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Ellison Keomaka Art at Optima Lakeview

Optima Communities wouldn’t be the same without the striking artwork that fills their public spaces, ensuring a playground of form and color around every corner. Recently, we sat down with artist Ellison Keomaka – who previously contributed to 7140 Optima Kierland and our other Arizona properties – to discuss the process and inspiration behind the 80 unique artworks that now call Optima Lakeview home. 

What did the creative process look like when first conceiving and planning the artwork? How did the architecture and design of the building influence and inspire your piece?

When we first began talking about the project, I didn’t realize I was going to be creating artwork for the majority of the building, which was kind of a first for me. And after touring Optima Lakeview in 2021, I realized that I was going to be able to take advantage of its grand layout. 

Funlove 0022 and 0011 by Ellison Keomaka at Optima Lakeview

I set out to create a modular system where I could make everything unique. And yes, some paintings share the same colors, but each one is still different. I created the paintings in sets of, on average, seven pieces, separated by size and painted to adapt to any space. My ultimate goal was for building residents and visitors to see something new when walking the corridors and never see the same painting twice. So that was my aesthetic mission — to create an experience for the people in the building to have an indoor gallery where they can see all these different pieces come together. 

We’ve learned that you’re often experimental, using anything from soil to fabric to add texture to your artwork – what materials did you use for these particular pieces, and why?

I used a significant amount of spray painting here. Street art has been a huge influence on my career and I wanted to incorporate that into my work. I find spray paint offers a very unique texture, so I used it liberally in these particular paintings. I also used pages from magazines, many of which were from the 50s and 60s. In a few of the works, I was able to incorporate original Chicago Cubs advertisements as a way to add a subtle historical element. 

Ellison Keomaka working on the Creamsicle series, Courtesy of Ellison Keomaka

What role does color play in this work?

I worked with Optima’s signature use of bold, bright contrasting colors when creating much of the work. When I toured Optima Lakeview, I was able to see the colors of the atrium, specifically the vibrant red beams used throughout the skylights. And even though the building wasn’t completely finished, I knew exactly what color palette I wanted to incorporate.

I also tried to push the envelope with some of the colors. Some of the blues are off-blues or a little bit away from the primary color. And then there are the paintings that are yellow, red and blue – Primary 3 – that look simple but were actually very challenging for me in their own way because, as an artist, I always like to do more instead of trying to do less. There are also spray-painted pieces that include brownish blues, called Smores, which I originally called Earth Wind and Fire after the band from Chicago. They include this coffee brown with really bright blues mixed into it, which I thought was a fun way to bring warmth into the pieces while still maintaining a bold standard of color.

Airmax 001 by Ellison Keomaka at Optima Lakeview

You’ve talked to us before about how working with music is a large part of your artistic practice. Did music have any role in your creative process for Optima Lakeview’s art?

I think it always does for me. For the first pieces I created, the YBG series, I remember listening to The Weeknd’s After Hours album. I had all of the pieces lined up and was dancing around, having so much fun with them. It was almost like a childlike experience where I didn’t have any rules and was very free with the motions. There was no rhyme or reason, and I let the shapes do their thing. I used an acrylic paint pen to pull some bold black sweeping lines. They reflected the freedom of movement I felt while listening to music. So again, the music made it pretty fun. 

Ellison Keomaka working on the Creamsicle series, Courtesy of Ellison Keomaka

Four particularly special pieces live in Optima Lakeview’s lobby – the Mindscapes. How do those differ from the other pieces in Optima Lakeview and what makes them so unique?

The Mindscapes are a grand project I’ve been developing for the past couple of years. They’re each a visual time capsule that are just really fun to observe. They capture a dream state of imagination with abstract colors and shapes but then incorporate these very clear images of historical moments or memories. Everything found in them is relevant to Chicago, from old newspaper clippings about Lakeview restaurants and high schools to Cubs momentos. Each piece is totally unique, and they all include little hidden stories. Again, I wanted people to be able to walk around, stare at a painting for a little while and come back to see something they hadn’t seen before. 

