Tag Archives: Union for Contemporary Art

Reggie LeFlore’s Street Art

March 19, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann, artwork images provided by Reggie LeFlore

His portraits may share similarities to the vandalism-tarnished genre, but for LeFlore, his art form is all about transforming communities.

“I love working with organizations and community leaders to create a series of work that’s out in the public,” explains LeFlore, who works primarily in portraiture. “My portrayals can help uplift an otherwise drab space with art.”

LeFlore’s mission started from humble beginnings, including art classes at Benson High School where he would meet his friend Gerard Pefung. After high school, LeFlore’s aspirations to illustrate cartoons and comic books led him to pursue graphic design while Pefung went in a different direction. A chance meeting years later would lead to LeFlore’s first foray into street art.

“I go to a party, and I see this massive indoor mural and Pefung is standing in front of it,” LeFlore reminisces. “I find out that he created it, and I’m flabbergasted. At that moment I decided to take my craft and elevate it by jumping into public art.”

Leflore would pick up an aerosol can for the first time at Pefung’s studio, eventually developing a signature style remixing existing images with his hybrid stencil method. He became acquainted with community art organizers—including folks involved with Benson First Friday—and he started to pay more attention to public art and murals around town. With his desire to showcase his art, LeFlore participated in shows at The Union of Contemporary Arts’ Wanda B. Ewing Gallery in North Omaha and exhibited in Chicago (in a gallery and on the street). But he longed for an international platform.

After admiring constant social media posts about Hong Kong’s street art scene from a Nebraska friend (Craig Schuster) living in the Chinese territory, LeFlore became determined to showcase his art there. With income earned from personal commissions and teaching at The Union of Contemporary Arts, he was able to move toward his goal with a trip to the former British colony.

“I did research and found that I didn’t need to know Cantonese or Mandarin to live in Hong Kong,” LeFlore says. “It made it easy for me to adapt, and I utilized my time there to build opportunities and meet my friend, Hughie [Doherty], who owns a screen printing shop in Stanley, Hong Kong.”

During the day, Stanley is a busy seaside marketplace with a labyrinth of shops selling clothing, trinkets, and toys. When the neighborhood shops close for the night, a vibrant street art scene emerges. Artworks reveal themselves, painted on the shutters of local establishments.

Schuster, his Nebraska expat friend, introduced LeFlore to a local arts nonprofit called HK Walls. HK Walls “aims to create opportunities for local and international artists to showcase their talent in Hong Kong.” The nonprofit helped LeFlore with resources in Hong Kong, introducing him to Doherty and a host of local street artists. From there, LeFlore set off to create his masterpiece amongst the shutters.

A collaboration with Schuster led to “Kowloon Influence,” an art piece depicting Tsang Tsou Choi, a legendary Hong Kong graffiti artist (known as the King of Kowloon) who spent decades scrawling his family’s ancestral claims to Kowloon—a large portion of Hong Kong’s land area—in calligraphy that he painted on public walls throughout the bustling city.

In order to pay homage to the King of Kowloon, LeFlore made stencils of Tsang Tsou Choi’s calligraphy and combined them with a friend’s referenced photographs creating a surreal portrait on a city street.

LeFlore’s recent move to the Twin Cities has immersed him in Minnesota’s own thriving visual arts community. While his girlfriend, Heather Peebles, pursued her Master of Fine Arts at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, he linked up with a comprehensive group of like-minded creatives.

“I still keep my connections in the Big O,” LeFlore says. “I consider Watie White as a mentor, and my cousin, Joanna LeFlore helped me establish my style. The Union for Contemporary Art has also been amazing.”

LeFlore is in the process of pursuing a collaborative project with Omaha photographer Alicia Davis, but here is where street art clashes with the rebel spirit of graffiti. Their project has run into some unexpected roadblocks.

“The graffiti artist in me says to stop asking for permission, come down, and get some stuff up there,” he says. “North Omaha should have a bigger public art presence. The conversation behind street art is what makes it cool, and I’m sure it could help reinvigorate the community.”

Visit ral86.com for Reggie LeFlore’s personal website.

