An Interview with Ellison Keomaka

Artwork at Optima is a huge part of our love of design, and what makes our spaces special at every turn. Recently, we sat down with Ellison Keomaka, an artist whose work appears throughout some of our Arizona properties, to discuss his process, his sources of inspiration and his relationship with Optima. 

Tell us a bit about your background. Where does your passion for art stem from? How did you first get started as an artist?

I believe everyone is creative in their own way, and mine happens to be visual arts. I’ve had many interests and endeavors over the years, but I always enjoyed doing my own thing and set out pretty young to start my artistic career. I started off drawing vehicles, eventually navigating away from that and into comic-style artwork. Every piece paves the way for new ideas in the next creation. My style has changed quite a bit over the years and evolved with my experiences in life.

B.E.V. by Ellison Keomaka
B.E.V. by Ellison Keomaka

What are your preferred mediums? How do 2-D and 3-D spaces interact within your pieces?

I used to be very into realism, and I used a lot of airbrush and classic techniques. As an artist, I wanted to use more of the material found in the world around me. From soil found in distant countries to fabrics found at a craft store, I’m always searching for the next textural combination that makes something interesting. It’s fun to see these materials, textures and artifacts and make them come together in a 2-D space.

An example would be my use of vintage magazines and articles. In one of the Optima paintings, — Present Future Past — there are magazine articles from 1938, a dishtowel, watchband and wooden cutouts pressed into the piece.

How does color play a part in your work?

In my earlier works, there were more dark colors. As I developed my style, I recognized the value of color in changing human emotion. When you look at specific colors or shapes, they cause you to feel something or spark inspiration. All of that makes color an infinite playground for an artist to create.

How did you get involved with Optima?

Around 2016, I was eating lunch across from Optima Kierland while it was under construction — and it just looked so wildly different from anything else in Phoenix. I enjoy architecture, and Optima’s aesthetic caught my eye. Fast forward, and I ended up moving in there. They were looking for resident events, and I offered to do an art show; I hosted three across Optima Sonoran Village and Optima Kierland Apartments. The Optima team saw my work, and we started having conversations about commissioning pieces for 7180 Optima Kierland

I was fortunate to have full creative reign on the layouts of each piece, which allowed me to take creative risks and challenge myself. I would consider the Optima series of paintings to be my best body of work to represent myself because each one is unique and tailor-made to fit in those spaces. 

Present Future Past by Ellison Keomaka
Present Future Past by Ellison Keomaka

Give us some details on a favorite piece of yours at Optima. What was the inspiration behind that particular piece? How does it fit into the space at Optima? 

Suppose I had to pick a favorite piece —which is always a challenge — I resonate most with Present Future Past. It has a real impact on the viewer with the contrast between the bright blue on the bottom and the upper half’s antique design. While the fluorescent pink line emits excitement of the future, the top presents a juxtaposition of a rugged, forgotten past. This painting aims to inspire us to be present, calm and grateful for occupying this time and space. 

Keomaka’s color-filled, vibrant artwork mirrors the same inspired emotions that we search for in our built environment. As with all of the artwork that adorns our walls, his work tells a series of unique stories that speak to everyone who passes through our spaces. Optima certainly wouldn’t be the same without them. 

The Work of Jules Olitski

Jules Olitski was an American painter, printmaker and sculptor whose work explored color as a subject. Olitski’s innovative experimentation in paint and its properties yielded results that were at once atmospheric and beautiful. In many of our properties, displaying the work of Jules Olitski plays complement to our own exploration of color, form and function. 

The Life of Jules Olitski

Jules Olitski was born Jevel Demokovsky in 1922 in Snovsk, Russia (now Ukraine). His birth came just a few months after his father, a commissar, was executed by the Soviet government. At only a year old, along with his mother and grandmother, Olitski emigrated to the United States, where the family resided in Brooklyn. Even at a young age, Olitski demonstrated an aptitude for art. In high school, he won a juried prize that allowed him the opportunity to attend art classes in Manhattan. 

