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Ellison Keomaka Art at 7190 Optima Kierland

Revisit the artistic genius of Ellison Keomaka, where he offers a deep dive into his vibrant creations for Optima Kierland 7190. The mixture of artwork includes a dynamic collaboration with David Hovey Sr. and features pieces that draw from his past work at Optima Lakeview and take inspiration from Alexander Calder’s famous mobile sculptures. Ready for another colorful journey with Ellison? Dive in below: 

What did the creative process entail when first conceiving and planning the artwork for Optima Kierland 7190? 

When I started by creating artwork for Optima Kierland 7190, I aimed to maintain a bold and vibrant aesthetic. The Mobiles series was the first series I did for 7190 that included the mobile likeness. As their name suggests, I took inspiration from Alexander Calder’s mobile styles and then added more of my own style with the texture and colors. Other works, like the Primary series, took inspiration from previous artwork I’ve done for Optima Lakeview.

MISC-ELE-002 by Ellison Keomaka at 7190 Optima Kierland
MISC-ELE-002 by Ellison Keomaka at 7190 Optima Kierland

What role do color and texture play in these works? 

Unlike some of my other artwork throughout the Optima Communities, all of the work I created for 7190 was done freehand with inks and paint. David Hovey Sr. has a particular affinity for bold colors, so I wanted to integrate that as a theme throughout my work. The Silhouette series is one of the boldest works I created for 7190. What makes this series stand out are the striking black backgrounds that are meant to hang on a white wall. I thought it framed the pieces well, giving the impression of a window through which you can view the colors behind.

From left to right, HYP-08 and HYP-06 by Ellison Keomaka at 7190 Optima Kierland
From left to right, HYP-08 and HYP-06 by Ellison Keomaka at 7190 Optima Kierland

You collaborated with David Hovey Sr. on one series at 7190 Optima Kierland. Can you describe this process and how these pieces differ from the other works in 7190? 

David Hovey Sr. and I bounced around several ideas in the Free Form series before landing on a style for the Celebration series. He had visited to review some pieces, and during his visit, I suggested the idea of incorporating a black line in them. As I commenced drawing the lines, we collaborated, and I created four or five smaller pieces in that style. It was a wonderful experience to work alongside David in this way. 

After sketching the lines and proposing some freeform shapes, David suggested adding some color, which we experimented with. It evolved into a fun reciprocal process that eventually yielded these vibrant pieces. These artworks blend influences from various fields, including automotive pinstriping and a touch of street art. In-person, they span 18 feet in width combined, making them quite impactful. There was no room for error with the black line, and since any adjustments would be noticeable, each piece had to be finalized in one take, freehand with inks and paint. 

L-REE-0024 by Ellison Keomaka in 7190 Optima Kierland
L-REE-0024 by Ellison Keomaka in 7190 Optima Kierland

Is there anything else we should know about the creative process for these pieces or the work itself? 

Managing the sheer volume of pieces is challenging and an art project in its own right. It requires shifting your mindset and thinking on a different scale constantly. For example, the Curiosity and Free Form series have so many individual pieces in the collection that my goal was to ensure that each stood out with its own unique look or style. So, these have been very interesting challenges that I find extremely rewarding.

Ellison Keomaka Art at Optima Verdana

At Optima®, art is a piv-otal part of our design philosophy, breathing life into our spaces and making them more than simply places to live. We recently sat down with Ellison Keomaka – the artist behind the captivating work in Optima Lakeview and Optima Kierland Apartments – to delve into his creative journey, inspirations, and his special bond with Optima. In our conversation, he shed light on his process of creating the artworks exhibited at Optima Verdana, turning each corner into an expressive play of shapes and hues below: 

What did the creative process entail when first conceiving and planning the artwork for Optima Verdana? 

The artwork for Optima Verdana followed the work I created for Optima Kierland 7190. Interestingly, I integrated a few ideas and inspirations from my 7190 artworks into the pieces I crafted for Verdana. However, with the Verdana artwork, I wanted to integrate more of the earthy, verdant tones associated with the community. 

