Tag Archives: Sean Robinson

Out of the Blue

October 24, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It all started with a chair. Then another. And another. Eventually, painter Will Anderson had enough chairs for his first solo show (at Petshop Gallery last year in Omaha). Don’t expect to sit back, relax, and unwind with Anderson’s artwork, though. His furniture frenzy is just for viewing purposes—each chair exists only on canvas in bright cobalt blue hues.

After two years of monochromatic work and painting a number of chairs large enough to rival the collection at Nebraska Furniture Mart, Anderson is looking to expand the idea of what art can be by dipping into new colors and literally breaking boundaries through uncommon canvas making.

“For most of my life, I’ve had a stubborn attachment to painting,” Anderson says. “Recently, I’m cracking open new doors. I’m feeling more confident now, so I notice new things and try ’em out. That old, stubborn strictness is going away.”

At his Hot Shops studio in NoDo, Anderson is beginning to craft the next stage of his career while surrounded by pieces from his previous eras—and a whole lot of flower portraits. Nope, the artistic garden isn’t his own work. It belongs to his mother and grandmother, two fellow artists he shares the space with. 

“I never had a mission to be an artist as a kid, but I was always around and exposed to it,” Anderson says. “Art as a career was certainly normalized for me, but my style doesn’t mirror my family’s.”

After graduating from the Kansas City Art Institute in 2008, Anderson says he moved back to Omaha for its convenience and affordability, two things he was looking for in a home as he spent a portion of the last decade figuring out what kind of painter he wanted to be. 

During this decade of self-discovery, he experimented by painting abstract portraits inspired by old Hollywood icons like Ingrid Bergman, pop art-styled Tyrannosaurus rexes harkening back to his love for Jurassic Park, and a blue chair (or more like 200 of them). In that time, his reputation in Omaha has also grown as he has participated in auctions at Bemis Art Center and shown work everywhere from RNG Gallery to Project Project. 

“It’s through the way Will renders his subjects that makes the seemingly familiar actually unfamiliar and forces us to question how much we think we know about the world around us,” says Angie Seykora, a local sculptor who worked with Anderson on a pop-up exhibition last year.

Like many other artists, Anderson holds a side job to help support his career. It was there, owning his own small business as a carpenter, that he may have found inspiration for his next big venture—canvas making. Just like hanging drywall and tiling a bathroom, this part of the painting process allows him to work with his hands while making bigger, more aggressive pieces.  

But these aren’t ordinary, average canvases. Instead, they have been stretched, warped, and contorted in strange shapes to purposely show the effort it takes to make each one. Unlike the monochromatic chair series, the newest work that lives on these canvases is full of color and takes no concrete form. 

“Making a canvas is a private, mechanical necessity to many painters, and I had an interest in exposing that kind of stuff,” Anderson says. “Usually, the privilege of the viewer is you don’t see that toil. Now, I can show that while also having a better relationship with the materials in my hands.”

If do-it-yourself could be personified, it would probably look a lot like Anderson. He’s no muss, no fuss. So when a problem presents itself, like running out of canvas when painting a particular piece, he quickly finds a solution. Just make a smaller one and hang it adjacent as an add-on. The small cubes and rectangles can then be moved here, there, anywhere, and he isn’t confined by space. 

“I had to quit planning ahead, so the add-ons are a reflection of that,” Anderson says. “Even establishing meaning beforehand is crazy to me because then you’re just working towards whatever that chosen symbolism is and all sincerity is lost.”

Visionary? Handyman? Or, just a dude looking to make a name for himself? Anderson proves to be all of the above and more as he attempts to reveal different parts of the artistic process to viewers while completing work in various forms of abstract. Whether he is using wood stain on canvas or grinding up his own batch of cobalt blue paint, Anderson’s use of lowbrow methods to make highbrow more accessible is unmatched in the Omaha community. 

“The way I play is a lot different than anybody else,” Anderson says. “For now, I’m really interested in participating in the dialogue of contemporary art making and experimenting with new ways to do that.” 

Just don’t expect him to create portraits of flowers anytime soon. Sorry, Mom and Grandma. 

Visit willandersonart.com for more information.

This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

The Ham Ma’am

July 20, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For Ella Weber, her career as a professional artist began where all the greats get their start—bathing in a tub filled with 40 gallons of sprinkles. 

