” Nicholson says. “I was tied down and didn’t even consider illustrating a possibility until after college. Once I did, everything changed.”

Now at age 32, Nicholson is a lot of things. Down on his luck isn’t one of them. Whether he’s creating his own illustrated books, freelancing for myriad local eateries, or preparing pieces to be shown in galleries, all his work manages to tell surreal and symbolic stories, with his whimsical and emotional style tying them all together.

Nicholson may be new to the professional illustration game, but this is hardly the first time he’s traded paintbrush for pencil and pen.

“Art has always been a part of who I am,” Nicholson says. “In preschool, I was the one who loved to spend his free time drawing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It made me different.”

Throughout his adolescent life, Nicholson continued his pursuit of all things art, eventually receiving a bachelor’s degree with an emphasis in painting from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. While studying, he was exposed to different mediums but refocused fresh eys on art and putting brush to canvas.

“I wanted to grow up and become a painter of huge masterpieces that would hang in museums,” Nicholson says. “After I got out, I realized this path didn’t make sense for me. Then I got a corporate job and hated that, too.”

And so those aforementioned basement doodles became much more than a free-time hobby. After quitting his necktie-laden job, art began to be his focus once more, with his sketches acting as the start of full-blown illustrated storybooks.

His first two books, available for purchase on his online studio, exemplify his trademark style. Both are light on color but heavy on symbolism, exploring such themes as evolution versus creation and spiritual philosophy.

“I used to paint pictures that told stories,” Nicholson says. “I’m just taking that same idea and stretching it out into a more complicated, comprehensive thought. Each book takes an idea and spells it out, yet keeps it open for interpretation.”

One story, The Involuntary Life and Death of Seymour Finnegan, illustrates the adventures of a half-man, half-fish creature. Readers who look closely will see a fishhook on every page, a metaphor for the omnipresence of death and desire in any person’s life. His other illustrated story, The Birdhouse Man, shows the epic tale of a man with an empty birdhouse growing from his head. Totally normal reading, right? Totally not.

However, it’s this daring uniqueness in his work that’s led to Nicholson’s success. Both books were chosen for display in a 2016 exhibition at KANEKO.

“When we first met Joe, it became clear that art is truly his life’s pursuit,” says Chris Hochstetler, KANEKO’s executive director. “I would describe him as a contemporary philosopher who asks the same very deep and nagging questions that we all yearn to know, but through the depth of art.”

Beyond illustrated books, Nicholson uses his talents to help businesses tell their brand stories. One such job came from the most unlikely of places—with hands in suds and grime, washing dishes for the Boiler Room. Proof that even in the art world, it’s all about connections. His friendship with sous chef A.J. Swanda blossomed into a paying gig. Last year, Swanda opened his own restaurant, Ugly Duck, and commissioned his old pal to create a 250-square-foot mural and design T-shirts.

That’s not the only trendy midtown hangout that’s benefitted from Nicholson’s artistry. As a pseudo-reward for being a loyal regular, Nicholson was hired by Nite Owl bar to create wooden liquor menus and T-shirts with an old school Americana design. Yes, Nicholson knows food and drink very well, but he thought he was in over his head when hired by Definitive Vision to create a mural that doubles as one large color blindness test.

“I was really excited, then I thought, ‘Shit there’s a lot of science behind that,'” Nicholson says.

As with most things in Nicholson’s life, it all worked out, and the mural still lives on the waiting room wall.

For Nicholson, he’s playing the long game—planning next to create up to 10 more surreal storybooks. Even with his reborn love for illustrating, his preferred medium may change again. It’s not what he uses to create that drives him, rather the challenge to create. The struggle is real and very much wanted.

“With each new project, I push myself to do something that scares me,” Nicholson says. “It’s just fulfilling to now be at a place where my art isn’t just kept in the basement anymore.”

Visit joenicholsonstudios.com for more information.

This article published in the November/December 2017 edition of Encounter.

In the Mood

October 11, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Si

When Omaha transplant and burgeoning singer/rapper Ria Gold first heard Aaliyah’s posthumous album, 2002’s I Care 4 U, she was hooked. The Toledo, Ohio, native was so entranced by it, she played it start-to-finish countless times. The late R&B/pop sensation was the first artist Gold felt truly connected to; however, her musical tastes go way deeper. Gold is moved more by rhythm than anything else.

