Tag Archives: Project Project

Byron Anway

August 21, 2018 by
Photography by Keith Binder

When Byron Anway talks about his art, he doesn’t say he “paints.” He says he “makes a painting.” As an artist, educator, and musician, this emphasis on making—on investing in the process—colors all aspects of his life.

A military kid growing up, Anway is familiar with the practice of starting to build a life and develop relationships, only to be uprooted from them in a couple of years. After getting his bachelor’s degree in studio art, with a teaching certificate in K-12 art education from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, he packed up again, transplanting to teaching jobs in Brussels, Casablanca, and Minneapolis. Within a few years, the artist/educator/musician was ready to put down roots and invest in something different.

He asked himself one question when choosing his next move: “If I could win the lottery for jobs, what’s the job?” The answer led him to graduate school in Lincoln, Nebraska, and a career as a college art instructor.

After a lifetime of exploring different scenes, Anway has a refreshing take on building a life as an artist. “There’s a lot of different art worlds. Finding your place has to start with doing the work, and figuring out what it looks like to do the work over time.”

His professional experience reflects this search for his place in art, with shows at galleries scattered all across the Midwest and his work featured in an extensive list of publications. In Omaha alone, he has participated in solo and two-person shows at The Union for Contemporary Art, Fred Simon Gallery, and Project Project as well as group shows at Joslyn Art Museum, Modern Arts Midtown, and Hot Shops Arts Center.

Now married and enjoying the stability of a studio and a full-time teaching job at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Anway is focused on cultivating his career. “I have made a conscious effort to sort of try and live a little more instead of feeling like it’s one foot in, one foot out all the time,” he says. There is no quick fix for the type of sustainable artistic life he wants to continue nurturing.

The payoff of this kind of intentional focus is clear in Anway’s paintings. His most recent works feature expansive crowds of people, with hundreds of meticulously detailed individuals carefully arranged in vibrant color to form sometimes overwhelming scenes. “I think that large gatherings of people represent something about our time right now,” Anway says. Whether it’s a crowd gathering in protest or in celebration, he wants his art to spark conversations. “I want it to be re-evaluating what it means to come together.”

This sense of togetherness goes beyond Anway’s visual arts practice, extending into his musical career as well. When he isn’t teaching or creating art, he can be found bringing high-energy vocals to stages across the country as lead singer of the rock band Red Cities. Through “active effort at cross-pollination,” the music fuels the art. And vice versa. Research about global issues for songwriting percolates into thematic elements of paintings, and performance skills push the boundaries of teaching and art.

His upcoming 2019 show at Project Project will build on a collaboration with bandmate Josh Leeker and will continue to re-evaluate togetherness and separation. “The show is going to sort of focus on experiences of mine where I’ve looked for, or found, middle ground between different groups.” 

As he continues to stay active in the art, education, and music scenes in the area, Anway hopes to inspire people to focus less on the search for easy answers and more on discovering what the questions are.


For more information, visit byronanwayart.com

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Encounter. 

Immature Art for Mature Audiences

December 30, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Since time immemorial, bored teen boys have been drawing a certain part of the male anatomy on anything they can set pen to. Identification of such “artists” usually leads to their detention. However, for Mike Bauer and Dustin Bythrow, doodling juvenile outlines of phalluses was the stepping-stone to their artistic careers.

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Together known as Bzzy Lps, the two have spent the past eight years bringing an artistic touch to subject matter that most consider crass. From turning a childhood image of Lindsay Lohan into a Juggalo to splicing together bizarre online conspiracy videos, their work is always fresh, unique, and never without controversy. The group’s name is a term borrowed from a hip-hop jargon dictionary that refers to a woman who enjoys fellatio. 

 “We became friends after discovering we have a mutual enjoyment of drawing stupid pictures,” Bythrow says.

When the two first met, Bauer was attending the University of Nebraska at Omaha for a degree in art, and Bythrow was working at a gas station. Mutual friends introduced them knowing Bauer would enjoy Bythrow’s side art project—a hand-drawn book of convenience store items: i.e., big gulps, churros, and overdone hot dogs talking back to customers.

