Tag Archives: Kyle Eustice

Ugly Yellow and Violet Vividity

June 12, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It all started with a knee injury. In 2006, things for the now-24-year-old Jenna Johnson came to a screeching halt when the soccer enthusiast was subjected to multiple surgeries to repair her ACL. While she healed, the Sioux City, Iowa, native discovered her passion for painting. 

“It was the making of something from nothing that grabbed me,” she explains. 

In 2001, Johnson and her family moved to Elkhorn for a job opportunity. She says that, although she received a quality education and played a multitude of sports, she always felt like something was missing.  

“It was exactly what you’d imagine it to be like,” Johnson says. “I had numerous friends. I felt safe, but in a way I also felt boxed in, possibly due to the lack of diversity.” 

When Johnson graduated from Elkhorn South High School in 2012, the self-taught artist moved east and got a studio at Hot Shops downtown, a goal she’d had since she was a teenager. 

“I participated in a high school show that is held there once a year,” she explains. “During our tour, I’d get lost in the building and imagine what it would be like to be an artist there. Now that I have been a resident for almost six years, Hot Shops has given me much wisdom about the art community. With the knowledge of my fellow artists, I’ve gained the skills necessary to keep my business going.” 

Over the years, those fellow artists have taught her how to build and stretch a canvas, and explain, sell, and critique her work. She’s also learned imperative lessons about success and failure, so it’s not surprising Johnson’s current focus is people, done in an unconventional mustardy yellow and shades of violet.  

She initially chose that shade of yellow because she wanted to make an ugly painting to “get it out of her system.” But once she saw it next to the violet, her imagination exploded. The result was a new experience for her.

“People are my favorite right now,” she says. “I hate painting faces, but I love how the two colors simplify the subject. I am infatuated with these two colored portraits [in particular]. All [of them] are large so it is fun to step up to one and stare into the subject’s soul.”

“Ask me this again in a year, I’m sure it will change,” she adds. 

Although she has other hobbies like traveling, hiking, and yoga, Johnson can’t picture her life without working as an artist. 

“I ask myself this question at least once a week and the answer is always the same—I don’t know,” she says. “Maybe cut hair? It terrifies me to imagine doing anything but painting.”

Johnson’s permanent installations can be found throughout Omaha at businesses such as TD Ameritrade (commissioned while she was still in high school) and LinkedIn. Living paycheck to paycheck, she appreciates each and every time someone buys her work. 

“It feels wonderful,” she says. “Since this is my only job, any sale is a good sale.” 

Down the line, Johnson envisions her art breaking out of the Omaha scene, but she insists, “If I am still happily painting in the future, I have succeeded.” 


Visit jennajart.com for more information about the artist. 

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Encounter. 

Alexandria 
Smith

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

After years of tenaciously applying, Brooklyn native Alexandria Smith got the news she’d been waiting for—the mixed-media visual artist had been accepted into the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts residency program. Her patience had finally paid off. 

“Jurors change every year, as does your work,” Smith says. “It’s important to keep pushing forward.”

Following the trek halfway across the country, Smith settled in on May 18. Her impression of Omaha is it’s “a pretty calm, laid-back city with a growing investment in contemporary art.” 

She would know. This is her second visit to Omaha, though she says she didn’t get to explore it much during her first visit in January of last year. She was here to install her piece, “The Pleasure Principle,” at The Union for Contemporary Arts. Smith was the inaugural recipient of the Wanda D. Ewing Fellowship, and the first to mount a solo exhibit in the space. “Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to experience much of the city since I was installing the majority of the time,” she says. 

Smith’s dreams of becoming a professional artist started when she was 3 years old. “I don’t think I chose art, it chose me. There was never anything else that I had as much love and passion for as I did towards creating.” 

“I was always interested in cartoons and comics and initially had goals of being an animator,”
she says. That interest is evident in her work.

Through her art, Smith aims to put a spotlight on femininity, race, sexuality, and cultural diversity while exploring the many transformative experiences she’s had as a young, black, middle-class woman.  

Although Smith says she’s influenced by a rotating list of different artists, she’s currently inspired by the work of Cuban printmaker/calligraphist Belkis Ayón and illustrator Aaron Douglas, an important figure in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. 

“I find Belkis Ayon’s and Aaron Douglas’ command of narrative and their use of a minimal color palette has resulted in a powerful body of work,” she says. “In both of their works, color is another character that transforms the viewer’s experience and relationship with the work.”

Like Ayón and Douglas, Smith pours every ounce of herself into her art, providing her the emotional and spiritual support she craves.

“For me, creating consumes every part of me,” she says. “It sustains me emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. When I am not creating, I am filled with anxiety and discomfort. So, painting grounds me in ways that nothing else can.”

Smith is most proud of the collage installation she completed last year at The Union. It was an ambitious undertaking in terms of content and scale, considering it was a massive 10-by-40-foot piece. 

“The challenge of working on a site-specific commission provided me with an opportunity to conflate, in a more direct manner, my varied research interests with my work and that of another artist,” she explains. “It was the first time that I delved into the concepts and aesthetics of another artist’s work that had so many similarities as my own.”