In 1939, at 17, Olitski attended an exhibit at the New York World’s Fair, and it was there that he first saw work by Rembrandt. Olitski described the experience as “transformative.” The budding artist delved into the academic art world to study portraiture, but his schooling was interrupted when Olitski was drafted into the army during World War II.

Luckily, the G.I. Bill allowed Olitski to spend time studying in Paris following the war. The Paris schools were Olitski’s first introduction to the European modern masters. Their modernist approach led Olitski to engage in a deep process of self-analysis and reinvention — a process which involved painting while blindfolded, enabling the artist to unlearn his academic training as a portrait painter and freeing his inhibitions.

Jules Olitski, Mojo Working, 1966
Jules Olitski, Mojo Working, 1966

The Art of Jules Olitski

After school, his originally classical work became more abstract and focused on the surface, color and physical properties of paint and painting. This process-oriented approach led him to express a desire to create “color that would hang in the air.” To do so, he rented an industrial spray gun that allowed him to experiment and discover a radical new technique of layering atmospheric blankets of thick color onto canvas. 

Olitski’s unique approach to the canvas helped establish the movement of Color Field painting in the mid-1960s. It also led him to represent the U.S. in the 33rd Venice Biennale in 1966, and to become the first living American artist to showcase a one-person exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1969. His work has been described as “visual drama” and “visual muzak” by international art critics.

Olitski was able to learn a classical approach to art, and then subvert that through his own unique innovation. Having his works on the walls of our own properties reminds us to always challenge the status quo, and to never stop inventing. 

Forms in Bronze: The Work of Henry Moore

As one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century, Henry Moore often used his sculptural work to explore landscape and the human form. With our design deeply rooted in a respect for nature, Moore’s art is an innate fit to our beliefs and passions at Optima.

To honor this connection, we look back on his life and its work.

The Life of Henry Moore

Henry Moore was born July 30, 1898 in Castleford, Yorkshire, lucky number seven to a household of eight children. Moore’s father was a miner, looking to help his children escape poverty by seeking advanced education — he believed that pursuing art and sculpture was just another form of manual labor with few career prospects. And while Moore displayed an affinity for and interest in the arts at school, he was nonetheless pushed in the direction of a teaching career. 

On his eighteenth birthday, Moore enlisted in the British Army during World War I. A gas attack injury forced his honorable discharge, and led to an ex-serviceman’s grant that allowed him to pursue an education in the arts. In 1919 he became a student at Leeds College of Art and in 1921 continued his education at the Royal College of Art in London. 

Ironically, Moore did end up teaching at the college, and it was there that he met his wife. Eventually, the two moved to a farmhouse in Perry Green, Hertfordshire, where Moore was able to further explore landscape, nature and the female form in his sculpture.

Henry Moore, Maquette for UNESCO Reclining Figure, 1957
Henry Moore, Maquette for UNESCO Reclining Figure, 1957

The Art of Henry Moore

Moore was a driving force in the English Surrealist movement, although he was also inspired by the primitive forms that he saw as a schoolboy at the British Museum, citing Mexican, Egyptian and African sculptural influences. 

His work was also undeniably influenced by nature, landscape and the female form — the softly undulating curves found within his sculptures are reminiscent of the lulling hillside of his birthplace, Castlefor, and his sculptures are always abstractions of the human figure that typically depict mother-and-child relationships or reclining bodies.

One of Moore’s most famous works, Recumbent Figure 1938, was commissioned for the terrace of a modernist house in the Sussex countryside. Moore said of the sculpture, “My figure… became a mediator between modern house and ageless land.” His wood and bronze sculptures set apart by their curves, hollows and piercings, evoking the feeling of objects that were both ancient and modern all at once in their influence and form. 

Because of his connection to nature and to Modern abstraction, Moore is indeed a beautiful mediator between natural and built environments, something we too strive to achieve through our projects.

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