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.