Tag Archives: painter

Artist Watie White

February 10, 2015 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Dilapidated houses. Watie White has learned a lot about working with them, but not in the conventional sense. Last year, the artist partnered with Habitat for Humanity to take three homes slated for demolition on Emmet Street in North Omaha and turned them into monumental installations that focused on the history of a poor neighborhood, one often overlooked or completely ignored by the general public.

The project, called All That Ever Was Always Is, involved making 81 paintings, which were turned into vinyl prints and then installed in all the windows of each home. Before making the paintings, White explored the houses’ histories by interviewing previous inhabitants and neighbors. He also used artifacts like letters and photographs left behind to create a narrative history.

“They turned out to be really strong, profound pieces,” says White. “For the people who live in that neighborhood, they’re not just houses—they’re part of a community.”

White additionally hosted community dinners and public talks. “It was important because neighbors thought about the personal value of that kind of situation. It was a chance to bring people together and a lot of beautiful, little things happened, things that were good about their neighborhoods,” he explains. “It was a cathartic experience.”

Although the homes were demolished in December, the artist is already working on his next public art projects. For New Nebraskans, which is in partnership with Justice for Our Neighbors and representatives from the Intercultural Senior Center, public schools, the v, and the Anti-Defamation League, he will create four large-scale murals (a fifth is currently installed at the Justice for our Neighbors’ headquarters). They will feature immigrants and refugees living in Benson, North Omaha, South Omaha, and Little Italy.

For You Are Here, White will partner with inCOMMON Community Development to paint a large-scale banner mural for a public housing building located at Park Avenue adjoining Hanscom Park. Like his Emmet Street work, White will feature community members and is interviewing people so he can portray the neighborhood as accurately as possible. “I want people to be touched or at least feel something about the projects,” says the artist.

Recently White also received high-profile national attention himself. He (along with Angela Drakeford) was chosen to represent Nebraska in State of the Art, an exhibition running through January 19th at the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Bentonville, AR. The selection process began with a list of 10,000 U.S. artists, which was then cut to 1,000. Following nationwide studio visits, he was selected as one of 102 artists to be featured. The inclusion was significant: not every state was represented and such dignitaries as Bill Clinton, Martha Stewart, and Deepak Chopra have visited the prestigious museum founded by Alice Walton, an heir to the Wal-Mart fortune.

“It’s hard to know what will come of it,” White says, “but it’s hard to overstate how much it feels like it legitimizes what you do.”

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Craig Lee

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Do you ever wish to go to sleep under a star-filled sky? Create a woodland view in that drab and windowless back room? Or present a unique atmosphere for your office? Craig Lee can and does make wishes come true. He has won praise and clients for his trompe l’oeil murals and paintings that do indeed fool the eye into believing the unbelievable.

Most of his commissions are for home or business interiors. A ceiling may become a field of stars or an elaborate Renaissance-style illusion with figures and architectural features; walls may open onto a view. Faux finishes are a choice for details or an entire surface.

Take time to see his outdoor mural at 35th and Center streets. Lee’s gift to Omaha [he donated his time and materials] is an homage to the Hanscom Park neighborhood, where he lives, and to the sensual delights of spring and summer. You’ll find sweetly perfumed lilacs, wide-porched houses shaded by a great silver maple, butter-yellow lilies, and tantalizing tomatoes. “I want people to be able to hear cicadas when they look at it,” Lee says.

One of Lee's murals at the Hands of Heartland Center in Bellevue.

One of Lee’s murals at the Hands of Heartland Center in Bellevue.

The 18’ x 62’ mural was painted last summer. Preparation of the badly damaged wall required a week of painstaking cleaning and restoration, plus a month to cure the lime-based mortar. Painting the mural took a full month (A video of the process is available here).

Eddith Buis, an artist, educator, and longtime public art advocate, is thrilled with the Center Street mural. “It brings good art to the public,” she says. And per this feature, “As a muralist, he doesn’t have exhibitions, so it’s important that his work be recognized.”

While a graduate student at the prestigious Cranbrook Academy of Art, Lee followed the gestural style of the Abstract Expressionists until an instructor challenged him with the question, “What is your experience?” Lee recalls, “Art got really hard after that because realism involves so many brain cells. I want to leave some room for the viewer to be creative, and not simply reproduce what I see.” To that end, Lee uses line and color to create directional rhythm, highlights, and markers so that viewers can “read” the painting. All the senses are enlisted so one can almost feel the breeze and smell the flowers. By engaging viewers in these ways, their own stories are interwoven into the one depicted.

Sometimes, the narrative requires Lee to work against such realism. Painting scenery for Blue Barn Theatre’s Christmas spoof, Who Killed Santa?, he sought a more limited, generic representation; the kind we’d see in advertising or packaging. Every log in the cabin wall, while recognizable, is similar. “They’re more toy logs than real logs,” he says. “It’s hard to pull back, but the painting is in service to the story.”

