Tag Archives: painting

Lenore Benolken

November 19, 2017 by
Photography by Durham Museum (provided)

“The first one-man show to be exhibited at Joslyn Memorial by a woman is that of Lenore Benolhen, who paints more like a man than a woman,” wrote one local reporter.

The backhanded praise for the first solo exhibition by a woman at the venue (now known as Joslyn Art Museum) seems sexist by contemporary standards. Such gendered phrasing has faded from popular discourse—just like the artist herself.

Not much is known these days about the artist acclaimed for her “vigor, physical energy, and force” in the same Omaha World-Herald article published on Oct. 10, 1937.

Lenore (Ethel Williams) Benolken was born in Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1896. She moved to Omaha with her parents at age 3, when her father, the Rev. Arthur Llewellyn Williams, became coadjutor-bishop of the Omaha Episcopal Diocese. She attended Brownell Hall (now Brownell-Talbot School) and studied under the famous Irish-born Omaha painter J. Laurie Wallace.

In 1918, Lenore married Irving W. Benolken (who had studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, served overseas in the military during World War I, and taught at the American University in France). Settling into married life in Omaha, they both became notable influencers in the local arts scene.

After Lenore painted an 18-by-4-foot mural showcasing modes of modern transportation for the walls of the Milwaukee Road train ticketing office in Omaha, a patronizing 1929 World-Herald article mentions that the mural was a Christmas surprise for her husband “to earn her own Christmas money that year.” The reporter goes on to write that Lenore credited her husband as her “unconscious” instructor and her inspiration as she juggled “duties of being wife to an artist, and mother to an energetic and not very artistic 8-year-old boy.” (That boy, Arthur Benolken, would grow up to be a priest like Lenore’s bishop father.)

Both spouses kept studios in their home at 5415 Western Ave. The two-bedroom, one-bathroom house built in 1826 still stands today. Her obituary eventually described the home as a “center of interest for art lovers.” Her husband worked for 33 years at the Klopp Printing and Lithograph Company, ending his career as the company’s vice president. Irving also served as an elected trustee of the Society of Liberal Arts, which controlled the Joslyn Memorial.

On multiple occasions, Lenore was chosen by the Joslyn Memorial committee to be among the artists representing Nebraska at Rockefeller Center’s All-American exhibit of paintings in New York City. She had received the honor twice by 1937, when she became the first artist to have her work exhibited as a one-woman show at Joslyn Memorial.

Besides being a portrait and landscape painter, Lenore was a noted art teacher. She taught at the Bellevue vocational school, offered classes to soldiers at Joslyn, and lectured at Omaha University. She also organized the Brush and Pencil Club, a sort of salon for art students and professionals.

Lenore often painted portraits of friends and well-known Omahans. Unfortunately, many of these historically important portraits have vanished.

Her depiction of Dr. William H. Betz, after whom Betz Elementary School and Betz Road are named, once hung in a Bellevue public building. Another of Lenore’s popular paintings was “Devce [maiden] of Czechoslovakia.” It’s a portrait of Omaha pianist Miss Elsie M. Ptak, who became a music teacher at Omaha University.

Lenore completed a portrait of Mrs. Jane Sullivan in 1941, and it hung in the Joslyn Memorial before being sent to her son and daughter, Dr. M. M. Sullivan and Miss Hannah Sullivan, in Spalding, Nebraska. Painted with the aid of tintypes and authentic costumes of the period, the portrait supposedly shows Mrs. Sullivan as a young woman in her Sunday best. Phone calls to Spalding (a town of 487 people) did not yield any leads on the whereabouts of the Sullivans or the painting.

Lenore’s father, Bishop Williams, worked closely with Monsignor Bernard Sinne (pastor of St. Mary Magdalene Church from 1904 to 1961). Lenore painted the monsignor’s portrait, another of her notable portrayals of famous Omahans. It once hung in the Joslyn Memorial. But like these others, it has since disappeared.

The location of one important portrait is known. Lenore’s painting of Omaha businessman John Sullivan now hangs in the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney. This was a gift to the museum by Mary Ellen Mulcahy, who serves on MONA’s board of directors.