After working in a frozen yogurt shop, she was inspired by the toppings to capture artificial happiness in a video as part of her graduate thesis project. The final close-up shots show sprinkles moving around her body like mesmerizing multicolored waves. She’s practically swimming in a sea of rainbow sugar. Then, suddenly, Weber shoves fistful after fistful of sprinkles in her mouth and proceeds to regurgitate them. This is performance art that’s not for the faint of heart…or stomach.  

“There is a fairly large amount of work being made in the Omaha echo chamber that’s void of anything I would consider stimulating or surprising. Then there’s Ella Weber,” says Joel Damon, curator and founder of Project Project, a local independent art space. “She’s a breath of fresh air covered in Black Forest ham and beige vinyl siding.”

That’s right, this girl has a thing for ham. She’s a foodie, but not in the typical sense. Don’t look at her Instagram for shots of chic eats or expect Weber to whip up Chopped-inspired dishes for dinner. Instead, she uses food as a medium in videos and sculptural installations to explore the relationship between consumerism, sexuality, and religion. 

“I use food because I’m always thinking of it symbolically,” Weber says. “I hope my work makes viewers hungry for questioning and looking at life a different way.”

With a pastor father, Weber spent much of her childhood on the move, living in towns so small it was practically required for her to play sports so there were enough girls to form a team. Then, her family relocated to a suburb of Chicago where she discovered a great art program and sports teams that required players to have actual athletic skills. Just like that, it was hello to creativity and bye-bye to basketball. 

Her inner jock still compelled her to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and become part of Husker nation. As a freshman, she knew she wanted to cheer on the Big Red but wasn’t sure what path to take with art. 

“Before college, I had no clue I needed to open my eyes. I didn’t even know or understand what printmaking was,” Weber says. “I thought of it as ancient graphic design.” 

Ultimately, Weber specialized in printmaking for both undergrad and her University of Kansas graduate degree. In the two years since schooling, however, her career has been more about lunchmeat than lithography.

To save money, she moved into her parents’ West Omaha home, living a suburban life and working behind the Hy-Vee deli counter between artistic residencies. She looks at this idyllic version of Nebraska’s good life as research. 

“I was this depressed meat person, but then I had a change of heart,” Weber says. “I began to think of the deli job as a studio. When I clocked in, it was time to make art.”

What followed were more than 6,000 videos and selfies with slices of ham, some dressed up with smiley faces, of course. A bond with an oven-roasted chicken was also formed. Part performance art and part friendship, she decided to take home this chicken after it had slipped from the slicer onto the floor. Instead of just throwing it away, she showed her bird bud six months of Nebraska nice living. When it was time to part (because, after half a year, meat doesn’t smell so neat), a service was even held in Memorial Park for the chicken.

“I don’t know how she does it, but Ella makes sliced meat look like macro-porn and vintage high-end wallpaper. It’s completely bonkers in the best way,” Damon says. 

She’s just recently finished her seventh residency, teaching video and animation classes in Utica, New York. While there, she also curated a solo show where her suburbia/deli-land research came into play. During it, she showed a video that spliced images of neighborhood walks with a meat slicer, all to demonstrate the banality and repetition of everyday life.

“I’m trying to enable the viewer to see and connect with the absurdities and beauty that surrounds us all,” Weber says. “If your eyes are open to the everyday, you can find humor and hidden meaning in the most mundane and ordinary things—like sliced ham.”

Now home from New York, Weber has a lot on her plate. This summer, she’ll have an exhibition at The Union for Contemporary Art, followed by adjunct teaching of drawing classes for the University of Nebraska-Omaha in the fall. 

When she does find some free time, Weber expects it’ll be eaten up by work on a semi-autobiographical book, titled The Deli Diaries, and potentially more Hy-Vee “research.” 

“Me and the deli, it’s like a bad romantic relationship where my friends will kill me if I go back,” Weber says. “But I might need to refresh my memory, digest it all, and then I’ll be ready to write about deeper things than just ham.”

Visit ellaweber.com for the artist’s personal website. Her exhibition, Sounds Good, will run from July 20 to Aug. 25 at the Union for Contemporary Art. Learn more at u-ca.org.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.