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

 

Destinations

February 22, 2017 by

AKSARBEN VILLAGE

Horse stalls went bye-bye long ago. Now, Aksarben Village is losing car stalls, too. But that’s a good thing, as far as continued growth of the former horse-racing grounds goes. Dirt is overturned and heavy equipment sits on the plot extending north and east from 67th and Frances streets, formerly a parking lot for visitors to the bustling area. That’s because work has commenced at the corner on what will become HDR’s new global headquarters, which opens some time in 2019. The temporary loss of parking will be offset by great gain for Aksarben Village — a 10-story home for nearly 1,200 employees with a first floor including 18,000 square feet of retail space. HDR also is building an adjacent parking garage with room for ground-level shops and restaurants. But wait, car owners, there’s more. Farther up 67th Street, near Pacific, the University of Nebraska-Omaha is building a garage that should be completed this fall. Plenty of parking for plenty to do.

BENSON

A continental shift has taken place in Benson — Espana is out and Au Courant Regional Kitchen is in, offering Benson denizens another food option at 6064 Maple St. That means a move from now-closed Espana’s Spanish fare to now-open Au Courant’s “approachable European-influenced dishes with a focus on regional ingredients.” Sound tasty? Give your tastebuds an eye-tease with the menu at aucourantrestaurant.com. Also new in B-Town: Parlour 1887 (parlour1887.com) has finished an expansion first announced in 2015 that has doubled the hair salon’s original footprint. That’s a big to-do at the place of  ’dos.

BLACKSTONE DISTRICT

The newest Blackstone District restaurant, which takes its name from Nebraska’s state bird, is ready to fly. Stirnella Bar & Kitchen, located at 3814 Farnam St., was preparing to be open by Valentine’s Day. By mid-January it had debuted staff uniforms, photos of its decor, and a preview of its delectable-looking dinner menu. Stirnella (Nebraska’s meadowlark is part of the genus and species “Sturnella neglecta”) will offer a hybrid of bistro and gastro pub fare “that serves refined comfort food with global influences,” plus a seasonal menu inspired by local ingredients. Fly to stirnella.com for more.

DUNDEE

Film Streams (filmstreams.org) made a splash in January announcing details on its renovation of the  historic Dundee Theater. Work began in 2017’s first month on features including:

Repair and renovation of the original theater auditorium, which will be equipped with the latest projection and sound technology able to screen films in a variety of formats, including reel-to-reel 35mm and DCP presentations.

A throwback vertical “Dundee” sign facing Dodge Street.

An entryway that opens to a landscaped patio/pocket park.

New ticketing and concessions counters.

A store with film books, Blu-ray Discs and other cinema-related offerings.

A café run through a yet-to-be-announced partnership.

A 25-seat micro-cinema.

Oh, yeah, they’ll show movies there, too. And Dundee-ers won’t have long to wait—the project should be completed by the end of 2017.

MIDTOWN

In a surprise to many—especially those holding its apparently now-defunct gift cards—Brix shut its doors in January at both its Midtown Crossing and Village Pointe locations. It was not clear at press time what factor, if any, was played by a former Brix employee, who in late December pleaded not guilty to two counts of felony theft by deception after being accused of stealing more than $110,000 as part of a gift card scheme. Despite the closing, Midtown has celebrated two additions of late as the doors opened to the “Japanese Americana street food” spot Ugly Duck (3201 Farnam St.) and to Persian rug “pop-up shop” The Importer.

NORTH OMAHA

The restoration of North Omaha’s 24th and Lake area continues its spectacular trajectory. In January, the Union for Contemporary Art moved into the completely renovated, historic Blue Lion building located at 2423 N. 24th St. The Blue Lion building is a cornerstone in the historic district. Originally constructed in 1913, the Blue Lion is named after two of the building’s earliest tenants: McGill’s Blue Room, a nightclub that attracted many nationally known black musicians, and Lion Products, a farm machinery distributor. The entire district was listed as a federally recognized historic district in April 2016.