The more we learn about Lenore, the more we realize that so many of her portraits and paintings have been forgotten. A catalog of her known works and their location would help in restoring her place in Omaha’s art history.

Lenore’s work also traveled through Nebraska. The Nebraska State Journal on Oct. 30, 1939, mentions two of her paintings displayed at Morrill Hall on the campus of the University of Nebraska- Lincoln. Their titles were Deserted Quarry (Near Louisville) and River Scows (A Flat-Bottomed Boat). The next year, she had a show of 21 paintings in the Treasure House at Coryell Park in Lincoln. And her painting Interior of a Nebraska Kitchen was displayed at the 51st annual show of the Nebraska Arts Association in Lincoln (mentioned in a review by the Lincoln Sunday Journal and Star on March, 2, 1941).

Lenore died from pneumonia around the age of 47. Six months after her death, a memorial featuring 33 of her paintings went on display at the Joslyn Memorial. The whereabouts of the show’s paintings—as well as those displayed in the Coryvell Park show—remain a mystery.

A World-Herald article from April 9, 1944, about her final Joslyn exhibition explains that the show consisted of canvases left in her studio when she stopped painting, “and her last finished picture is among them, a portrait called My Husband.”

In a twist of artistic irony, Lenore’s husband remarried in the year following her death. Nancy
Powel Hulst became Nancy Benolken in 1944. A prominent figure in the Omaha arts scene, Nancy remained involved in planning concerts, musicals, and working on committees at the Joslyn from the 1940s through the 1980s.

After Irving Benolken died in 1954, a fund at the Joslyn Memorial purchased artworks in his memory. Paintings included Robert Henri’s Portrait of Fi in 1957 (Henri was the famous creator of the Ashcan School of painting, and his father founded the Nebraska town of Cozad).

Today, many of the purchased tributes to Irving still hang in the Joslyn; however, the museum does not display a single painting by Lenore. Joslyn staff informed Omaha Magazine that the only artwork of hers in their collection is an undated oil painting titled Indian Princess.

In a letter to the World-Herald’s “Public Pulse” soon after her death, the Nebraska artist Walter Buckingham Swan wrote: “Mrs. Benolken, an artist of rare ability, will always be remembered by her legion of friends and many pupils… We have suffered an irreparable loss. Omaha needed her. She had scarcely reached middle life when the hand of death took her from us. How to find a competent successor to carry on her work we do not know.”

At the turn of the 21st century, references to the artist gradually fade into oblivion. The last mention of her name in the public record seems to have been in 2011—an obituary for Pauline Lenore Buckley; she had lived in Council Bluffs, attended the “Lenore Benolken Art School” before the University of Omaha, and died in Walla Walla, Washington.

We know something of what Lenore looked like from photographs of her in the Omaha World-Herald. Like all newspaper photographs of the time, they are black-and-white and grainy. Unfortunately, the woman who painted so many portraits of others does not have any known portrait remaining to memorialize her for the ages.

A self-portrait of the artist appears to have been included among the works shown in her posthumous Joslyn exhibition (printed in the newspaper’s full-page coverage of the tribute in 1944), but its whereabouts are unknown. It very well may be lost.

If readers have knowledge of any long-lost paintings by Lenore Benolken, please contact Omaha Magazine at editor@omahamagazine.com or reach us on social media (@OmahaMagazine) at Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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

John Sullivan’s portrait by Lenore Benolken, courtesy of the Museum of Nebraska Art.

Art Farm

April 27, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Artist Cassia Kite has lived on the Gulf Coast of the Sunshine State for more than a decade, but her work remains rooted in the family farm near Auburn, Nebraska.

“I’m just so thankful of my upbringing. I love Nebraska,” Kite says. “I love the farm life. That’s probably the one reason why I’m constantly creating about it. I’m just homesick. I miss home.”

Her latest project, “Soundstitches,” captures the vibrant colors of her family farm in what Kite describes as an interdisciplinary, multimedia installation, and performance piece. Inspired by folk art, Kite created embroidered farm scenes. She then translated those images to music by assigning a musical note to each color, mapping out the music from left-to-right and top-to-bottom. The work leaves vast room for interpretation for the artists who engage with it.