From left to right, Sunset and Matte by Ellison Keomaka at Optima Verdana
From left to right, Sunset and Matte by Ellison Keomaka at Optima Verdana

We’ve understood that you frequently experiment with diverse materials ranging from soil to fabric to add texture to your artwork. What materials did you utilize for these specific pieces, and why? 

I’ve been combining old and new elements in my work since my pieces for Lakeview and Optima Kierland 7180. I feel that this technique has been refined further in these new projects. For World Scapes in Optima Verdana, I created pieces measuring 20 by 30 inches, which is smaller than the pieces where I’ve previously incorporated magazines. It’s neat because I ended up fitting entire magazine ads in each piece, which ended up having a huge impact. 

It’s fun working with smaller pieces because they create a whole new vibe compared to the larger 48 by 60-inch pieces where I’ve had to stick a bunch of ads together to make it stand out. So using magazines on smaller canvases, like in World Scapes, introduces a refreshing dimension to the work. What I truly cherish about this work is the fusion of vintage and modern elements. The color of the paper, with its earthy tone, contrasts remarkably with the bright, modern colors.

Portals by Ellison Keomaka at Optima Verdana
Portals by Ellison Keomaka at Optima Verdana

I also utilized magazines for the Portals series at Verdana. These pieces consist of magazine clips I discovered that convey a sense of motion. Creating these pieces was quite a challenge. I needed to adhere the images to the canvas, and only after that do they get cut out. I drew the black lines first and applied the yellow background, then cut the images to fit the black lines. It was a delicate balance – waiting for the glue or polymer I use to reach the right level of dryness so I can still cut it. So those pieces were rather complex to create.

What role does color play in these works? 

Verdana stood out with its characteristic earth tones, marking a slight shift from the vibrant tones used in my work for other Optima buildings. My goal was to use more complementary colors to accentuate the warmer hues while preserving the vibrancy. I didn’t have a full understanding of the building’s size or the amount of art it would host, but I knew that Verdana was smaller. So, my approach was to focus more on the details and textures, magnifying them since they were less in quantity. The goal was to create an engaging experience for the residents.

From left to right, Swatches and Around by Ellison Keomaka at Optima Verdana
From left to right, Swatches and Around by Ellison Keomaka at Optima Verdana

Blossoms are some of my favorite pieces that embody the earthy tones used throughout Verdana. They abstractly represent a cherry blossom tree. I’ve tried to deviate the image as much as possible from a recognizable tree, but I’ve preserved some elements like the blue texture, reminiscent of bark. Instead of literal flowers, I’ve scattered colorful dots throughout the piece, with a hidden explosion of color behind it all for contrast against the bright pinks. 

In the Around series at Verdana, you can see how I continued to experiment with different hues – the teal juxtaposed with a pinkish-mauve tone. These pieces were created using a unique type of graffiti ink pen. The pen’s shape left a more rounded edge to the strokes. Every piece is designed to fulfill a certain narrative, and in that journey, there’s always something that I find gratifying, whether it’s the balance, color, or textures. However, these pieces hold a unique place in my heart. 

Is there anything else we should know about the creative process for these pieces or the work itself? 

Creating a few of the pieces was extraordinarily challenging. One of the pieces in the Spring series stands out due to a five-minute variation in the timing of the spray application while the paint was still wet. I used a pressure sprayer and experimented with different paint viscosities to achieve the desired effect. Despite the difficulty, I love that they invoke a fresh, spring-like sensation. Since they’re smaller, I wanted to incorporate more texture into them. They feature different colored dots and are strongly influenced by Calder and Miró.

Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park Unfolded

At Optima®, our appreciation for public sculpture runs deep. For those who are always on the lookout for memorable leisurely activities, we have a truly special recommendation. The Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park, situated just south of Optima Verdana®, presents a captivating mix of artistic wonder and natural splendor to explore. 

The history of the Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park began when the land along McCormick Boulevard and the north channel of the Chicago River had deteriorated into a “neglected eyesore” and was in desperate need of revitalization. This land was owned by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. In the mid-1980s, the Village of Skokie envisioned transforming it into a recreational haven, complete with jogging paths, biking trails, and picnic areas for visitors to enjoy. Concurrently, a group of citizens saw this as a canvas for displaying large-scale contemporary sculptures.