A piece from the Mindscapes series by Ellison Keomaka at Optima Lakeview

Anything else we should know about the creative process for this piece or the work itself? 

A few of the pieces are inspired by landmarks in the neighborhood, specifically Red Totem, which is based on Kwanusila found in Lincoln Park. When I was doing my research on the community, I found the totem and liked the colors, which I then used in the painting. Others, like the Fun Love series, were more dynamic because they all had the white splatter that almost becomes energizing when you look at them. Those took the longest time for me to feel like they were complete, because of all the layers of paint that had to dry. 

The 80 paintings that fill Optima Lakeview mirror the vibrant aesthetics that we strive to create in our communities. As with every piece of artwork that we display in our built environments, Ellison Kemoaka’s bold and inspiring work brings a unique story for residents as well as anyone who passes through the space to discover. 

A Brief History of Constructivism

As Modernism and its influence spread across the world in the early 1900s, new art and design factions emerged throughout cultures. Today, we’re exploring Constructivism, a Russian art and architecture movement that brought abstraction to the country. Learn more about the short-lived, industrial-heavy movement below:

The History of Constructivism

Constructivism popularized in the 1910s Soviet Union, the same period that the Bauhaus and De Stijl movements emerged across Eastern Europe. Constructivism was largely inspired by other modern, innovative developments of the time, specifically Bauhaus and Russian Futurism.

Constructivist artists strived to reflect the industrialization of urban society in their work. The movement’s art and architectural works combined characteristics from existing modern principles such as geometric and minimal design, with a more experimental approach.

Often staying away from ornate decorative elements, Constructivist architecture instead favored mechanical and industrial materials. This design direction also focused on space and rhythm, frequently resulting in futuristic and abstract-presenting structures.

Notable Works

Arguably the most well-known and famous Constructivist architectural work was the 1919 proposal of Tatlin’s Tower by Vladimir Tatlin. The project, which was never completed, intended to use iron, glass and steel in its design. As a towering symbol of modernity, its main feature included a twin helix — reaching taller than the Eiffel Tower — paired with four other suspended geometric structures that planned to rotate around the helix.

A model of Vladimir Tatlin’s Tatlin Tower

One of the main philosophies of Constructivism was to instill new aesthetics of the avant-garde into everyday life, which led architects to design some of the country’s most visited buildings in their unique style. The Zuev Workers’ Club in Moscow was one of many workers’ clubs to adopt the Constructivist style when completed in 1929. The composition of the building’s facade features a mix of circular staircases, stacked rectangular floors, bright pink paint and an exterior glazed treatment which was innovative for the time.

Another famous work of Constructivism is Ogonyok Magazine’s printing plant which was commissioned in 1932 in Moscow. Russian artist El Lissitzky designed the building, and it remained his only architectural creation. The dynamic building features a mansard roof and circular windows that contrast the long rectangular exterior. Although damaged in a 2008 fire, the building remains a heritage site, and in 2012 it was named a regional landmark of the country.

The printing plant for Ogonyok Magazine, 1932

Although Constructivism lost steam only a decade after emerging, its influence is found in other movements like Brutalism, and works of graphic design, industrial design, fashion, and ultimately the Deconstructivism Movement. Stay tuned for more blogs spotlighting the many subsects of Modernist architecture!

A Brief History of Architecture in the Expressionist Movement

Although many know expressionism for its evocative poetry and painting, expressionist architecture was also a subsect of the Modernist Movement. While coexisting with the minimalist rigor of the Bauhaus, this avant-garde style allowed designers to explore new, radical perspectives, gifting to the world some of the most dynamic, expressive architecture of the 20th century. 

Origins of Expressionism

Expressionism originated in the late 1800s from a small group of artists based in Germany. The artists who founded the movement felt that 19th-century impressionism – which commanded the art world – was out of touch with the social climate of the times due to the various changes that came with the Industrial Revolution. This feeling of detachment helped inspire what would soon be known as expressionism.  

Acclaimed painters like Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Edvard Munch and Francis Bacon all contributed remarkable works of art throughout the movement, but artists who worked with other mediums also adopted the ideals that expressionists held close. Because of the vivid colors and distorted lines and angles associated with expressionism, German cinematography, in particular, took advantage of the moody standards. 