A backdrop for Creighton University's production of The Nutcracker created by Lee.

A backdrop for Creighton University’s production of The Nutcracker created by Lee.

Lee’s mural subjects are often larger than life and highly individualized. Three murals at Domina Law Group picture Nebraska history, renowned trials, and the firm’s own key cases. The first is encountered in the reception area, on a curved wall opposite the entry. Large portraits beg identification; soon, we are lured by details and following the ever-modernizing route that winds through the prairie.

Lee began his professional life as a scenic artist at Omaha Community Playhouse. He began to get private commissions for murals as well as other freelance work and formed his own business, Craig Lee Fine Art, about 15 years ago. (One of his early murals, of Downtown Omaha, graces the wall of Omaha Magazine’s conference room, in fact.) “There were some lean years,” he admits, but he felt compelled to paint. “You only get one life, so your work has to have meaning.”

Lee's yellow lab, Georgia, who is inspiration for his mural on Center Street.

Lee’s yellow lab, Georgia, who is inspiration for his mural on Center Street.

Georgia, a yellow lab, looks at him with adoring, melted-chocolate eyes. Her response to his comment is clear. Lee rescued her from a puppy mill where she was a breeder. Slowly, she achieved physical and emotional health, and has a starring role in the Center Street mural. Any of us, however, can find our own imaginary place in the scene, our own private entrance. And with Lee’s painting as medium, the story becomes both personal and plausible.

Tana Quincy

November 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The phrase “I really don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t paint,” is a bit modest coming from Tana Quincy. Faced with the prospect of truly not being able to paint thanks to chronic muscle pain, this Omaha artist found out what she could do. As a result, she’s putting the finishing touches on her next body of work, Tents, which will show at Maud Boutique on 33rd and California through December.

It will be the first show since 2010 for the adjunct art instructor, who teaches figurative painting and drawing at Metro Community College, UNO, the Joslyn Art Museum, and Kent Bellows Studio. While her previous show, SODZO, at the Bemis Underground focused clearly on the human body with her small paintings of plaster anatomy casts, Quincy makes a subtler but intensely personal nod to the frailty of humanity with Tents.

The tiny cardboard tents, the oil paintings, and photographs of the miniatures—all encourage viewers to consider their own temporal, almost nomadic, existence. “We’re here in this temporal place, in these temporary structures. What’s your attitude; what’s your focus?” Quincy asks.

“After a few years of not being able to paint, I just really, really wanted to paint. So I learned to [hold] my paintbrush in my mouth.”

Her own focus is that she must make art. Somehow. Always.

While pursuing her MFA at the New York Academy of Art in 2008, she hit a roadblock. “I was sick,” Quincy recalls. “I didn’t know what was wrong. I’d get really tired.” She continued to work as a professional muralist after graduation but eventually injured both of her arms. “Holding a brush was painful.” She supported herself with babysitting and nurtured a need to do something with art. “I couldn’t paint. And that’s a pretty big obstacle for a painter,” she says. “I ended up making these little sculptures because I could tear paper and tape.”

She would spend perhaps 20 minutes a day creating tents from teaboxes she saved and has since created photographs and paintings of the tiny domiciles.

Wait. Paintings? So the pain is gone?

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Quincy’s next body of work, Tents, will show at Maud Boutique in December.

“I didn’t tell you a detail of my painting process,” Quincy admits. “After a few years of not being able to paint, I just really, really wanted to paint. So I learned to [hold] my paintbrush in my mouth. All these are paintings with my mouth.”

During the first stages of making Tents, Quincy would listen to NPR. “There were all these stories of these people who had overcome insurmountable obstacles,” she remembers. “[I heard] story after story of people overcoming these physical or mental handicaps. And then just being a painter, I’m thinking how can I paint? If I can’t use my arms, what can I do?”

“I feel like I’m ready to share it, and I feel a responsibility to share it.”

Trial and error have brought the artist to her current solution: Nailing a hole in a clean cork, Quincy puts her brush into the cork and clenches it between her teeth. “My teeth were getting sore because of biting on the wood,” she says. “The cork absorbs the movement of the brush, too. It’s my home remedy. It’s very genius,” she adds with a laugh.

Typically, Quincy keeps her unusual painting method quiet. “I don’t want it to be about that. I don’t want it to be a circus.” But after coaxing from people who know her and her work, she’s decided to talk about it in her artist statement and show the entire collection of Tents from start to finish. “The process is very important, too. I feel like I’m ready to share it, and I feel a responsibility to share it.”

Lynn Mills, the owner of Maud Boutique where Tents is showing, said she’s been very excited to host Quincy’s work. “I found it amazing how she worked through her emotional process through her art. It resonated with me as a woman,” Mills says. The boutique opened last August with a mission to educate people about the talent of the community with a shop in the front for local clothing designers and a gallery in the back for local artists.