Jim Agard – Gapingstock. Photo: Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park

By 1988, Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park was realized. Through the combined efforts of the Village and its citizens, the park was transformed into an amenity rich, open-air art exhibit. Today, the park stretches two miles, from Dempster Street to Touhy Avenue, and proudly houses over 60 sculptures. These art pieces come from local, national, and international artists, making it a repository of diverse artistic expressions.

Visitors are encouraged to delve deeper through expert-guided tours which offer rich insights into the stories behind each sculpture and the artists who created them. Additionally, the park has fostered an educational environment, hosting tailored workshops and sessions. These sessions are designed to cater to schools, groups, and individuals, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of sculpture and art.

Ted Gall – Charger I and II. Photo: Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park

Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park is open year-round with free admission, underscoring the park’s dedication to making art accessible to all. It’s a haven for joggers, cyclists, and families who enjoy picnics. Additionally, the park is fully accessible, accommodating individuals with disabilities. 

While the park is open seven days a week, access is limited between 11 PM and 4:30 AM. For art lovers and nature enthusiasts alike, Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park provides an unforgettable experience!

Women in Architecture: Ada Louise Huxtable

As part of our “Women in Architecture” series, we’re examining the life and work of luminary architectural critic, Ada Louise Huxtable, who proved that a pen could be as mighty as any structure.

Born in 1921 in New York City, Ada Louise Huxtable pursued her passion for architectural history, culminating in a master’s degree from New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts. However, her broadest impact came when she broke a glass ceiling as the first full-time architecture critic for The New York Times, in 1963. This was a cultural shift, bringing architectural discourse from the drafting tables to the dining tables of everyday readers.

Will They Ever Finish Bruckner Boulevard?

Amid the changing skyline of New York City, with events like the heart-wrenching demolition of Penn Station and the emergence of modern architectural wonders, Huxtable offered crisp, hard-hitting, pointed, and elegant critiques. She ventured beyond aesthetic judgment, assessing structures for their context, their dialogue with the urban environment, and their societal implications.

One of the hallmarks of Huxtable’s career was her advocacy for architectural preservation. She awakened a sense of loss in the public, making them realize the cultural and architectural wealth embedded in historic structures. But her criticism wasn’t just limited to the annals of the past. Contemporary designs, when lacking in vision or disconnected from their surroundings, didn’t escape her discerning eye. 

Frank Lloyd Wright: A Life

While her newspaper columns reached a vast audience, Huxtable extended her influence through her books. Over the span of her career she authored several titles, dissecting architectural trends, urban developments, and the intricate relationship between society and design. With books like Will They Ever Finish Bruckner Boulevard? and Frank Lloyd Wright: A Life among others, she penned a total of seven significant works, each contributing to architectural discourse.

Because of the depth and breadth of her contributions, Huxtable earned recognition across numerous fronts. In 1958, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 1970, she became the first recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, an accolade that underscored her trailblazing efforts in the field. Alongside this, she secured a MacArthur Fellowship, firmly cementing her position as one of the foremost voices in architectural criticism.

The Unreal America

Huxtable continued to spearhead architectural preservation efforts well into her later years. And in spite of passing at the age of 91 in 2013, she serves as a powerful reminder of how a single voice can challenge us to see, think about, and engage with our built environment in deeper and more meaningful ways.

The Soleri Bridge and Plaza

Modern structures that serve as both functional and breathtaking forms of art speak to us at Optima®, including the Soleri Bridge and Plaza at the Scottsdale Waterfront, in close proximity to Optima Sonoran Village®. The bridge and its adjoining plaza, envisioned by the renowned artist, architect, and philosopher Paolo Soleri, have become emblems of Scottsdale’s artistic soul, resonating deeply with locals and tourists alike.

The bridge is an architectural spectacle that functions as a dynamic, organic solar calendar. Anchored by two towering 64-foot pylons, its south side spans 27 feet, tapering to 18 feet on the north. Its precise alignment with true north allows it to play a mesmerizing game with the sun. The 6-inch gap between the pylons lets the sun cast an ever-changing shaft of light, marking solar events as the seasons shift. On the summer solstice, the sun at its zenith leaves no shadow, while on the winter solstice, the shadow stretches its longest, almost reaching the bridge itself. 

