fbpx

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. 

Chicago Public Art: AMENDS

When people think of public art in Chicago, their minds often wander to Millennium Park, where iconic pieces like Crown Fountain and Cloud Gate live. However, throughout the city, art is discoverable in every neighborhood. Today, we’re exploring the community-art project: AMENDS. In addition to being an interactive project, the expansive goal of AMENDS is to lay the foundation for the eradication of racism.

Created by internationally-renowned artists Nick Cave and Bob Faust, AMENDS is a multifaceted project living at the Chicago creative space, Facility. The collaborators first envisioned the project after the death of George Floyd in 2020. The engaging experience encourages individuals to publicly share confessions and apologies that recognize how they may be independently responsible for the continued expansion of racism.

The adversarial action is simple but an extremely intimate and impassioned way to acknowledge where individuals make change and, with hope, where society can too. AMENDS consists of three dynamic phases, each expanding on the project over time.

The first phase,“Letters to the World Toward the Eradication of Racism,” is an assemblage of letters, quotes and notes brought to life by Chicago community leaders on the windows of Facility. The remarks contain various raw and emotional expressions that are on view to everyone in the public.

“Dirty Laundry,” the second phase of AMENDS, Photo from Facility
“Dirty Laundry,” the second phase of AMENDS, Photo from Facility

“Dirty Laundry,” the second phase of AMENDS, progresses at Carl Schurz Public High School across the street from Facility. “Dirty Laundry” challenges the public to address any roles they have played in advancing racism throughout their lives. The declarations of apology metamorphose into yellow ribbons that are tied to clotheslines, creating a public collection of community remorse.

Building upon the previous phases, “Called to Action” asks for participation on a much larger scale. In the form of a hashtag — #AMENDS — the final chapter encourages people across the world to voice their avowals and invite ensuing change for the near future. Bringing together artists, community leaders and everyday people, AMENDS serves as a beacon for Chicago and pushes to keep the city moving forward. 

The power of public art is rooted in its ability to welcome beauty into communities. At the same time, it can be a driving force for inquiry, engagement and participation. The values inherent in public art are also core to the character of Optima, which we express through our commitment to incorporating thoughtful art programs into each community we build.

Women in Architecture: Amanda Williams

As part of our ongoing “Women in Architecture” series at Optima, we’re taking a look at another spearheading female figure: Amanda Williams. Similar to many of the women in this series, she is a pioneer in her field. Trained as an architect, Williams blurs the line between visual arts and modern architecture. Learn more about her remarkable life and work below. 

The Life of Amanda Williams

Amanda Williams was born in 1974 in Evanston, Illinois. However, she grew up in Chicago’s Southside Gresham neighborhood. She graduated from Cornell University in 1997, where she studied architecture and was a member of one of the nation’s most prominent honor societies. After graduating, Williams moved to San Francisco and worked for a commercial architecture firm for six years before returning to her hometown to focus on her love of painting.

Back in Chicago, Williams discovered The Center Program. The Hyde Park Arts Center’s capstone program is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for groundbreaking artists. While in the program, fellow artist Trisha Van Eck challenged Williams to take her talents a step further and paint on a larger architectural scale. Her response led to some of her most recognized and celebrated work today. 

Throughout her practice, Williams uses vibrant color to draw attention to the complexities and intersections of race, place and value within cities. Her paintings, sculptures and installations are all created to examine how the mundane can be viewed through a new lens and question the state of urban space throughout the country. 

Flamin’ Red Hot, Color(ed) Theory, 2014
Flamin’ Red Hot, Color(ed) Theory, 2014

Notable Work

In 2015, Williams debuted her most famous project, Color(ed) Theory at Chicago’s Architecture Biennial. The critically acclaimed exhibition, featured in The New York Times, examines race and space on Chicago’s South Side. With the help of family and friends, Williams repainted eight abandoned houses in the Englewood neighborhood between 2014 and 2016 as part of the exhibition. Each house was decorated with specific colors Williams found in products targeted towards Black consumers. Still standing today, the eight eye-opening houses continue to push for further discussions on the complexities of race and space Chicago and around the world.

Chicago is home to another one of William’s most well-known pieces. Located at The Arts Club of Chicago, Uppity Negress was a site-specific exterior installation created in 2017. The work investigates the claim of courtyards as either public or private areas and addresses the vast roles that gender and race play in urban accessibility. 