Einstein Tower, Erich Mendelsohn, 1921

After more than 30 years of commanding the art world itself, expressionists became banned from showing and selling their work in Germany, where the majority of the artists lived. The result left many artists suppressed, eventually leading to various radical movements, including Abstract Expressionism, Pop-Art, Minimalism and in the late 20th century, Neo-Expressionism. 

Expressionism in Architecture

Expressionist architecture took advantage of the many characteristics associated with the movement’s other works of art, including distortion of form, themes of romanticism, expression of inner experience and the conception of architecture as a work of art, among others. Much of the movement’s builds featured Gothic, Romanesque and Rococo affinities. 

Glass Pavilion’s interior featuring the seven-tiered waterfall

Bruno Taut’s Glass Pavilion is one of the earliest examples of expressionist architecture. The structure was built in 1914 as a feature of the Cologne Deutscher Werkbund Exhibition. Constructed using only concrete and glass, the exterior of the pavilion showcases a vibrantly colored prismatic dome and a grand staircase. The interior of the building featured a kaleidoscope of color from the crown above it and a seven-tiered cascading waterfall.

The Einstein Tower is another striking example of expressionist-style architecture. The observatory was built by German Architect Erich Mendelsohn from 1919 to 1921 and was envisioned to hold a solar telescope. Mendelsohn designed the building to reflect the radical theories formed by Einstein – specifically his theory of motion. The structure is built with brick but covered with stucco to give it its smooth, tidal-like exterior. 

Walt Disney Concert Hall, Frank Gehry, 2003

More recent examples of expressionist-style architecture include Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry in Los Angeles, the Lotus Temple designed by Fariborz Sahba in Delhi, and Zaha Hadid’s Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein. 

Immersive Art: The Fusion Between Art and Technology

Whether you’re in Chicago or Scottsdale, immersive art exhibitions are quickly becoming the latest trend, unveiling a new approach for art lovers to savor their favorite works and artists. What separates these shows from what you would expect to see at a traditional museum or gallery space?

The History of Immersive Art

While immersive art may seem like a new phenomenon to many of us, immersive experiences can be traced back centuries. One of the finest examples can be found in the architecture of the middle ages. Employing stained glass in the construction of churches was often used to create an otherworldly experience for patrons. As natural light floods through each window, colors fill the interior, telling a vibrant visual story.

More recently, thanks to the help of modern technologies that include virtual reality, holography and digital projection, immersive experiences have transformed how we can view works of art, enabling us to explore each piece as a protagonist within it. 

The objective of immersive art lies in entertainment, taking 2D environments and metamorphosing them into 3D worlds often filled with accompanying music. Video projection mapping programmed individually for each immersive environment makes sure that every inch of the space is sure to be covered, further enveloping the audience in the engaging work. 

And while many spaces are utilizing immersive technology to revamp older works, ambitious artists are also constructing their own participatory installations. Yayoi Kusama, a Japanese artist, has been creating immersive work since the 1960s. Kusama’s most famous installation, Infinity Mirror Room—Phalli’s Field, uses dozens of mirrors to augment the perception of the stuffed polka dot sculptures she created, and because of those mirrors, casts the visitor as the work’s subject. 

Infinity Mirror Room—Phalli’s Field, Yayoi Kusama, 1965

Experience A Show For Yourself

Chicago offers a variety of immersive art experiences. Just South of Lincoln Park and within close proximity to Optima Signature and Optima Lakeview at Lighthouse ArtSpace, the Van Gogh, and Frida Kahlo exhibits continue to run throughout the summer, transporting visitors into both of the artist’s worlds. Other, more traditional immersive art experiences include the Museum of Illusions, Sky Shows at the Adler Planetarium, the upcoming Museum of Ice Cream exhibit coming to The Shops at Tribune Tower and the Illinois Holocaust Museum’s onging exhbit, The Journey Back: A VR Expeerience

Scottsdale and Phoenix also offer a variety of engaging installations to choose from. Just walking distance from Optima Sonoran Village is Scottsdale’s Lighthouse Artspace, found in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, is home to the Immersive Van Gogh and Klimt exhibits scheduled to run through July. Wonderspaces, another extraordinary venue in Scottsdale Fashion Square, features an evolving lineup of interactive installations and signature cocktails.