According to its website, “The Union for Contemporary Art is committed to strengthening the creative culture of the greater Omaha area by providing direct support to local artists and increasing the visibility of contemporary art forms in the community.” Founder and executive director Brigitte McQueen Shew says the Union strives to unite artists and the community to inspire positive social change in North Omaha. “The organization was founded on the belief that the arts can be a vehicle for social justice and greater civic engagement,” she says. “We strive to utilize the arts as a bridge to connect our diverse community in innovative and meaningful ways.”

The Union will be hosting the annual Omaha Zinefest March 11. Event organizer Andrea Kszystyniak says Zinefest is a celebration of independent publishing in Nebraska. Assorted zines—essentially DIY magazines produced by hand and/or photocopier—will be on display at the free event, and workshops will be offered to attendees.

OLD MARKET

M’s Pub fans had plenty to be thankful for in November following the announcement that the Old Market restaurant would rise from the ashes of the January 2016 fire that destroyed the iconic eatery. Various media quoted co-owner Ann Mellen saying the restaurant would reopen this summer. Construction has been steady at the restaurant’s 11th and Howard, four-story building, but customers weren’t sure M’s would be part of the rebirth until Mellen’s well-received comments. Mellen says the feel—and the food—will be the same. Even if the name may change.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Encounter.

Lowbrow Pop Culture Maven

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If it wasn’t for Bugs Bunny, Ren and Stimpy, or Johnny Bravo, we may never have gotten to know Dan Crane, artist extraordinaire. One of Omaha’s rising contemporary creators, Crane credits his formative years watching Cartoon Network as much as his degree in printmaking from the Kansas City Art Institute for his unique visual perspective.

“That pre-internet, pop culture aesthetic that animators were doing at the time was so particular. It never really left me,” Crane says.

Dan-Crane-1One look at his work and that’s astoundingly clear. A hybrid of commercial and fine art, his pieces range from fartsy to artsy: one of his printed t-shirts displays a butt in mid-squat, while large abstract paintings fill his studio with inviting neon-hues.

Equal parts kid-at-heart and all-grownup, Crane has built an impressive professional portfolio. He has lent his eye-popping visual perspective to the Omaha Creative Institute, and Scout Dry Goods & Trade, and has helped to establish B&G Tasty Foods’ creative brand.

“We try hard to have interesting and unique signage at B&G, and Dan has really helped with that immensely,” says Eddie Morin, restaurant owner. “The most important work he has done for us is designing our new mascots, Louis Meat and Louise Frenchee. We’re using those guys all over the place now.”

Crane recently completed a gig for Mula where he had been commissioned to design, and print t-shirts. The finished shirts feature a monster holding a basketball and a taco with peace signs for eyes. The characters might seem unnatural for a Mexican kitchen and tequileria, but they are representative of Crane’s kooky and bold signature style.

Dan-Crane-2When Crane’s not cooking up art for local eateries, he spends time at the Union for Contemporary Art. As a previous fellowship recipient, he has a small temporary studio at the Union. During his fellowship, which lasted from November 2015 through April 2016, he helped North Omaha school kids transfer their small drawings onto much larger pieces of plywood. The finished products were installed in Habitat for Humanity yards as pop-up public art.

“The Union is all about spreading positive social change through art,” Crane says. “Can I just say that I am so f***ing grateful for them?”

Yes, Crane’s language is commonly peppered with swear words. He’s also got a penchant for Atlanta trap music and once lived in an 1,800-square-foot Blackstone District storefront that was notorious for all-night raves. Nothing Crane does is by the book. And he’s just fine with that.

“The whole art with a capital ‘A’ thing really bugs me,” Crane says. “I’m not motivated to do something unless it’s super-approachable and can be related to on a real level.”

Crane often slips into episodes of nostalgia. Whether he is recalling childhood summers spent copying doodles inside libraries or the two weeks he served pad thai from a truck at Coachella (so he could quit the food industry and focus on art), he’s all about the journey. Not the destination.

“I still feel like I’m in my infancy stage as an artist,” Crane says. “I’m loving what I’m doing now and taking it one day, one project at a time.”