This summer, Kite’s project will be featured at KANEKO as part of the fourth annual Under the Radar Festival (July 5-8). Her embroidery will be on display while the corresponding music is performed by professional musicians and a dancer. Festival director Amanda DeBoer Bartlett is excited to bring artists together to interpret Kite’s work, and she explains the piece will be presented in a way that is immersive so “the audience can walk around and experience the performance.”

“Since her piece is so open and improvisation-based, there won’t be a huge rehearsal process,” Bartlett says.

On its face, this project might seem a little outside Kite’s wheelhouse. She studied painting and sculpting in college and isn’t comfortable calling herself a folk artist, even though she loves folk art traditions. She took piano lessons for a short time as a child, and she played percussion instruments in a middle school band, but she doesn’t consider herself a musician. When it comes to “Soundstitches,” she says she’s more of a “translator” than a composer, converting colors into sound.

“It makes me feel very vulnerable in a way, too, and I think that’s good for growth,” Kite says. “This is about as honest a form as I’ll ever get.”

The project may be out of her comfort zone, but it’s also built on what she knows best—the rich hues and homespun imagery of Nebraska.

“Everything I create is a personal narrative,” she says.

Kite is an arts educator who teaches at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, but she returns to Nebraska during the summer months. Her work is on display at Anderson O’Brien Fine Art, and she’ll have a solo exhibition at the Schoolhouse Art Gallery in Brownville, Nebraska, starting in June. For Under the Radar, she’ll be one of several Nebraska-connected artists participating in the festival this summer. Bartlett explains that out of 30 to 40 acts each year, they try to reserve at least half of those spots for artists with ties to the state.

Kite is excited to have her work presented at KANEKO, especially in collaboration with Under the Radar. “I could not think of a better platform for this to happen,” she says, “because it really unifies the whole subject of the work.”

Visit cassiakite.com for more information.

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

Kim Darling

December 27, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Omaha-based artist Kim Darling (also known as Kim Reid Kuhn) is relishing a moment of “when one door closes, another opens.”

Darling, a prominent Benson First Friday contributor known for curating provocative exhibitions and performances at Sweatshop Gallery—and arguably one of the reasons why Benson’s aura is what it is today—is now applying her passion for community arts advocacy in new ways.

“Sweatshop Gallery was always a launching point for larger social ideas,” she says.

Since the gallery’s closing in October 2015, Darling has accepted four artist residencies at four different Omaha schools. She has collaborated on two projects, Swale and Wetland, with former Bemis Center artist Mary Mattingly. Those “socially engaged projects” were both featured in The New York Times, Art Forum, and ART 21.

Darling is many things to many people: community activist, curator, mother, teacher, advocate, tastemaker, and artist. It is within their nexus that she has found new momentum—namely, public and socially engaged projects that define and build community through art with artists.

Recent iterations include exhibitions and subsequent public programming at both The Union for Contemporary Art and the Michael Phipps Gallery at the Omaha Public Library. Darling presented her paintings and photographs in a gallery setting that later set the backdrop for public conversations around topics of police brutality, definitions of “public-ness,” and how race, gender, and socio-economic realities frame perceptions of place.

Yet despite a very public persona, her zeal for her own private painting practice is on fire.

Darling’s iconography is distinct. With a distilled color pallet of coal black, turquoise, dirty white, and cotton candy pink, her canvases are peppered with oddly familiar shapes and punk references.

Her aptly named “Rat’s Nest Studio” is nearly at capacity with in-progress paintings and sketches of future projects—each influencing the other. It is in her studio where the visible traces of a focused artist are on display. In the duality of social engagement and private studio making, inspiration is constant. For Darling, “these different perspectives feed me, helping keep my marks and ideas raw.”

There is no mistaking Darling’s passion. Navigating a newly trodden path of community building through arts advocacy can be complicated, but for Darling, “there is a simple power in art making and storytelling.” This is where her art and life meet—an intersection of public discourse and art with an emphasis on communal and social concerns.

With Darling’s ongoing efforts, this new chapter will continue to be a revolving door for opportunity, inspiration, and evolution.