However, she adds, “The biggest challenge of all was completing this work for a space that was still under construction, creating it in pieces in my studio and ultimately, seeing it in its entirety for the first time on site during the installation. The team at The Union was incredibly supportive and made the experience a positive, memorable one that I am eternally grateful for.” 

Smith, who normally splits her time between the Big Apple and Boston, is hoping the more isolated Midwest environment will give her the kind of stillness that provides more focus. 

Her bio on the Bemis website says her plan during her residency is to put her energy into an “immersive installation that incorporates freestanding mixed-media cutout paintings on wood, mixed-media sculptures, and large mixed-media paintings on canvas that employ various printmaking techniques such as monoprinting, silkscreening, lithography, and
digital printing.”

“I look forward to having an extensive amount of time working away from external distractions,” Smith explains. “I am excited to have access to sculpture facilities, and I look forward to embarking on ambitious projects that have been on hold due to limited equipment access.”

She adds that the Bemis and The Union offer valuable support and opportunities for artists. 

“Without the support of institutions like these, many of us would not be able to thrive as practicing artists. I hope that the local Omaha community and others continue to support both institutions for decades to come.”

Once Smith’s residency at the Bemis Center is completed on Aug. 10, she’s having a solo exhibit at the Stone Gallery at Boston University where she’ll debut a new series of paintings and sculptures, as well as a multimedia installation. While she admits “rejection” is the most challenging aspect of being a professional artist, she finds comfort in her rich creative community. 

“The hardest part about being an artist is holding onto your goals and remaining persistent in the midst of rejection,” she says. “The most important thing I’ve learned is that you have to trust yourself.

But rejection is certainly easier to handle (and move past) when you have a good
support system.

“It’s really important to develop a community, which can look like many different things, but ultimately it’s important to surround yourself with positive people that believe in you just as much as you believe in yourself.” 


Visit alexandriasmith.com to learn more about the artist. 
This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Encounter.

Keith “Keymaster” Martz

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Talent can present itself in many forms. For some, it’s through an aptitude for academics; for others, it’s via intellectual curiosity. But for Keith “Key Master” Martz, it can be found on the 88 keys of a piano. Inspired by every genre from classical to modern jazz, the 29-year-old Omaha native has the gift of music that stems from an enthusiasm and passion for the art itself.

“My music has its own style,” he says. “What sets me apart as a musician is that it doesn’t sound like anyone else’s.”

Mostly self-taught, Martz was encouraged by his mother to take up the piano when he was about 7 years old. He received some formal training until the age of 9, but it was minimal. Later, as a student at Millard South, he joined the high school band where he once again played the piano.

Martz’s approach to the form is unique. He says he’s a slow sight reader, meaning he plays faster than he can read music notes. For this reason, and because of his love of improvisation, Martz doesn’t play sheet music and instead creates new songs each time he sits down to play.

“If I was asked to play music by other people, I couldn’t,” Martz says. “I play from my heart, and I play my own type of music.”20121127_bs_5679 copy

When he’s not pounding out melodies on a keyboard, Martz stays plenty busy working two full-time jobs, during the day at specialty grocery store Trader Joe’s and at night at Lakeside Hospital. Luckily, Lakeside Hospital has a piano in its lobby, and his coworkers often ask him to play for them when he’s not occupied with his duties as a valet.

Christie Abdul, manager of volunteers and business innovations at Lakeside, oversees the valet services where Martz works and has had the opportunity to work with him.

“Keith is someone who is very warm; he greets everyone with a positive attitude,” she says. “I truly believe he cares about every single person he meets. His happiness is kind of like something you want to catch. It’s contagious.”

“What sets me apart as a musician is that [my music] doesn’t sound like anyone else’s.” – Keith Martz

Abdul says that Martz goes out of his way to embody the hospital’s “every patient is my patient” philosophy. Even if a car isn’t using the valet service, she says, he’ll run to the car and open the door.

“He’s genuinely a warm and caring person and just gentle,” she says.

Paul Lukes and Kyle Eustice, regular customers of Trader Joe’s, say they look forward to seeing the kind and chipper employee during their shopping trips. “The first time I came across Keith, it seemed like perhaps he was just having a really, really good day,” says Lukes. “Then I realized, after shopping [there] for so long, that he’s always having a good day. That’s Keith.”

“His positivity is contagious and I would challenge anyone to leave a conversation with him without a smile on their face,” adds Eustice.20121127_bs_5753 copy

As any artist would, Martz gains inspiration from other talent and his list of favorites is quite eclectic. Some of the performers he regularly listens to include Mozart, Coldplay, Hans Zimmer, U2, and internet sensation Ronald Jenkees.

“I only listen to music once a week because my own music satisfies and comforts me most of the time,” he says. “I love listening to music from scores like Bourne Supremacy, Batman Returns, and Inception.”

Martz is planning to record a CD of his music and one day, he’d like to tour. Until then, music lovers can listen and watch him perform on YouTube with the search terms “Keith ‘Key Master’ Martz.”

But the promise of fame or fortune isn’t what pushes Martz to continue his art. Rather, the sheer pleasure of playing is enough for him.

“One time I played, I played until my fingers bled because I was just pouring myself into it,” Martz says. “I get really itchy feet, and I just let it all out at once. I love expressing myself like that in the music that I play.”