Artists-in-residence talk about their time at the Bemis


November 29th, 2012

Omaha, NE – Some of the best and brightest new artists from around the world end up at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts’ artist-in-residency program in Omaha. Next Thursday, three of the current artists-in-residence will hold a public discussion about their new work and their discoveries since settling in at the Bemis.

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Heather Johnson, Residency Program Manager at the Bemis, was visibly excited as we met to discuss next week’s Art Talk, a monthly public discussion at the art studio and gallery. Three artists currently enrolled in the Bemis’ highly competitive artist-in-residence program will talk about their progress.

Johnson explained, “To give you a little sense of how competitive, for the artists that are presenting, they came from a pool of 1,190 applications, and we only accepted 36 of those.”

And that’s 36 residents for the entire year. Each resident is housed for three months at a time. So Johnson’s enthusiasm about showing them off is understandable. Johnson said Art Talks helps her learn about these talented residents too. “What has influenced their work, or why they’re interested in a certain thing or idea,” is the best part, Johnson said.

Zappas’ untitled sculpture got its shape from a vacuum cleaner hose. (Photo courtesy John Zappas)

“It’s just getting more context about who they are as a human being and how that works into their process,” she said, adding she enjoys working with artists of “such a high caliber.”

Johnson introduced California-born artist John Zappas in his studio upstairs at the Bemis. Right inside his doorway was one of his works-in-progress.

Zappas said he likes the contrast of textures in this untitled piece. (Photo courtesy John Zappas)

A rectangular block of plaster, lifted waist-high, takes the shape of a metal, wavy, corrugated roof top. On top is a bowling ball, sinking into the plaster’s waves. The bowling ball was familiar to Johnson, who laughed as she told the story of the artist she thinks might have first brought it to the studio. Johnson said it was often used to smash dishes. “Domestic rage” she guessed.

The bowling ball is not the only found art Zappas has used from the Bemis.

Most of his new work around his studio included found pieces like scrap wood or materials he can use to make plaster molds. At his feet was an L-shaped piece of resin, resting on chrome legs. Those legs, Zappas said, are from coat hangers he found. And the resin mold was from a vacuum cleaner hose.

Residue from the mold is visible on the sculpture. “There’s also this memory of how it came to be,” Zappas said. “When I casted into the vacuum cleaner tube, it has all this dirt that got stuck into the final thing, and so that I think is a really nice poetic moment where this dirt accumulated by the use of this object then finds its way into determining what my sculpture looks like.”

The Bemis residency itself, Zappas said, has given him time away from everyday distractions. He works not only on his art, but on developing confidence in his abilities.

Zappas said without constant feedback, he has to learn to critique and appreciate his work all on his own. He’s committed to the process that is creating, he said, and he likes the opportunity to explain “how the sausage is made.”

“The cool thing about a talk is I can sort of show that stuff and not really worry about ruining people’s impression of the work,” Zappas said, “because the work is not there in front of them, it’s just me talking about it.”

Two other sculptors will join Zappas Thursday, Dec. 6 at the Bemis. Terrance Campagna and Maria Pithar will discuss their own work starting at 7 p.m.

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