Visit kimdarling.net for more information.

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Sandy’s Makeover

December 15, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Let’s be honest. We all have our dirty secrets—sometimes that secret is a collection of things. Some people may keep those collections confined to a drawer or a closet, but if you are like me, the clutter just expands into other places, sometimes into an entire room.

That is where my vision of “killing two birds with one stone” came to mind.

We have just one lonely room left in our whole house that has not been renovated, and in it sits all my clutter and to-do DIY projects.

Rather than feel overwhelmed with trying to tackle too much at one time for my renovation project, why not spread it out all year long? Then you can see how the steps of the renovation come together for one functional room—a dressing room!

We are not talking about a room that has been turned into a closet. While there will be a closet in it, the room needs to serve multiple functions and become a pretty extension of our house.

Normally I like to renovate a room and then decorate it, but in this instance, I want to create each project individually and show you what functions each project plans to serve.  We will start with the March/April issue, and end with the grand reveal in January/February 2018.

Along the way I will work on the room itself, painting walls and trim, and reconfiguring the closet to maximize the space.

I hope you look forward to my first piece in the next issue, and I look forward to any feedback. Don’t forget to follow us on social media.

If you miss one issue, back issues are online at readonlinenow.com, and you can always go there and check it out.

Visit readonlinenow.com for more information.

OmahaHome

year-long-project

Canoe Companions

August 17, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article appears in August 2015 Her Family.

There’s no way another boater is going to pick up the wrong paddles after you do this treatment. When not in the water, these handsomely rustic works of art will look great displayed in your home.

Materials:
Canoe paddles
Sandpaper
Rags
Wood stain
Masking tape
Spray paint
Waterproof sealer

Directions:
Use sandpaper to remove the paddle’s varnish.
Wipe down each paddle with a wet rag. The water will both remove any sawdust and help the wood
absorb the stain.
Stain with an old rag that you never want to see again and wait for the stain to completely dry.
Have fun and be creative in your design choices.
Tape off any areas that you do not want the paint to touch. Use plastic bags to mask off larger areas.
Spray paint away! For the best results, cover the areas in multiple, light layers of paint.
Be sure to let the paint dry completely before doing any additional taping.
Peel off the tape to reveal your masterpiece!
Apply waterproof clear coat.
Let’s get paddling!
QUICK TIP: If you want to find stain or paint for free, visit Under the Sink, a household hazardous waste collection facility on 120th and “I” Street. They will hook you up. And always remember to spray paint outdoors.

DIY-Kristen

Canoe Paddles

Art as Social Justice

June 26, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitmann

This article appears in our July/August 2015 edition of Omaha Magazine.

During one of Tim Guthrie’s exhibitions, a woman commented to one of his friends, “Tim is such a great photographer!” The friend replied, “He’s a really great painter, too.” The woman, somewhat perplexed, asked, “He can paint?”

That conversation encapsulates much of Guthrie’s work. The Creighton University professor who teaches in the department of journalism, new media, and computing can be classified as neither painter nor photographer, but as an artist who focuses on concepts rather than media—an approach that leaves many struggling to describe his work.

“I’ve been criticized about that ever since college,” Guthrie says. “My professor told me to pick a concentration. I chose painting, sculpture, and photography. He said, ‘No, you’re supposed to pick only one.’ I still did all three. I didn’t like the classifications. I didn’t want to be a painter. I wanted to be an artist. I didn’t want to be a sculptor. I wanted to be an artist. The medium isn’t relevant.”

What is relevant is Guthrie’s message. While his mediums vary widely, he uses them all to advocate for social justice, often by focusing on controversial issues.

In Extraordinary Rendition, a 2010 exhibition in collaboration with performance artist Doug Hayko, Guthrie created large-scale drawings that called attention to the CIA’s secret detention program and use of torture. For Big Art Giveway (2012), he commented on the one percent by creating more than 500 artworks that he gave away to local members of the 99 percent—people who typically can’t afford art. In 2013 he curated The Museum of Alternative History, an exhibition inspired by the Texas school board’s reinterpretations of history that are often included in textbooks nationwide. He invited writers and visual artists to create their own versions of history, which were presented to the public as authentic.