“Everyone around me listened to alternative music,” Gold explains. “That led me to listening to rock, R&B, anything alternative, and everything in between. I also have a very eclectic soul, so a tune that catches my soul is a good tune to me.”

From Destiny’s Child and Avril Lavigne to Alicia Keys and Paramore, Gold has drawn from a variety of diverse influences for as long as she can remember. Around age 13, Gold realized she wanted to pursue music, but she started off slowly.

“I started taking songwriting more serious at the age of 9,” she says. “But I wasn’t thinking about any certain path at that age.”

In 2010, Gold finally performed live for the first time at Sokol Auditorium, an event she’ll never forget. At the time, she was only 15 years old.

“Oh my gosh,” she says with a sense of awe. “Luckily, I performed a song I had written with a friend. He helped me feel comfortable on stage for the first time. I was just as excited as I was nervous, but I looked cute and I didn’t mess up, so that was good.”

Fast-forward to 2017 and Gold, now 23, has graced multiple stages. In 2016, she won her first battle rap tournament at Soho Lounge and is currently preparing to enter her second one at Club Vibe.

She just wrapped up an inaugural performance at Femme Fest, and is working on her aptly titled EP trilogy — Moodring Pt. 1, Moodring Pt. 2 and Moodring Pt. 3. The project, which she plans to release in 2018, is a glimpse into her sometimes tumultuous love life.

“I’m really excited to share it because it displays all the emotions I’ve gone through dealing with my last breakup and going into my current relationship,” she explains. “It’ll take you through some ups and downs for sure, and that’s why I chose the title Moodring.”

Fans of Gold have described her vocal style as a mix between singing and rapping, or what she describes as “something like a melodic poet.”

“That’s why I feel so naturally connected to both,” she says.

When she’s not working on music, Gold stays busy working at her friend Imagine Uhlenbrock’s shop in North Omaha, Hand of Gold Beauty Room, where she primarily works as a freelance makeup artist.

“I was there to assist in doing the simpler, less intricate designs such as solid color manicures and pedicures, and chrome,” she says. “Now, I go in every once in a while to help keep the maintenance of the store up. I may take a client or two, depending on how creative I’m feeling that day.”

Considering it’s not full-time work, it’s a job that seems to fit in with her musical endeavors and constantly fluctuating schedule. It also helps keep her connected to the seemingly endless creative minds in the Omaha scene.

“I think Omaha has a great music community,” she says. “There is a crazy amount of talent here in all genres, and the collaborations that are formed from the artists in our city never cease to amaze me. We’ve got some hidden gems and some culture behind us.”

As Gold continues cultivating her own talent, she’s settled on a few pre-show rituals. Before getting ready for a performance, Gold does a little “pre-gaming,” which usually involves some liquor and lots of practice. She normally begins every show with the line, “Hey everyone, I’m a little faded.”

“I usually have a few shots before I go on stage,” she admits. “For the most part, I will get my set together a few hours before a show. I like to choose the music I’m performing based off of my most current mood. I still rehearse my own music when getting ready for a show. I never want to forget lines or blank in front of a crowd, so rehearsal is key.”

From solo tracks like “Really Wanna” to her collaborative work on “Good Good” with fellow musician Justin Carlisle, Gold oozes an air of confidence and a touch of sensuality. It’s allowed her to stand out among the vast sea of aspiring artists, especially online, where it’s easy to get lost in the sheer number of musicians.

“The internet is the constant positive for up and coming artists,” she says. “It gives us a way to broadcast our talents with no boundaries or regulations. It’s raw and easily accessible for the world to see. Anyone can break through or ‘shine’ in a crowd of artists, as long as they are being unique, authentic, and true to their craft.”

soundcloud.com/1goldieworld

This article was printed in the November/December 2017 edition of Encounter.

Portrait of a Man

August 20, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A keen fit—and muted hues—balanced with neutrals help build polished looks this summer. Be the man you’ve always wanted to be with a picture-perfect wardrobe to boot.
-Jared Spence

Clothing provided by Grae Clothing & SILO
photography by Bill Sitzmann
design by Derek Joy
Styling by Jared Spence
Makeup by Anastasia Vaughn for Victor Victoria Salon and Spa
Hair by April Heller for Victor Victoria Salon and Spa
Modeled by Alex O

graeclothing.com | silostore.com | victorvictoriasalon.com

 

 

This article was printed in the July/August 2017 of Encounter.

 

An Authentic Skid Mark?