While much of Williams’ work is located in or near Chicago, her aptitude for creation has led her across the United States. In early 2019, Williams was chosen alongside acclaimed artist Olalekan Jeyifous to design Brooklyn’s newest monument dedicated to Rep. Shirley Chisholm, part of a larger city-wide initiative known as She Built NYC. The monument is soon to be completed and will sit at the Parkside entrance to the neighborhood’s Prospect Park. 

A rendering of Williams and Jeyifous’ Shirley Chisholm Monument
A rendering of Williams and Jeyifous’ Shirley Chisholm Monument

Alongside her transformative work, Williams has been a recipient of many architecture and art awards as well as achievements throughout her career:

  • Chicago’s 3Arts Award, 2014
  • United States Artists Fellow, 2018
  • New Generation Leader, Women in Architecture Awards, 2021
  • Obama Presidential Center Design Team

Williams has lectured at esteemed schools including Washington University, California College of the Arts, Illinois Institute of Technology and her alma mater. Today, she continues to forge a lane of her own and blend traditional visual art techniques with the complexity of architectural design.

The Lakeview Creative Community

One of the many reasons we love Lakeview — one of our newest Optima communities with the construction of Optima Lakeview — is its thriving, engaging art scene. From giant murals to local programs, there’s something for everyone in the Lakeview creative community.

Year Round by Mauricio Ramirez at 3406 N. Ashland Ave. Photo courtesy of Lakeview Chamber of Commerce
Year Round by Mauricio Ramirez at 3406 N. Ashland Ave. Photo courtesy of Lakeview Chamber of Commerce

Public Art

Like many other Chicago neighborhoods, Lakeview’s streets are adorned with eclectic and energized murals and public art. Each piece has its own unique personality, many designed and executed by local artists. Guided by the 2011 Lakeview Area Master Plan, the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce, Special Service Area (SSA) 27 and Friends of Lakeview championed the installations to reflect the spirit of Lakeview and brighten up pedestrian routes. Contributing artists include JC Rivera, Louise “Ouizi” Jones, Lauren Asta, Antonio Beniquez, Anthony Lewellen, Mauricio Ramirez, Chad Kouri and more. We love how the colorful artwork creates such a vibrant, welcoming feel to the neighborhood.

This Is Lakeview by Lauran Asta at 3411 N. Paulina St. Photo courtesy of Lakeview Chamber of Commerce
This Is Lakeview by Lauran Asta at 3411 N. Paulina St. Photo courtesy of Lakeview Chamber of Commerce

Lakeview East Festival of the Arts

In a typical year, you can find art from more than 150 artists at this annual event and Lakeview tradition. The summer festival also features music performances and fare from local restaurants. In 2020, the festival was moved online and turned into a virtual showcase, which you can still check out. It’s a great way to discover your next favorite local artist and business owner.

Art Classes

If you’re feeling inspired to pick up a new hobby, Lakeview has plenty of ways to learn how to expand your own creativity. Park West Ceramics offers classes and workshops for those who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. For little artists, Kidcreate Studio offers classes, camps and art-themed parties for ages 18 months to 12 years. And for a fun night out (or in), Bottle & Bottega offers a classic sip-and-paint class, with at-home kits and virtual options. 

Whether you’re an admirer of the arts or a budding artist, Lakeview is a unique contributor to Chicago’s expensive network of artists, photographers, sculptors and creative visionaries. 

Chicago’s Public Art: Joan Miró’s Chicago

Our reverence for sculpture and for the cities in which we operate collide to create a deep appreciation for the public art of Chicago. And as we explore the craft in the city we love, we’re doing deep dives into famous public works from downtown to vibrant neighborhood pockets. This week, it’s all about Joan Miro’s Chicago.

History of Miro’s Chicago

This iconic sculpture by iconic artist Joan Miro was first titled The Sun, The Moon and One Star but is known now as Miro’s Chicago. Originally, Miro was commissioned by Brunswick Corporation in 1969 to design a sculpture, but the project halted when Brunswick withdrew funding. In 1979, Chicago’s first female mayor Jane Byrne reinvigorated the project, promising to fund the first half of the project if others would commit to funding the second half. Together, foundations, institutions and individuals rallied to commit that final stretch of funding, and Miro himself reduced the cost of construction by completely donating his design to the city. It’s only appropriate, then, that Miro’s Chicago is an iconic fixture in the city, as it was brought to fruition by collaborative and impassioned locals.