Soleri Solar Calendar and Solstice Shadow. Photo: Jennifer Gill

Adjacent to the bridge, the plaza is an expansive 22,000-square-foot expanse, adorned with monolithic panels reminiscent of the aesthetics of Cosanti and Arcosanti. Each of these earth-cast panels, crafted meticulously over eight months using desert earth, water, and cement, weighs 3,500 pounds, and bears the intricate handwork of Soleri and his personal assistant, Roger Tomalty. The panels frame the plaza and lead towards the Goldwater Bell assembly, a fusion of Soleri’s commitment to architecture and ecology.

The story behind the project is as captivating as the structures themselves. A luminary in his field, Soleri has brought to life a concept he terms “arcology.” The bridge and plaza exemplify this philosophy, sharing an appreciation for our inherent connection to the sun and nature. Despite designing bridges for six decades, the Soleri Bridge was a first-of-its-kind commission for the then 91-year-old maestro.

Initiated by Scottsdale Public Art in 1990, the journey of the bridge and plaza from conception to completion was one of evolution and collaboration. As the canal’s surroundings transformed over two decades, so did the bridge’s design. The addition of the Waterfront Residences and commercial areas in 2007 provided the bridge with a context. Following funding and city approvals in 2008, the project took flight.

Soleri Bridge and Goldwater Bell. Photo: Yisong Yue

The unveiling of the bridge on December 11, 2010, was nothing short of a spectacle. A thousand-strong crowd converged on Old Town Scottsdale to witness the dedication. The event, a week shy of the winter solstice, showcased the bridge’s solar prowess, as attendees observed the sun’s shadow move between the pylons. 

The Soleri Bridge and Plaza encapsulate Scottsdale’s rich heritage, blending history with contemporary artistry. They stand as a testament to a city that cherishes the past, celebrates the present, and looks forward to the future, all while emphasizing the harmony between humanity and nature.

The 2023 Canal Convergence

As residents of Optima Sonoran Village® know, Scottsdale is a treasure trove of vibrant cultural events, artistic showcases, and community gatherings. Among these, the Canal Convergence stands out, brilliantly illuminating the Scottsdale Waterfront every year, beckoning both locals and visitors for an immersive experience of art, light, and much more.

Sym by AlexP. Photo: Canal Convergence

The Canal Convergence, a free, annual 10-night extravaganza, beautifully melds light, art, and water along the waterfront. Each year, artists from around the globe captivate audiences with their large-scale public artworks. For 2023, attendees will be treated to mesmerizing pieces like Sym by AlexP, the playful Flario by Walter Productions, the geometric Dice by Montreal-based studio Iregular, the fluid Aquatics by Philipp Artus, and several other awe-inspiring installations like Light Forest, Octavius, Ripple, and Spectrum Swing. Beyond these installations, the event is also a hub for live performances, music, dance, creative workshops, and so much more, including food trucks and a beer and wine garden.

Dice by Iregular.

What makes each Canal Convergence special is its central theme. This year, it dives deep into “The Power of Play,” highlighting its profound significance in our lives. Play isn’t reserved just for children; it’s a vital aspect of human existence, molding our learning, creativity, and social interactions. As the sun sets and the artworks come to life, attendees can immerse themselves in the wonders of play, feeling its influence firsthand.

For those ready to dive into this magical experience, the event runs from Nov. 3–12, 2023, at the Scottsdale Waterfront. Starting from 6 p.m. each evening, the event extends until 10 p.m. on the 3rd, 4th, 10th, and 11th of November, and until 9 p.m. on the other nights. For those wondering about parking, there’s ample free space in the parking garages around Old Town Scottsdale.

Octavious by Petter Hazel.

To residents and beyond, the Canal Convergence is a heartfelt celebration of creativity, unity, and reflection. Don’t miss the chance to be part of this enchanting blend of play, light, and art!