An art collaboration by Bill Sitzmann and Nicholas Wasserberger
Design by Derek Joy
Models Nicholas Wasserberger and Kaleigh Moynihan

Kaleigh Moynihan’s An Authentic Skid Mark worn throughout

With love to Zoe Kuhn, her brothers Ian and Ollie, and Kim Darling

 

This article appears in the July/August 2017 edition of Encounter.

Required Listening

June 11, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For years, Chelsea Balzer and Matt Walker ran in the same circles, but somehow didn’t cross paths until Balzer joined the art performance group aetherplough in 2010 and was suddenly thrust into a musical relationship with Walker. Their undeniable compatibility was too much to ignore, and the duo soon formed their own outfit—Vital Organs—a band that fosters Walker’s unquenchable thirst for bold melodies and cinematic qualities, but is danceable at the same time. 

“Back in the day, I was exclusively into hard rock music,” Walker says. “In recent years, I had been dying to write something that made me want to dance.”

Balzer, on the other hand, gravitated toward country artists like Reba McEntire and early LeAnn Rimes because of her father, a loyal country music fan. 

“I would perform for our neighbors and their friends, which I think helped me develop that frontwoman identity from early on,” Balzer says. “But once I hit middle school, I was pretty into Alanis Morissette and Fiona Apple, and then soon after I got into stuff like Nine Inch Nails, P.J. Harvey, and The Cure. I’ve always loved vocalists who are brave and provocative—from Christina Aguilera to Zach de la Rocha.” 

Fortunately, Vital Organs isn’t their first endeavor, as aetherplough thoroughly prepared them for what they would do in the future. The collective was built on collaborative creativity and taught them how to compromise.

“It always felt a little like we had no idea what we were doing at the beginning of a project,” Walker says. “As more people threw in their ideas and questions, it would start to take on a life of its own, and suddenly you’re rehearsing a full piece that you all helped bring into being. It was magical.

“I would say our whole philosophy for creating and collaborating is informed by that experience,” he continues. “aetherplough taught us to say, ‘Yes,’ to go all in, to be flexible, and also to listen to each other in a dasdrtist, and I’m so grateful to have been encouraged to play and explore in that community.”

“I personally feel that it taught me to think of all art and performance as ritual that has the power to change its players,” Balzer adds. 

Officially established in 2015, Vital Organs dove right in and pulled from Omaha’s rich musical community, including Make Believe Recordings’ CEO/engineer Rick Carson. The Grammy Award-nominated producer worked on the group’s debut album, The Hysterical Hunger, a decision they didn’t hesitate to make once they fully realized Carson’s “rare combination of expertise, intuition, and top-notch gear.” The album itself gave Balzer and Walker opportunities to explore feminist ideals and the theme of honoring inner desires. 

“We were both going through some real loss, and we needed to rediscover some kind of inner guidance toward true north,” Balzer explains. “For us, that feels like a hunger. We liked the idea of reclaiming the word ‘hysteria,’ which has previously been used as a weapon against women and as a form of gaslighting, but ultimately implies that emotion itself is untrustworthy and that giving yourself over to an experience is dangerous and even insane. We feel that this message is really prevalent in society today and continues to cause harm. We wanted the album to be a way of proclaiming to ourselves and others that we are taking the leap and giving in to that hunger.” 

Drawn to synthesizers and soaring melodies, Vital Organs is actively honing in on its distinctive sound. However, they’re admittedly still trying to figure out how to navigate the rough waters as an indie band. 

“It’s a lot of work and also a lot of head-scratching,” Walker says. “We have been both discouraged and really honored by the process of getting our work ‘out there.’ Some aspects of it are much harder than we anticipated, and yet there are these people who seem to appear from thin air and develop this relationship with your music, and really want to help you succeed. That has been a beautiful experience.”

Vital Organs plans on hitting the road this summer, despite Balzer being in grad school in Boston and Walker busy working at Omaha Children’s Museum. They managed to carve out a few weeks to play some new cities and share the bill with other bands. 

“We know that the music will always mean something different to us than it means to others,” Walker says. “Every song reflects a time in our lives and a message we felt we needed to express. At the same time, we hear the songs and sort of forget that we wrote them. There is a kind of energetic release that comes from finishing songs and letting them exist in the world. It feels simultaneously intimate and mysterious.” 

facebook.com/vitalorgansband

This article was printed in the May/June 2017 edition of Encounter.