Tag Archives: Stephen Kavanaugh

Fresh Paint

March 18, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

From a very young age, Omaha artist Stephen Kavanaugh had a raw talent for art, as well as a wise-beyond-his-years understanding of what it takes to be a professional artist. 

“The first drawing I did was of me and my grandpa fishing, and I was like 4 years old, but I was able to draw all this detail, and ever since then my mom pushed me to keep doing art. She saw something in me, so she even paid for outside art classes,” says Kavanaugh, now 29. “But even at that age, I remember having the thought that it wasn’t easy to do art as a career. Looking back now, that seems like a weird realization to have at age 5, but even then I couldn’t imagine not doing art. There’s something about it that gives me a stability that I don’t get from anything else. So, I’ve always kept with it because it feels wrong to leave it.”    

Kavanaugh’s penchant for drawing ultimately blossomed into an interest in everything from painting to sculpture to graphic design. At age 19 he discovered street art.

“The day I saw Exit Through the Gift Shop I went to Blick, bought all the stencil work to make my first street art piece, and did it that night at 3 a.m. Ever since then I was hooked, and I did that for a year,” Kavanaugh says.

A decade later, now a father of two, Kavanaugh says doing street art isn’t as feasible, but it’s a passion that continues to shine through in his work. His current focus is on painting, particularly mural work and live painting, where an artist creates a painting in front of an audience, often in tandem with live music.

“The live art is something that replaces that rush I would get from being out doing street art. I still feel like a street artist, just not on the streets,” he says with a laugh.

Kavanaugh’s vibrant style is characterized by intensely bright, rich colors and, typically, rounded outer borders. There’s a geometrical feel to his work. An array of shapes, symbols, and characters—in both senses of the word—come together in an animated flash mob of sorts, jumping off the canvas like an unruly, moving mosaic.     

artwork by Stephen Kavanaugh

In addition to street art, murals, and painting, Kavanaugh hasn’t been shy when it comes to exploring niche art forms. He illustrated a children’s book called Number Mountain and also self-published two original art coloring books, Bloom and Roon Toon. From city streets to college classroom seats, and everywhere in between, art has always been Kavanaugh’s driving force. The Omaha native earned his BFA in painting and graphic design from UNO.   

“Graphic design was me trying to take art seriously, but after realizing what graphic design really was, it just didn’t satisfy me enough as an artist,” Kavanaugh says.

But he has no regrets, noting that he got to work on some “cool projects, dream projects, really,” including branding work for Borgata (later Brickway) Brewery & Distillery, creating a key to the city, and design duties for a production of The Wizard of Oz at the Omaha Community Playhouse. Kavanaugh’s also done logo and design work for local bands like Ragged Company and Domestic Blend, not to mention uber-talented musician Aly Peeler, who is also Kavanaugh’s wife and mother to their children, 3-year-old Asher and 18-month-old Otto.   

“She’s an amazing singer,” Kavanaugh says of Peeler. “I really enjoy being married to somebody who works in a different spectrum of art. There’s a great balance there.”

In 2017, after three years supporting himself as a working artist, Kavanaugh took a position at AngelWorks, an arts nonprofit which fortuitously allows him to make a steady living while still doing what he loves.

“AngelWorks is the only art studio in Omaha that works with adults with disabilities, provides them a place to create and display work, and really tries to get them involved in the local artistic community,” says Kavanaugh, who leads classes and outings to various local studios and galleries, and helps create personal portfolios and set up shows allowing AngelWorks clients to showcase and sell their art. He’s also done some stunning collaborative pieces with individuals he works with there.   

“It’s a really awesome program and it’s uncovered a new skill [of mine]. I love those guys, and it’s really cool to see how excited they get when they finish or sell pieces,” says Kavanaugh, who calls his job “challenging and very fulfilling.”

As for his personal artistic pursuits, Kavanaugh hopes to do more live paintings and shows, starting with a January 2018 exhibition at The B Side of Benson Theatre with Maggie Heusinkvelt. Another chief focus for him is doing more mural work.

“Murals bring so much vibrancy and I think Omaha is starting to accept that as a different way of showing off our buildings or as a way for places to show off [what] they are,” Kavanaugh says.

Much as his artistic pursuits have been a patchwork of various endeavors, his mural work graces various, diverse corners of the city—from the Down Under Lounge to UNMC to a local
orthodontics office.    

“For a while I was all over the place, doing live paintings, coloring books, illustration…but it’s nice to have a center and to grow as an artist,” Kavanaugh says. “I always want to evolve instead of being stagnant. Lately, I’ve been coming up with work that’s more quality over quantity, work that I feel proud about.”

This article appears in the March/April 2018 edition of Encounter.

Hugo Novelo’s Apartment

April 29, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The socio-economic fabric of Omaha makes a complicated tapestry of diverse skeins intertwining in various degrees of organic, from architectural masterpieces to working-class family neighborhoods converging around art from the street to the Bemis. Southwest of the 11-Worth Cafe is an apartment that’s not just a home for one man and his toddler, but also to a healthy cross-section of Omaha artists.

Hugo Novelo is an Omaha art lover. For two years, he’s been turning his apartment into a gallery of ever-increasing legitimacy. It began as a barter on the cusp where street artists live. 

HugoNovelo2

“I started collecting art about eight years ago,” Novelo says from his perch in the kitchen where art is made as often as food. “An artist friend got kicked out of his place after a break-up and asked me to help him move. I gathered up all his stuff, but there was no way I could mail all his art. It would have cost a fortune. So I gave him 70 bucks for about five pieces and we called it even. That’s how my collection started. Now, I meet a new artist every week and I’ve got about 325 pieces of local, Omaha artwork.”

Novelo says he began feeling guilty for keeping so much art to himself and decided, in true Omaha style, to collaborate. With the help of his salon full of experienced artists, he began selling a few pieces a week through a Facebook store, lending out art and doing the occasional pop-up. Meanwhile, he encourages young artists, buying supplies in exchange for finished art or part of the profit. It all happened organically. Now when the neighborhood skate kids stop by to look at the art, they meet a weird artist or two, and think about creating.

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Depending on mood and occasion, 50 to 60 artists live on Novelo’s walls. The majority of works are stored in the basement, which is why Novelo does not advertise the address. One has to know Hugo, contact him through social media or be delivered by a mutual friend to see what he has in the kitchen and around the enormous mural by artists Stephen Kavanaugh as well as norm4eva and Andy Garlock, the muralists responsible for the makeover of Leo’s Diner. Other noted Omaha talents represented are Randi Hunter, Très Johnson, and Anthony Brown.

Novelo’s face lights up talking about art because for him it’s not just about commerce or a pretty picture. Hugo’s pieces are vibrant, personal and plentiful, but they are—more often than not—made by his friends.

Bart Vargas, respected painter and UNO art educator, reviewed Novelo’s collection recently and, after touring the vaunted basement, says: “Novelo is a passionate and active local art collector snatching up works from many of the areas, unknown, outsider, and up-and-coming street artists,” Vargas says. “I was surprised to find early gems from regional artists Stephen Kavanaugh, Reginald LeFlore, OaKley, Joel Elia Damon, and Gerard Pefung. I predict it will be interesting to watch this collection develop, as these artist’s careers evolve and develop. Who exactly knows what hidden gems Hugo has in his collection?”

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