Chicago Architectural Biennial 2023: This Is a Rehearsal

As Chicago’s architectural landscape continually evolves, the fifth edition of the Chicago Architecture Biennial offers a fresh, reflective look into the heart of urban transformation. Beginning September 21, 2023, CB5 invites locals and visitors alike to participate in a series of immersive events and discussions. Here’s what you can expect from the 2023 Biennial This Is a Rehearsal.

Diving into this year’s theme, This Is a Rehearsal, serves as an exciting reminder that cities, much like the instants of life, are in endless evolution. Through this lens, CB5 emphasizes the importance of continuous dialogue, trial, and reinvention in urban designs. CB5 explores how countries around the world share political, environmental and economic issues and how each may address them differently through art, architecture and public involvement. It’s not just about the buildings but the stories they tell and the communities they foster.

Floating Museum, a Chicago-based arts collective, is the lead artistic team behind CB5, pushing boundaries and charting new territories in urban discourse. Their integrative approach promises an engaging mix of conversations, challenging conventions, and setting the stage for tomorrow’s architectural landscape. CB5 expands on Floating Museums’ existing beliefs and work, all exploring the relationships between the built environment and ourselves. 

With over 80 contributors from Chicago and the global stage, the Biennial is a testament to diverse, inventive thought. The contributors, ranging from artists and architects to educators and thinkers, breathe life into various corners of the city, from Lakeview’s artful streets to North Lawndale’s historic boulevards. It’s more than just an exhibition; it’s a city-wide celebration of innovation. 

Local contributors include Grow Greater Englewood, Urban Growers Collective, Project Onward, the Poetry Foundation and the Southside Community Art Center. Contributors from around the United States and the globe include Storefront for Art and Architecture, the Buell Center at Columbia University, SpaceShift and Stoss Landscape Urbanism

Marking its commencement on September 21st, the Biennial unfolds various installations across the city. A special opening celebration is slated for November 1st, showcasing extensive exhibitions at renowned locations like the Chicago Cultural Center and the Graham Foundation. The programs invite viewers to engage in conversations around food and material production, water reclamation and discussions around construction and power in relation to land use and rights. Whether you’re a seasoned architect, a design enthusiast, or just a curious mind, there’s something for everyone.

Discover The National Museum of Mexican Art

We’re constantly on the hunt for cultural gems to introduce to residents in our communities, so it’s a pleasure to spotlight a cornerstone of Chicago’s vibrant art scene: The National Museum of Mexican Art (NMMA). Situated in the heart of the Pilsen neighborhood, this museum is a testament to the depth, diversity, and dynamism of Mexican culture.

Founded in 1982 by Carlos Tortolero, NMMA emerged from a vision to represent Mexican, Chicano, and Latino arts and culture. Today, it stands as a bridge between Mexico’s past and the evolving identity of Mexican-Americans in the contemporary U.S.

NMMA’s collection is awe-inspiring, boasting over 10,000 pieces spanning 3,000 years. From ancient artifacts to modern-day masterpieces, every corner of the museum narrates tales of creativity, resilience, and passion. Whether you’re captivated by traditional folk art, contemporary sculpture, intricate textiles, or evocative photography, there’s a narrative waiting for you.

Day of the Dead Exhibit at the National Museum of Mexican Art. Photo: Roxy Delgado

One of the standout exhibitions that has become an annual tradition, is the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) showcase. This inspired installation dives deep into the fascinating rituals associated with this revered celebration, presenting art that is reflective and celebratory.

The museum is not just about viewing art; it’s an immersive learning experience. With a host of educational programs, workshops, and guided tours, visitors are invited to explore the contexts, histories, and techniques behind the artworks.

“Somos Pilsen.” Photo Credit: Mateo Zapata

Beyond the art itself, the museum’s location in Pilsen, a neighborhood full of Mexican heritage, enriches the experience. The vibrant murals, local eateries, and community events complement a visit to the museum.

As we admire the modern wonders of Chicago, we also treasure the institutions that ground us in cultural richness. Embark on a journey to the National Museum of Mexican Art, and emerge with a renewed appreciation for the beauty and complexity of Mexican art and culture. Best of all, admission is always free. Visit Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm.