Although all his subjects are potentially provocative, Guthrie’s work has been acclaimed by the public and critics alike. Over the past eight years, he has received Omaha Arts & Entertainment Awards for best show, best new media artist, best visual artist, and best group show. He has shown his work regionally and nationally. Guthrie’s experimental animated film, Recalling the Trinity, which focused on the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, went international with a presentation in 2010 at the Sorbonne in Paris and was shown at the Hiroshima Animation Festival that same year.

Guthrie’s current work continues to address social justice issues. For Koch Money, he overlays images of the billionaire Koch brothers—known for donating millions to finance conservative political campaigns—onto the faces of the founding fathers on U.S. currency. It’s an unconventional way to bring attention to campaign finance laws and the Supreme Court’s ruling on Citizens United, but, Guthrie notes with a smile, “No one’s ever turned down my money.”

No matter the media, Guthrie remains committed to using art for a specific purpose. “There is a consistent thread,” he explains. “I want to make information available to people.”

Tim Guthrie

Artist Watie White

February 10, 2015 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Dilapidated houses. Watie White has learned a lot about working with them, but not in the conventional sense. Last year, the artist partnered with Habitat for Humanity to take three homes slated for demolition on Emmet Street in North Omaha and turned them into monumental installations that focused on the history of a poor neighborhood, one often overlooked or completely ignored by the general public.

The project, called All That Ever Was Always Is, involved making 81 paintings, which were turned into vinyl prints and then installed in all the windows of each home. Before making the paintings, White explored the houses’ histories by interviewing previous inhabitants and neighbors. He also used artifacts like letters and photographs left behind to create a narrative history.

“They turned out to be really strong, profound pieces,” says White. “For the people who live in that neighborhood, they’re not just houses—they’re part of a community.”

White additionally hosted community dinners and public talks. “It was important because neighbors thought about the personal value of that kind of situation. It was a chance to bring people together and a lot of beautiful, little things happened, things that were good about their neighborhoods,” he explains. “It was a cathartic experience.”

Although the homes were demolished in December, the artist is already working on his next public art projects. For New Nebraskans, which is in partnership with Justice for Our Neighbors and representatives from the Intercultural Senior Center, public schools, the v, and the Anti-Defamation League, he will create four large-scale murals (a fifth is currently installed at the Justice for our Neighbors’ headquarters). They will feature immigrants and refugees living in Benson, North Omaha, South Omaha, and Little Italy.

For You Are Here, White will partner with inCOMMON Community Development to paint a large-scale banner mural for a public housing building located at Park Avenue adjoining Hanscom Park. Like his Emmet Street work, White will feature community members and is interviewing people so he can portray the neighborhood as accurately as possible. “I want people to be touched or at least feel something about the projects,” says the artist.

Recently White also received high-profile national attention himself. He (along with Angela Drakeford) was chosen to represent Nebraska in State of the Art, an exhibition running through January 19th at the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Bentonville, AR. The selection process began with a list of 10,000 U.S. artists, which was then cut to 1,000. Following nationwide studio visits, he was selected as one of 102 artists to be featured. The inclusion was significant: not every state was represented and such dignitaries as Bill Clinton, Martha Stewart, and Deepak Chopra have visited the prestigious museum founded by Alice Walton, an heir to the Wal-Mart fortune.

“It’s hard to know what will come of it,” White says, “but it’s hard to overstate how much it feels like it legitimizes what you do.”

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Beautiful Decay

January 9, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When I paint, I don’t start with just one idea,” said artist Shawnequa Linder. “If something emerges, I go with it and see how it reveals itself.”

And revealing it is. The artist’s paintings involve complex combinations of color and texture, which in turn result in works that are simultaneously harmonious and discordant, yet wholly unified. Linder likes to describe her paintings as fitting within the abstract decay genre, a genre that highlights how visually compelling weathered and worn art can be. “I love the beauty of inner destruction when everything is not related to each other,” she stressed.