 Following their instant connection, the two would regularly get together to draw and drink (and yes, sometimes this included illustrating parts of the male reproductive system). During each boozy hangout, they’d collaborate on images to see where their creative and liquored-up minds would take them. Soon these quasi-creative brainstorm meetings became a regular thing, and they decided to start illustrating content others could enjoy in zine form.

 “Zines were an easy way to get all our drawings into one place at one time,” Bauer says.

 At last year’s Omaha Zine Fest, Bzzy Lps hosted a table of their independently published content, with their Juggaluminati Hachetmanifesto zine quickly selling out. Inside the illustrated book are popular pop culture icons—Judge Judy, Yogi Bear, and Rob Lowe to name a few—painted to look like fans of the Insane Clown Posse. For next year’s Zine Fest, Bythrow is working to develop character concepts of his Mouse Boy, a Mickey Mouse-esque superhero with a really rotten attitude, into a comic.

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While these inventive cartoons and illustrations are Bzzy Lps’ specialty, they also have created T-shirts, stickers, and dabbled in video art. For the independent art venue Project Project, under Bythrow’s lead, the two made a three-hour-long video installation that stitched together nonsensical content found on YouTube.

 “I didn’t sleep for weeks and just went down the rabbit hole of the internet,” Bythow says. “But we got asked back again, which was a first for Project Project.”

 During an unseasonably warm October day on a NoDo patio, in between drags of cigarettes and a rather heated discussion on the underrated roles of Nicholas Cage, the two weigh where they’d like to see their careers develop. Visions of drawing professional comics and developing content for Adult Swim dance in their heads.

 “All that stuff on Cartoon Network, it’s nice to see other people who draw dumb cartoons and care about it,” Bauer says. “We just don’t want to go back to drawing dicks again.”

Visit bzzylps.storenvy.com for more information.

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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A Space of Their Own

October 30, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Theirs was a passion born from a common frustration framed by a Great Recession America, one that had stricken Omaha with a bounty of empty storefronts and too many starving artists.

So when visual artists Joel Damon and Josh Powell began to liaise the two under the collaborative guise Project Project—a roaming, repurposing art gallery that now has a permanent home in the heart of the Vinton Street Historic District—it was to help those left behind in the local arts community. They had no idea that they’d be transforming the act of showing artwork into an art form all its own.

“I was getting really upset about the level of support for young, emerging artists in the city,” Damon, 32, says in reflecting back on the 2008 epiphany that would eventually launch the initiative. “And so I decided to find some artists who were super rad and put up an exhibition of their work.”

The former curator of the Bemis Underground says one of those artists happened to be Powell, 34, a Myspace friend (or acquaintance in real-life speak) whose artwork caught his eye and whose ethos resonated with his own.

ProjectProject2“While he was setting up his work,” Damon says, “there was this immediate sense of collaboration with other things happening with the show. We just hit it off.”

Most events, Damon recalls, gave local aesthetes the opportunity to appreciate artwork from virtually unknown Omaha-area artists.

“You were also given the chance to go into these vacant, beautiful spaces that you probably never would have had a chance to,” Powell adds. The duo would go on to co-curate a half dozen pop-up art shows in unlikely places across the city over the next half decade before landing a space of their own last year.

The repetitively named Project Project gallery doesn’t stray much from that sentiment: It’s a former alley—about the width of a covered wagon—turned butchery, with a floor that intentionally declines 3 inches on one side so that blood would flow away from work areas. The “horse door,” as Damon jokingly puts it, connects the gallery to a pseudo-atrium, which was once a livery stable.

“It was just going to be another one-night deal,” Damon confesses about the space. “After we thought, ‘Let’s give it a shot next month,’ and then the next month came, and then the next.”

After a year of free rent, the gallery held a $100 art sale last summer to finance their 2015 campaign. Damon says they met their goal in one night after hosting a turnout in the hundreds.

That kind of support, he believes, is a testament to the public’s desire for an art space whose very nature—just like in their pop-up days—is defined by an element of risk in showing “stuff that can’t be sold or stuff that probably wouldn’t sell.”

“This is not a business,” Damon says. “This strains both of our pocketbooks. This strains both of our times with our wives. This is some stupid compulsion. I don’t know what this is, but it’s what we enjoy doing…we enjoy helping other artists.”

Visit projectprojectomaha.com to learn more.

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