Visiting Miro’s Chicago

The sculpture is tucked modestly away in a narrow plaza between the Cook County Administration Building and the Chicago Temple Building in Chicago’s downtown financial district. The plaza, known as Brunswick Plaza, is directly south of the Daley Center and nearly directly south of another iconic Chicago public art piece, the Chicago Picasso

Miro’s Chicago, in its modest and peaceful crevice downtown, makes for a serene location for local workers to have lunch outside. The concrete, bronze and ceramic tile façade towers to almost 40 feet tall, and its curving figure has earned the nickname “Miss Chicago.” The large pedestal beneath the sculpture invites passerby to sit and marvel either at the statue above, or the striking Chicago architecture even farther above. As a piece of public art, it does exactly what we at Optima know and love sculpture for: it elicits an emotional experience from its viewer, while activating the incredible architectural space around it.

Chicago’s Public Art: Crown Fountain

As we continue to explore Chicago’s public art, we recognize and celebrate that sculpture comes in all shapes, forms and purposes. Today, we’re exploring an iconic Chicago fixture, oft-overlooked in the medium: Millennium Park’s Crown Fountain. Alongside being the perfect place to cool off on a hot summer day in the city — or to people watch — Crown Fountain is a fascinating and experimentally expressive work of sculptural art.

Designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, Crown Fountain consists of two fifty-foot glass block towers at opposite ends of a shallow reflecting pool. The towers project video footage of faces, collected from 1,000 different Chicago residents, and spurt water from an outlet in the screen centered on the video projections’ mouths. The interactive sculpture is a reference to the traditional use of gargoyles, often used as the source of water projects in fountains, where the mythical creatures’ eruption of water symbolizes giving life. Overall, construction took six months and cost $17 million, adding Crown Fountain to Chicago’s collection of world-renowned public art in July of 2004.

The video footage of the faces projected was a collaborative project between the artist, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and Columbia College Chicago (CCC). 75 ethnic, social and religious organizations were asked to nominate individuals for the project, and those individuals were then filmed by SAIC students using professional-grade equipment. Filming the footage was such an intensive process that it became an informal master’s course in public art. Overall, 1,051 subjects were filmed and 960 subjects’ footage is utilized for the sculpture.

Crown Fountain was inevitably one of Millennium Park’s most controversial installations. Many were worried that the height of the towers would interrupt the architecture of the public park. Yet the sculpture won its place in the public heart with its quirkiness and comfort, inviting all to laugh and play with it. Crown Fountain’s legacy, like the legacy of Chicago, is one that celebrates community, playfulness, art and innovation.

Chicago’s Public Art: The Picasso

Sculptures are the ultimate exploration of materials and their expression. With Optima Co-Founder David Hovey Sr. having expanded the design reach of Optima to include sculpture, the medium is one that hits close to home for us. To indulge in our love for the craft, we’re exploring Chicago’s public sculpture art, piece-by-piece. First up is an iconic staple in Chicago: The Picasso.

The (Chicago) Picasso

The monumental, larger-than-life sculpture created by Pablo Picasso situated in downtown Chicago goes unnamed by the artist. However, the work is affectionately referred to as The Picasso and even The Chicago Picasso. The sculpture is now a globally-renowned landmark, standing 50 feet tall and weighing in at 162 short tons.

The Chicago Picasso was commissioned by the architects of The Richard J. Daley Center in 1963. Occupying the beloved Daley Plaza alongside the skin-and-bones International Style Modernist skyscraper, the sculpture stands out as a whimsical and abstract piece that invites plaza visitors to jump, climb and slide upon its smooth, COR-TEN steel surface. The interactive sculpture cost the modern day equivalent of $2.8 million, with three charitable foundations shouldering the cost. And although Picasso himself was offered $100,000, he refused the payment, insisting that he wanted to make the work as a gift.

Picasso’s inspiration remains a mystery, though some muse that the armadillo-esque figure is actually an abstracted portrait of the French woman, Sylvette David – now known as Lydia Corbette. The sculpture’s abstract nature was met with tough criticism initially. In a city where most sculptures were famous figures, some didn’t take kindly to the strange public art newcomer. But it was only a matter of time before The Chicago Picasso rightly became a revered piece of Chicago’s vibrant public art collection, brightening the Daley Plaza and the city with its presence. 

person name goes here

Maintenance Supervisor

Glencoe, IL





    Acceptable file types: *.pdf | *.txt | *.doc, max-size: 2Mb