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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.