Visit therealweekendo.tumblr.com for more information. Omaha Magazine

Neil Griess

May 13, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Neil Griess felt like an alien. He immersed himself so deeply into his art that coming out of it felt unnatural. This feeling of being otherworldly, detached and yet painting reality, lasted for about three years. Later, driving home from the Union for Contemporary Art after opening night, he broke down in tears.

“It was a big sigh,” Griess says.

His exhibit, “Pleated Field,” came together with the help of his entire family, who “took over the Union” back on November 14, 2015, when his exhibit began in the Wanda D. Ewing Gallery.

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Griess, 27, learned he won Best Solo Exhibition at the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards in January. But he doesn’t paint for the awards.

He wasn’t always serious about his art, as his late uncle, award-winning realist painter Kent Bellows, often reminded him. Griess found being in his shadow difficult.

“He was the ultimate cool uncle, but I was intimidated by him growing up,” Griess admits. “I wanted his acceptance and affirmation.”

While Griess was a student at Westside High School, his uncle passed away in his sleep. It was a trigger for Griess, who felt like he had something to prove; perhaps to make up for the grief and loss of Bellows in his life.

As Griess says, natural talent doesn’t mean anything without hard work. Soon, he developed a portfolio of acrylic on wood. Griess’ realism is so evident, his father Jim jokes he should take the painting of him into his doctor’s office because even the vein popping out on his leg is shown with such great detail.

Griess’ art led to a Gold Medal by Scholastic Art, a $10,000 prize, and a visit to Carnegie Hall in New York City when he was only 18.

“He’s just wonderful,” says his mother, Robin, prompting Griess to run out of the room in his worn black socks. Always the shy son, Greiss clearly becomes uncomfortable when his mother discusses him.

His mother is an artist, like his grandfather and uncle. Griess’ brothers are also creative. One is a game developer while the other is a sculptor. Jim laughs, saying he brings the frugality, common sense, and work ethic.

While he was pursing his Bachelor of Arts in the fall of 2011, Griess began developing his solo project. He thought about the potential of spaces and how people could alter them on their own terms rather than the norm. Griess combined different objects he saw, then put them into believable spaces. It was an “exploration of possibility.”

Griess designed miniatures of models, construction scenes. Sometimes, he would take the model out and experiment with different lighting like at dusk.  After taking photographs, Griess used acrylic to paint on wood panels.

Griess now divides his time between being a guard at the Joslyn Art Museum and tutoring children at the Kent Bellows Mentoring Center.

Will he do another exhibit?

Griess thoughtfully looks to the side, weighing his answer, slouching all in black on his mother’s white couch. Art is a challenge, a sacrifice.

“I’m playing, that’s all I will say,” Griess says with a sly smile. Encounter

Visit neilgriess.com for more info.

NeilGreiss1

Joshua Norton

December 4, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When you are a master serigrapher, making a good impression counts. An affable local artist named Joshua Norton does that. Talking about his work, it’s clear that what he loves is the democratic, even plebeian, nature of printmaking—one of the oldest crafts as well as one of the most useful at injecting art into our everyday lives. Printing, or serigraphy, is so useful it decorates and improves other art forms. Imagine modern music or film without posters, album covers, and T-shirts to connect fans to their favorite artists.

The everyday usefulness of this art form often earns it the derogatory “craft” label. While it is a description that the 38-year-old Norton, facilities coordinator at the Union for Contemporary Art, does not deny, he denounces the sneer that can come with the designation.

“ ‘Craft’ is not a dirty word,” says Norton from his Dundee studio. Speaking over a large stack of brightly-colored posters featuring rock stars, country singers, and other creatures of the night, Norton says he counts the German expressionists of  Die Brücke (The Bridge) among his influences, but his art is about pop culture.

JoshNorton2

“I’m not influenced directly by the art world. I draw more from posters, movies, graphic art, and comics. Art is not solely the province of high culture. There also isn’t as much high art in high art these days.”

The serigrapher’s art is archaic, dating back more than 5,000 years to Mesopotamia, but according to Norton, printmaking is a thoroughly modern art, one that manages to be as expressive as it practical.

“There is high art in printmaking,” Norton says. “Poster art is very big, very popular. Rock art is still very popular. Artists like Stanley Donwood screen print rock posters and album covers for Radiohead.”   