That means Linder has an uninhibited, spontaneous approach to painting. Her technique is loose yet controlled, and she applies layer upon layer of paint to create a surface density that she in turn wears down and builds back up—or vice versa. While she uses conventional artist brushes, she often eschews them in favor of foam brushes and particularly her fingers, which allows her to control the work in a fluid manner that lends a distinctive quality to her work.

Linder also often changes the direction of her paintings as she progresses. “A lot of pieces have paint that I don’t like,” she said, “so I paint over it with different colors, and I scrape to find a pattern. Then I paint over that again using a water wash.”

The artist also doesn’t confine herself to creating just one painting at a time; instead she works on several paintings at once—sometimes up to seven—with each one interacting with and playing off the other. Linder loves when this kind of synergy occurs. “I’m in the mode of something happening,” she explained, “and it’s somewhere I’m happy to be.”

Size frequently depends on the amount of space a painting dictates. “I used to paint so small,” she said. “I was afraid of all that space, but an art professor once projected an image of my work onto a large-scale screen and said to the class, ‘This is museum quality right here.’”

Museum quality, however, doesn’t mean that Linder’s paintings are priced too expensively for most art lovers. They range anywhere from $125 to $600, with sizes that display well on the walls of typical homes or apartments rather than in large, sprawling spaces. “I want to make my paintings affordable,” Linder explained, “because I want a Shawnequa on every wall.

In the end, all of Linder’s techniques and approaches result in inimitable paintings that are wholly her own. “I don’t know how a painting will turn out,” she said, “and for that reason, every painting is an original. I don’t duplicate.” That means sometimes her work is so varied, they don’t even seem created by the same artist. “In the end, all the pieces are different,” Linder said. “They all have their own personalities.”

Painting the Town

October 20, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Dinner, movie, drinks, repeat. Dinner, movie, drinks, repeat. When it comes to planning an evening out, it is easy to get stuck in a routine. Those looking to deviate from the norm might be pleasantly surprised by a new-ish concept that has made its way to the Omaha area.

Paint-and-sip studios and storefronts have been popping up throughout the metro, mixing up the social scene with the combination of wine, painting, and socializing.

Briana Lau was a little hesitant when she felt the brush in her hand at her first paint-and-sip outing at the Twisted Vine in Papillion.

“I have absolutely no artistic ability,” Lau chuckles.

But, with careful instruction, her nerves were soon calmed and the creative juices started flowing, along with a little bit of wine.

“I actually walked out with a piece of art that I plan on hanging in my bedroom. I was so surprised how it turned out and the whole process was so relaxing. You just sip a little wine and do a little painting. I could do it every weekend,” says Lau.

Lau credits her success during the painting portion of the evening to Twisted Vine owner and class instructor, Cara Ehegartner.

“Cara is so patient and kind and just explains things in a way that makes sense,” Lau continues. “She gives some general instructions, but each person gets to individualize their work, too.”

Lau’s initial visit to the Twisted Vine was with her mom.

“I was looking for something different for us to do rather than go to dinner or see a movie. It’s great because you get to talk and laugh and even meet new people, which is something that doesn’t typically happen when you go to see a movie.”

She enjoyed the night so much that she quickly returned with a group of friends and for her daughter’s 10th birthday party.

It is that need to do something different that keeps people coming back, according to Ehegartner.

“We see women looking for a new and fun girls night outing, we see co-workers come in for a group outing and even some couples who are looking to liven up their date nights. They are all looking for something new and something sort of unique,” Ehegartner says.

Dan and Jeanne Vlcek of Papillion took advantage of this new concept when planning their latest date night. The Vlcek’s chose to forego dinner and get a little creative instead.

“This date was much more memorable than a dinner or movie date, and we have the paintings to remember it,” Jeanne Vlcek says.

Ehegartner also stresses the importance of keeping the classes comfortable and laid back. She understands that the idea of painting can seem a little intimidating.

“The atmosphere in our studio and store is relaxed. Art is about creativity. People don’t need to worry about being precise and should feel free to add their own touches to their work.”

It’s those unique touches that get groups talking and laughing. Judy Thome of Bellevue attended a class with 12 friends and felt the laughs were the most memorable part of the evening.

