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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. 

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.

Ellison Keomaka’s Art at 7140 Optima Kierland

Pairing unique, tasteful works of art with our buildings is an integral part of design expression with Optima projects. We recently sat down with artist Ellison Keomaka, to discuss the process and inspiration for his most recent contributions to 7140 Optima Kierland. – you can read more about our history with Keomaka here

While creating commissioned artwork for 7180 Optima Kierland last year, Keomaka was simultaneously working on pieces for 7140. “Because I was working on these two bodies of work at the same time, much of the inspiration for the 7140 artwork flowed from what I was creating for 7180,” says Keomaka. 

Armed with an understanding of the building’s design, materiality and sense of space, Keomaka decided to explore a grand palette, bold textures, and adventurous methods — “a playground of color and an exciting experiment,” explains Keomaka. 

Letters From Home at 7140 Optima Kierland
Letters From Home at 7140 Optima Kierland

Partially inspired by his own experience in the military, Letters From Home is an “assemblage work” as Keomaka explains, “that speaks to the emotional stories of soldiers receiving letters from home.” The assemblage includes images from issues of Life Magazine that date back to World War II, with two blocks of bright blue and red that meet to form a shape that resembles the back of an envelope.

Some Kind of Sunset at 7140 Optima Kierland
Some Kind of Sunset at 7140 Optima Kierland

Keomaka’s personal favorite, Some Kind of Sunset captures the idea of the endless shifts in the sun’s position. Working over a period of two months, Keomaka used pearlescent and fluorescent paints to animate the surface of the canvas, allowing the colors to adapt and change with changes in the natural light striking the surface throughout the day.

Desert Dance at 7140 Optima Kierland
Desert Dance at 7140 Optima Kierland

As the title suggests, Keomaka created this piece as a kind of dance that responded to music he was listening to while painting. “Working with music is a big part of my artistic practice,” Keomaka states. “For this work, I was listening to a playlist that included Kanye West, Coldplay and movie soundtracks, and I used my brushstrokes and color choices to respond to the eclectic mix,” he shares.

The Space Between at 7140 Optima Kierland
The Space Between at 7140 Optima Kierland

Comprised of vertical bands of bright colors, The Space Between may seem like it is one of the more simple works of art created by Keomaka for 7140 Optima Kierland. However, color and texture are precisely what make this piece stand out. Keomaka mixed primary colors to create unique hues that live in the spaces between yellow, blue and red, while using a squeegee tool to control the flow and texture of the paint on the canvas to add to the sense of flatness and precision.

Keomaka’s bold and experimental artwork echoes the creative brilliance and ingenuity that we care deeply about at Optima. His ability to translate these artistic gestures into works that activate the public spaces at 7140 Optima Kierland add immeasurably to the beauty and warmth of the interior environment — for residents as well as for all who pass through the building.

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. 

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