This native of Lake City, Minnesota—birthplace of water skiing—credits his father and high school art teacher with developing his early interest in printmaking. He moved to Omaha in the summer of 2013 and became facilities coordinator of the Union for Contemporary Art that November. Norton taught printmaking and drawing at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design after earning his bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Stout. He obtained his master’s from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The artist’s mission at the Union is creating greater access to resources for art across the socioeconomic spectrum of the Omaha metro. Norton is also the architect of the Union’s print shop, which gives him a chance to spread his love of serigraphy around.

“At the Union for Contemporary Art, I built the print studio,” Norton says. “During the day, I design and print posters for our events while running the co-op and helping other artists with their projects.”

Omaha has an accomplished and diverse visual art scene worth nurturing, according to Norton.

“It’s a growing scene. It’s not lacking anything…it’s a work in progress. The important thing is that artists are supported in the community. I’m really proud to be living and working in Omaha.”

Norton was one of 37 artists featured in Joslyn Art Museum’s “Art Seen: A Juried Exhibition of Artists from Omaha to Lincoln” which closed last month. Encounter

Visit joshuanorton.net to learn more.

JoshNorton

Zedeka Poindexter

February 19, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Zedeka Poindexter has had a good year.

In the spring, the Omaha-born performance poet was named slam master of the Om Center Poetry Slam, a monthly event where Omaha’s nationally recognized slam teams come together. She was named a 2014 fall fellow at the Union for Contemporary Art. In January, she—alongside Nebraska State Poet Twyla M. Hansen—will present in a new interactive poetry reading series at KANEKO called Feedback. A week and a half after that, she’ll read at a Backwaters Press-sponsored reading at the Community Engagement Center. She was nominated for the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Award’s Best Slam Poet title for 2014 and again for 2015.

“It’s really strange,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting it. It’s like all the things I thought I possibly might want are all happening.

“Matt told me I should probably start investing in lottery tickets, because this is a pretty good run.”

That Matt is Matt Mason, the longtime master of the Om slam who handed the reins to Poindexter in May. A longtime fixture of the slam scene—and a three-time member of the Omaha Slam Team, the rotating members of which compete at the National Poetry Slam—she was well-positioned to take the role. Now that she’s in it, she’s been hosting regular “slam family meetings” and trying to connect the city’s slam poetry, spoken word, and other creative communities.

“It hasn’t been without its challenges,” Poindexter said. “While slam has a very specific following, I wouldn’t say it’s as wide-reaching as I would like it to be. A lot of it is just a matter of making sure we’re talking to each other. Spoken word is so diverse, and slam is just one specific outlet. There’s so much out there—it’s a matter of us all appreciating things we do well and opening our arms wide.”

To that end, Poindexter has her eye on bringing one of slam’s most prominent national competitions, the Women of the World Poetry Slam, to Omaha in 2016. Started in 2008, WOWPS is a three-day event designed to foster women’s involvement in the global slam poetry scene.

“We could have the top 80 women in performance poetry from this country and other countries here,” Poindexter said. “I think we’re well-placed for that.”

She’s also at work on an exhibition piece she’ll show with the other Union for Contemporary Art fall fellows at the completion of their fellowship. She’s been working with the ideas of food and family, building a table with place settings and love letters for people living and dead she’d like to have at her table.

It makes sense for this poet locally known for a piece about her family’s recipe for peach cobbler, for a writer who’s filled a notebook with the Southern idioms her mother and grandmother would use, for a woman who wants to help people tell stories while she tells her own, too.

“There’s this idea that you can go into someone’s mind,” she said. “Slam is the perfect vehicle for that: You can see it in [poets’] faces and their reactions, and they can see it in your face and your reactions. No matter how tired or frustrated or fed up I get with art in general, I don’t think I could ever truly walk away. There are so many stories out there to hear that keep me coming back. I’m certain there’s something I haven’t heard yet. And then I think if I listen hard enough, I’ll be able to write it myself.

“With the way things have been going, maybe I’ll be the first to write something I’ve been waiting to hear. I hope. I hope.”

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