“We just had so much fun. We were all getting the same instruction from Cara, but would look at each other’s work and would laugh at how different each of our paintings looked. It was obvious some of us were more artistically inclined than others, but it didn’t matter. We all had fun.”

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Towering Presence

June 1, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This has been a banner year for Justin Beller. The 38-year-old Benson-based artist has completed several major private, non-profit, and corporate commissions, been picked up by two art galleries, purchased a home, opened a new studio, and he’s getting married this month.

Of course, it’s only May, so a lot more may happen—especially given the increasing visibility the artist is enjoying thanks to his distinctive abstract paintings, geometric installations, and soaring towers, works that all incorporate dramatic lines, angular planes, and color fields both vibrant and muted by turns.

A full-time studio artist since 2009, Beller has been developing a keenly unique style. His earlier paintings had an ethereal, otherworldly feel, one that often replicated water-like surfaces and wide-open skies. In recent years, his work has become stronger and more confident—bigger, bolder, brighter—all indications that he’s maturing as an artist and bringing his work in new and
exciting directions.

The artist has also expanded his work beyond paintings, creating three-dimensional works that aren’t readily definable as sculptures, but rather exist as hybrids between the two. These elongated, free-standing towers and tapered wall installations are distinctive for their ability to magnify space without taking it up, blending seamlessly into surrounding interior landscapes, whether a 1,000-square-foot living room or an expansive corporate lobby.

Beller credits his ongoing maturation to both the amount of time he logs in studio, semi-eponymously called Studio B, as well as his relationship with his soon-to-be wife, Katie. “I have a really strong work ethic. Even when I’m not working, I’m working,” he remarks. “I’m pushing the envelope. I’m experimenting with texture and shape and playing shadows off shapes. My techniques have grown. I approach pieces with more knowledge in the back of my head, and I’m keeping the work more classic.”

As for his fiancé, the artist muses, “Katie has really changed me as a painter. She’s so soft, and she’s added a softness to my work. It’s part of being in love and getting married, I suppose.”
The effects of both are clearly resonating. In recent months, several high-profile clients have commissioned Beller to create custom pieces. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln purchased four pieces for its campus —two for its Robert Hillestad Textiles Gallery and two for a student dormitory center. Gordman’s installed one his 8-foot towers in its new corporate headquarters in Aksarben Village. These commissions join others at locations such as the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Dundee Dental, Aristotle Group, Kohl’s Pharmacy, Proxibid, the Orthodontic Group, and Huber Automotive. Additionally, Moberg Gallery picked up the artist’s work for both its Des Moines and Chicago locations, and Daniel Hyland, a well-known interior designer with Clodagh Design in New York, has begun placing Beller’s works with clients.

The artist, though, doesn’t need to look far afield for collectors. His work is increasingly sought after, and Beller prides himself on creating work that collectors aren’t just happy with, but that they love. “I want to keep the work special and for it to be a gem for my clients,” he emphasizes.

Molly and Mike Erftmier are two of Beller’s most recent collectors. They began by purchasing one piece for their new home, and then decided on three more. All four are distinct stylistically and not readily identifiable as having been created by one artist. “I love his work. I’ve never seen anything like it,” enthuses Molly when explaining why the couple decided to include so many pieces in their home. “I love the way he incorporates techniques. If you looked at the four pieces, you wouldn’t say they’re by the same artist. They are all unique.”

Indeed, they are radically different in conception and articulation and serve as ideal examples of Beller’s wide-ranging artistic vision. On one end of the spectrum is a three-part rectangular piece composed of lines of shiny black and cloud gray. The sections interlock and almost give the impression of a magical puzzle box. On the other side is a long, thin hanging tower with muted colors painted in fine, threadlike strokes that blur into one another to create a contemplative effect. Then, there are the studies in contrast: one painting that features vibrantly primary colors while the other is created out of soft russet tones and light, earthy browns.

In reflecting upon recent months, Beller smiles. “Everything’s been going well,” he says. “I have an eye to the future, though. The next phase is to start a family.” For the artist, that will most likely be his most challenging and rewarding work to date, one that will eclipse even the best of everything that’s occurred thus far.

And in 2014, that’s saying a lot.