Bemis opens up for public peeking

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March 19th, 2012

Omaha, NE – Omaha can take a peek into the working studios of some of the country’s most talented artists this weekend.

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Eric Zimmerman works in his Bemis studio, kitchen/bedroom on one side, work-in-progress on the other. (Photo by Robyn Wisch)

“It’s the size of my house at home,” said Eric Zimmerman, glancing around his temporary studio apartment, which overlooks Omaha’s Old Market. “So to be able to work in all this space, I’m trying to take advantage of it the best I can.”

Wide open and spacious, with high ceilings and white-washed walls, Zimmerman’s studio is located upstairs in the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts’ building downtown. Zimmerman is one of a group of artists-in-residence at the Bemis. He was chosen from over 1200 applicants for the competitive program, among 31 others for the year. This weekend, the current artists housed at the Bemis will open up their studios for interested art-lovers to check out their work: much of it still in progress.

“Before I even got here, I decided that I would keep my door open all the time,” Zimmerman said. “And I would do all of the tours, and do all the open studios, as a way to get people in and to get comfortable with showing people things that are in process and are very experimental and that I’m not comfortable with,” he said.

James Gilbert sits in front of his work table, sketches of his work taped on the wall. (Photo by Robyn Wisch)

“I think typically, I show things that are pretty tight, and well-thought and edited. For me, it’s both exciting and a little nerve wracking, and I think it’s a lot of fun.”

Based in New York, Zimmerman has been working in Omaha for just over two months. He has pencil sketches taped up on the walls, lined up next to one of his more complete pieces: a series of collages pulled from National Geographic magazines. From a few feet away, they look like complete images, but stepping closer, one can see each image is made up of slivers of cut-out colors and patterns pieced together.

“I think I faked a lot of people out that way,” he said with a laugh. “A lot of people say that they look like just photographs at first. And then they get closer and see all the little cuts and marks.”

“That was a lot of the idea to reassemble them based on similar colors and patterns that would make them feel seamless,” he said.

A few feet down the hall from Zimmerman is another artist-in-residence: James Gilbert. “I spend a lot of time sewing, embellishing, beading,” Gilbert said, as he walked around his similar-style studio. Gilbert is an artist from Los Angeles, and has been working in Omaha for about two weeks.

Pointing to a collection of plastic, sculptured underpants he has lined up on a table, he said, “This is just a group that I’ve made since I’ve been here. But they all have different intricacies, different kind of psychology in them, different levels of “perviness” in them.”

“So I think of all of these as little portraits,” he said.

Gilbert said each piece represents the private parts of our lives that we all seem to be freely sharing in today’s information-centric world.

“We’re putting out information on social media… reality television… on 24 hour news cycles, this is the private information we’re sharing with everybody,” he said. “So this is kind of my very specific metaphor in terms of our own psychology, what we’re doing to ourselves in terms of sharing information.”

Taped up on the walls of Gilbert’s studio are sketches of the underpants and a series of drawings for his next planned piece, which is currently in the early stages of creation. Gilbert said opening up the studios allows people to see the artists’ work in the middle of the process – before they even know what each piece might become.

“These are prep drawings that I’ll never exhibit, but it’s kind of fun to see where it starts and where it ends,” he said, adding, “And I think the cool thing is everybody likes to be nosy and see where people live, and how they kind of are spreading out their dishes and their laundry and all that stuff.”

Gilbert and Zimmerman’s studios will be open for public peeking Saturday, March 24 from 1-3pm at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts.

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