Tag Archives: Tres Johnson

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. 

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“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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Très Johnson

February 4, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Très Johnson is pouring water in a slow, circular motion around a paper filter resting just inside a glass jar. Inside the filter, coffee grounds are mixing with the water, tiny bubbles forming on the surface of the gritty liquid. The glass chamber below collects the drippings of fresh, dark coffee.

At 1010 S. Main St. in Council Bluffs, (drips) coffee shop serves only pour-over coffee.

Johnson had wanted to open a coffee shop almost since he managed one back in 1995. Unfortunately, “the cost of the machinery prohibits just jumping in,” he says.

He and his girlfriend, Amber Jacobsen, took a trip to San Francisco about a year and a half ago. There, they visited Blue Bottle Coffee, which does pour-over coffee—Johnson’s first taste of it.

“It was the best cup of coffee I’d had,” Johnson says. “And I realized it took a smaller amount of equipment to be able to make it. You just had to boil water, have the filter and the stand. And I actually use glass Ball jars instead of a stand.”

Re-inspired by this method, Johnson opened (drips) on July 1, 2013.

This particular brew is Nightingale Blend, roasted by Beansmith Coffee in Omaha, and prepared in a personal pour-over, which has four drips. He also uses a Chemex frequently, with a single drip.

“I do have some French presses and an AeroPress,” Johnson says. “But I’ve found that the pour-over just tastes better. The people that insist on French press have tried the pour-over, and now they don’t insist on the French press anymore.”

A coffee shop is the perfect place to be on a day like this—cold and rainy. Amber is doing a puzzle. Two locals are enjoying their pour-overs and accusing Amber of cheating by looking at the photo on the puzzle box.

(drips) is located in a mixed-use space occupied by artists, including low-income artist housing. The coffee shop definitely has an artsy feel, probably because Johnson is both a painter and a DJ.

One half of the wall space displays Johnson’s art. The other half is space for rotating guest shows.

For Valentine’s Day, (drips) will display the work of approximately 20 local artists in a show called “Lovesong,” named for The Cure song. A Brian Tait show will open mid-February.

The Cure is already present in lyrics painted onto Johnson’s pieces. He often uses stencils to inscribe lyrics from bands like Depeche Mode and Joy Division—words that “people from the ’80s, if they know the song, they connect with.”

He describes his style as “heavily influenced by street art, and then some post-World War II art thrown in.”

“When I’m tired of painting and waiting for paint to dry, I produce music,” he says with a laugh.

He DJs a set every Sunday night for an online radio station, lowercasesounds.com. “Then that’s what I listen to generally throughout the week when I’m painting,” he says. “I listen to it over and over again, because I usually listen to newer music or music that I just picked up. I listen and paint.”

Johnson describes his sound as “deep house and ambient.” He DJs Silicon Prairie News events, like Big Omaha, and he has recently released EPs on the label Deep Site Space.

“There’s always been a combination of the music in the art,” Johson says. “They’re both something that I let myself go into. I don’t really sweat it. I just let it all flow.”