Oz Park in Lincoln Park

At Optima®, we’re passionate about promoting locales that intertwine cultural richness with communal vibrancy. In the heart of Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood lies such a treasure: Oz Park, a space that weaves literature, community, and recreation into a single, captivating location.

Nestled amid tree-lined streets and elegant brownstones, Oz Park stands as an homage to Lyman Frank Baum, the creative genius behind “The Wizard of Oz.” Baum, who made Chicago his home in 1891, penned his iconic series here, gifting the world with tales of courage, heart, wisdom, and the magic of home. It’s only fitting that the Windy City pays tribute with a park that brings his enchanting world to life.

Tin Man at Oz Park, Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

As visitors walk through Oz Park, they’re greeted by lifelike bronze statues of the story’s beloved characters: the wide-eyed Dorothy with her loyal Toto, the Scarecrow with his quest for brains, the Tin Man seeking his heart, and the Cowardly Lion in search of courage. Installed between the late 1990s and early 2000s, these figures serve as timeless sentinels, sparking joy and nostalgia for both young visitors and those young at heart.

Yet, the history of Oz Park tells a story not just of literature, but of rejuvenation. In the 1960s, this area was earmarked for an urban renewal project. From an expanse that once bore witness to the ebbs and flows of urban change, sprouted a park that today serves as a refuge, a place for families to converge, for children to play, and for communities to celebrate together.

Dorothy’s Playlout, Photo: Chicago Playgrounds

Beyond the Wizarding statues, Oz Park offers “Dorothy’s Playlot” for the youngest adventurers, tennis courts for the sporty, a basketball court for the competitive, and vast open fields for any and everyone seeking leisure or recreation. The park not only offers these amenities but stands as a lively hub for a myriad of community activities ranging from movie nights to spirited gardening days.

For our residents, Oz Park presents an opportunity to experience a slice of literary history while enjoying the camaraderie of a close-knit community. The essence of Baum’s tales — the search for what’s truly valuable and the joy of discovering it’s been nearby all along — mirrors the experience of discovering this gem in Chicago. Through its unique blend of storybook charm and urban recreation, Oz Park epitomizes the very spirit of community and culture that we deeply cherish.

Yoko Ono’s – Skylanding

At Optima®, we celebrate the fusion of art, culture, and community as much as we cherish the design and aesthetics of our residences. Today, we’re shining the spotlight on a powerful symbol of peace, resilience, and cultural exchange that stands proudly in our home city – Skylanding, the first permanent public art installation in the Americas by the internationally acclaimed artist and peace activist, Yoko Ono.

Situated in the heart of the Garden of the Phoenix in Jackson Park, Chicago, Skylanding is not only a remarkable work of art; it is a tribute to the spirit of harmony and renewal. Ono’s creation comprises twelve towering steel lotus petals that appear to have gracefully landed, or are just landing, on earth from the sky. The imagery of the petals, reaching between nine and twelve feet high, masterfully uses the symbolic meaning of the lotus – purity and rebirth – to convey a powerful message.

Skylanding is as rich in history as it is in symbolism. Its site is where the Phoenix Pavilion, a gift from Japan to Chicago during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, once stood. The pavilion, sadly lost to arson in 1946, left behind a vacant space that has been transformed into a beacon of hope and peace through Ono’s artwork. In her words, Skylanding is “a place where the sky and earth meet and create a seed to learn about the past and come together to create a future of peace and harmony, with nature and each other.”

Sky Landing by Yoko Ono, North Side of Wooded Island. Photo: Raed Mansour

The installation is not just a visual treat, but it also offers a unique multi-sensory experience. The towering petals are designed to capture the changes in sunlight, wind, and weather, creating an ever-evolving spectacle that mirrors the city’s vibrant spirit and resilience.

Skylanding is a reminder of the strength that lies in unity and the enduring power of peace. It invites us all to take a moment from our busy lives, stand beneath its impressive steel petals, and absorb its symphony of art, history, and culture it represents.

The next time you find yourself strolling through Jackson Park, we highly recommend taking the time to experience Skylanding. Its poignant story and the tranquil beauty is bound to leave you inspired and enriched!

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