Immersive art has always been a revolutionary way to interact with different crafts, and thanks to technology, not only is it becoming more innovative but more accessible. With the trend on the rise, there’s sure to be no shortage of immersive art experiences, and we’re excited to see what modernisations come next.

The Health Benefits of Living With Art

No matter which Optima community you’re in, you’ll find yourself surrounded by art. Whether it’s Ellison Keomaka’s inspiring paintings found in several of our Arizona properties or the vibrant sculptures created by our CEO and Founder David Hovey Sr., FAIA, each piece of art in our communities brings with it not only a story — but a wide range of health benefits, too. Here are just a few of the benefits of living with art: 

Keeps Your Mind Active

Similar to the feelings you get when you interact with a loved one, viewing art increases blood flow to the brain, kickstarting a wave of pleasure and positive memory-building while allowing the viewer to practice their cognitive skills. Whether looking at a landscape, portrait or an abstract work, because art is truly subjective, it allows the brain to explore different areas we may not use in daily life. This free-thinking stimulates the mind and strengthens it similar to the way learning a new language does. 

Reduces Stress Levels

Art therapy is regularly used as a natural way to reduce anxiety and other mental disorders in everyone from children to older adults, and even if creating art isn’t your cup of tea, living with art provides the same benefits. Viewing art can calm the brain through the most trying circumstances by allowing it to focus on a singular thing. Worries and stressors are minimized as your mind directs its attention to the relaxing and often inspiring art pieces around you.

Encourages us to Emotionally Heal

Because artists use their work as a way to give shape to their ideas and emotions, living with art encourages us to explore our emotions and past experiences. By viewing art, it’s common to feel transformed and to be taken to places beyond our reality. This metamorphic experience improves well-being and, depending on the person, can be sensorially, emotionally and even spiritually mending. 

Whether you need an inspiring escape, want to relive positive memories or simply crave a masterpiece of your own, the health benefits behind living with art are boundless and accessible by everyone.

The Synthesis of Art and Architecture

Art and architecture share a rich, timeless connection rooted in their design, creators and intended meaning. Both forms of expression become envisioned and constructed through similar principles, visual elements and ambition to engage with one’s senses. Today, we’re exploring this essential relationship and what happens when the two worlds collide. 

David Hovey Sr., FAIA, Optima’s CEO and Founder, says it best when describing the linkage between art – in particular, sculptures – and architecture, saying that “architecture is about function, as well as aesthetics, while sculpture is really just about aesthetics.”

Architecture is traditionally informed by functionality first, with aesthetics coming into play as with a significant role. Art, on the other hand, is commonly guided by aesthetics, without any burdens to deliver an object or outcome that is functional. However, both forms of expression are typically influenced by similar social and political factors that affect the environment surrounding the work or structure. 

Centuries-old cultural movements, including the Renaissance, where art imitated life and vice versa, demonstrate the linkage between art and architecture. However,  it wasn’t until the Avant-Garde movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that the integration of the two took a new meaning. 

This integration between the disciplines quickly became a core characteristic of modernism and modernist design, and is distinctly present in the work of some of the greatest architects and artists of the time period. Because artists use their art as a tool to shape emotions, modernism emerged as an expectation in which art and architecture would provide a new value when combined. 

Oscar Niemeyer’s Oscar Niemeyer Museum exhibits the synthesis of art and architecture, displaying bold geometric forms, sculptural curves and vivid murals in a functional structure, reminiscent of a human eye.

The Bauhaus Movement was one of the first to introduce this idea, encouraging the unification of all arts and coupling aesthetics with the technology of the time. Notably, this ideology was cultivated through Le Corbusier’s use of painting and sculpture within his established concepts of architecture. Le Corbusier also argued that it was of equal importance to architects, painters and sculpturists to contribute constructive collaborations to the world by designing and creating in harmony with one another. 

Along with Le Corbusier, various other artists throughout the past century have tried to synthesize art and architecture throughout their work, particularly Oscar Niemeyer, Mies van der Rohe and Zaha Hadid. Today, architects and artists continue to collaborate and integrate their disciplines more than ever, exploring and expanding the dynamic relationship shared between the two.

Arcosanti: Creating a City

Known for his unique approach to architecture, Paolo Soleri brought the philosophy of arcology to numerous of Arizona’s most stunning environments. In Cosanti, he welcomed his otherworldly construction elements to the surroundings of Scottsdale. Today, we’re spotlighting another of the architect’s treasures, which embraces all of Soleri’s design principles on a much grander scale, Arcosanti

Inception of Arcosanti

Following the completion of his first build, Cosanti, Soleri began to explore more behind the meaning of arcology – a word he coined himself to label if design philosophy. What he began to discover was just how significant ecologically sound human habitats were to the ideology. 

In 1970, following the release of his book Arcology: The City in the Image of Man, in which he detailed the concept of cities embodying the fusion of architecture and ecology, Soleri began developing his own planned city, Cosanti. The project – found roughly 70 miles North of Scottsdale – was built to exhibit how urban environments can be elevated while minimizing negative impacts on the surroundings. 

Arcosanti’s ceramics apse, one of two that reside in the planned city

Arcosanti is built on 25 acres of a 6.25 square mile property, and though originally planned to house 5,000 people, the community is home to a population that varies from 100 to 150 throughout the year. Because the planned city is ever-changing, construction and development continue today due to the many students and volunteers who call it home. 

Architecture

The magnificent community currently consists of 13 major structures, ranging in size and purpose and featuring diverse design features unique to the town. One particular feature is the site-cast tilt-up concrete panels used to support various buildings, expressing similar patterns to the earth around them, some even cast in embedded art. 

Other attentive design features include the southward orientation of most buildings designed to capture the most natural light and an apse – similar to Cosanti’s – built to house the community’s bronze bell-casting space. 

The city also features essential builds intentionally placed to help the community thrive, including two barrel vaults, apartment residences, an outdoor amphitheater, a community swimming pool, an office complex and a lush greenhouse. 

Arcosanti’s two barrel vaults with art embedded concrete walls

Today, Arcosanti continues to fulfill Soleri’s vision as an educational center for upcoming architects and philosophers. Scholars from across the world choose the community to attend advanced workshops and classes on everything from experimental design to architectural agriculture.  

Nearly 40,000 tourists visit the unique community annually to witness Soleri’s philosophy of arcology in person. Visitors can take guided tours through the sweeping campus or stay overnight in one of its lavish guest accommodations. To plan your trip to the historic community, or learn more about its events and programming, visit Arcosanti’s website here.

Cycle the Arts in Scottsdale

Thanks to the city’s deep appreciation for the arts, Scottsdale is home to some of the most visionary public art in the country. And, with warm weather here and summer approaching, there is no better way to experience the city’s inspiring works than on a bike! Here is our guide to Cycle the Arts Scottsdale 2022:

Cycle the Arts Scottsdale is hosted by Scottsdale Public Art and the City of Scottsdale. The annual cycling event is back for the first time since 2019 to showcase some of the city’s exciting public art displays and sculptures. And because this is the event’s first time back in more than three years, participants will be able to hear about some of Scottsdale’s newest public art additions. 

The leisurely 9-mile bike ride is free and perfect for the whole family. It kicks off on Sunday, April 3, and check-in is at 8:30 a.m. at Scottsdale’s Museum of the West. While the event is expected to last until noon, the ride on Scottsdale’s award-winning bike paths will only take about two hours. 

Industrial Pipe Wave, Christopher Fennel, 2015, Courtesy of Scottsdale Public Art
Industrial Pipe Wave, Christopher Fennel, 2015, Courtesy of Scottsdale Public Art

The event includes 17 works from the city’s public art collection, including Jack Knife, Industrial Pipe Wave and Terraced Cascade. Each stop will include information about the art provided by Scottsdale Public Art staff and board members and possibly feature the artists themselves.

Made for both bike riders and art enthusiasts, Cycle the Arts Scottsdale is the perfect event for those looking to explore and learn more about the vibrant community. If you plan to participate, please bring your own helmet and water, and RSVP on Scottsdale Public Art’s website here.

Exploring Paolo Soleri’s Cosanti

Scottsdale and its surroundings offer some of the country’s most historic art and architectural sites, including Taliesin West and its museum of contemporary art – SMoCA. Because of the popularity of these marquee locations, some of the area’s other unique contributions are often overlooked. Today, we’re spotlighting one of the community’s most ambitious architectural and design feats, Cosanti

Cosanti’s History

Found in Paradise Valley, Arizona, less than a 15-minute drive from Optima Kierland Apartments, Cosanti is a standout in its suburban neighborhood. The Gallery and design studio were designed and built by the Italian-American architect, urban designer and philosopher, Paolo Soleri. Soleri, who built the project in 1956, lived with his wife on the five-acre property only a few miles from Taliesin West, where he studied under renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright just ten years earlier. 

The interior of Cosanti’s Earth House where Soleri resided until 2013, Courtesy of Cosanti Originals

The structure’s name originates from Soleri’s Italian roots. Cosanti combines the two Italian words for ‘object’ and ‘before’, and the word itself means, ‘There are things more important than objects’ – a philosophy Soleri lived by. This attitude extends beyond the structure’s name and into its architecture, where he introduced his own philosophy of arcology. The term recognizes the importance between built and lived environments, similar to that of sustainable or regenerative design

Otherworldly Architecture

Cosanti’s otherworldly design elements easily separate it from its modern surroundings. Some of the build’s most alluring features are its outdoor studio, performance spaces, swimming pool, Soleri’s residence, and of course, his famous ‘Earth House’. 

Cosanti’s earth-cast wind-bells produced of bronze and ceramics, Courtesy of Cosanti Originals

To create the Earth House, Soleri utilized an earth-casting technique, where his team formed dense mounds of earth and then covered them in concrete molds. After developing, the earth under each mold became excavated and concrete structures built partly underground appeared – a building method that allows the structure to utilize natural insulation from the earth. 

Soleri also used terraced landscaping, courtyards and garden paths to separate branches of the unique campus and further connected the environment to its natural surroundings using earth-cast wind-bells. 

Today, the Arizona Historic Site offers local residents and tourists free guided tours of the visionary structure and property. To explore the grounds and more of Cosanti yourself, visit their website here.

Calling all Photo Buffs: Jump into Wilmette’s Sesquicentennial Photography Project

As construction gets underway on Optima Verdana, we continue to connect more strongly with Wilmette and its surroundings. We appreciate how special it is that a village gets to celebrate its 150th anniversary, and Wilmette has packed 2022 with a series of events, happenings and projects that bring the community together. Art fairs, picnics, parades, concerts, garden walks, you name it. The programming is broad, deep and guaranteed to capture the interests of residents and visitors alike.

One of the most engaging programs on the roster for Wilmette’s big birthday year is the Sesquicentennial Photography Project. Behind the project is the desire to invite the community to share their personal reflections and experiences in Wilmette by capturing photographs around the theme “Building Community” to create an important historical record.

The magic of a community photo project is that it provides an open invitation for anyone — and everyone — to participate. Taking photos in today’s world, with the ease of a smartphone, allows people of all ages to capture snippets of everyday life and glimpses of their surroundings that captivate them, and share them with others to enjoy. 

The project is easy for all participants. Simply submit photos to the village — from now until September 30, 2022. A team from the Wilmette Historical Museum will review the submissions and curate an exhibition of photos at the Museum and at other locations throughout Wilmette. Once the exhibitions are taken down, the photographs will be archived by the Museum, and will be accessible for viewing on request. 

Here are some guidelines for photographers. If you have any additional questions regarding the project, please contact Jan Loew at jerryloew@aol.com. Technical questions should be directed to the Wilmette Historical Museum’s curator, Rachel Ramirez, at ramirezr@wilmette.com or 847-853-7714.

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