Artist Erin BlayneyOct 02, 2016 06:00AM ● By Leo Adam Biga
For visual artist Erin Blayney, who grew up in the great outdoors, it's all about light and space. She has plenty of both at her Old Market apartment that doubles as her studio.
Natural light from six large, south-facing windows cascades over her easel and houseplants. "Not only is that perfect for the type of lighting I need to do my best work, it's healthy for my overall well-being," says Blayney.
Exposed brickwork, high ceilings, and an open floor plan contribute to a sense of spaciousness. Extra-wide windowsills provide great perches for her collection of succulents.
"I love nature and the outdoors," she says. "This apartment allows me to integrate that love into my living quarters, and not feel cramped or experience cabin fever."
Her spot above Urban Abbey in the historic Windsor Hotel building puts her right in the thick of things. "The Old Market for me is very welcoming, unique, and nourishes a diverse group of people of all ages and backgrounds," she says. "It's urban yet has some aspect of a small neighborhood as well."
A Florida transplant and Art Institute of Chicago graduate, Blayney creates figurative drawings and paintings. She previously worked as an art preparator for California museums.
Her mother preceded her to Omaha to be near a sister, and Erin followed. "My mom lives three blocks away from me, so it's wonderful to conveniently meet for coffee or go for a bike ride together,” she says.
This self-described "people person" is drawn to the human form. She variously works from live models or photographs.
“Drawing and painting people, mostly gestural, seems to be pretty consistent for me,” she says. “It's capturing the physicality of a person expressed through facial expression or movement. I love capturing the realness of their character, even if it's subtle."
Recently, Omaha restaurant mogul Willy Theisen commissioned her portrait of his granddaughter for his new Paragon eatery in Dundee.
When approaching a new work, she says, "I never know how it's going to look, so it's a little adventurous. If I stop thinking about what I'm doing and just let it flow, it comes out naturally. That 'diving into it' mindset is what I have to be in for the work to really evolve. It's mysterious."
Blayney's work is not all figurative. "Occasionally, I'll do still life," she says, gesturing to an in-progress oyster shell rendered in a swirl of pastels. She is contemplating an oceanic-themed series motivated by her love of the water, marine life, and nature.
"I was brought up on water. I swam in the Gulf of Mexico. So that's in my bones."
In Omaha, she has twice worked at Jun Kaneko's studio (most recently in 2006 as a painting assistant). Of the celebrated artist, she says, "We had a good connection. He's very quiet, polite, observant, receptive. He was very trusting of me. Like when I did some mixing of colors, pigments—he trusted my instincts. I'm not a ceramicist, but I felt in my natural element."
She feels at home in Omaha, where she says, "The connections I've made are so important." The same for her day job at Alley Poyner Macchietto, where she curates art shows. She admires the local art-culture scene.
"I feel the creative community in Omaha is very supportive rather than super competitive. The friends I've made here are very authentic, genuine, and loyal."
She enjoys what the Bemis and Joslyn offer as well as how "smaller, contemporary, progressive galleries like Project Project and Darger HQ are pushing the envelope. I'm a huge fan of Garden of the Zodiac. 1516 Gallery is just gorgeous.”
In the spring of 2016, Petshop Gallery in Benson exhibited her portraiture work. She regularly shows in the Bemis Benefit Art Auction and had a piece in the October 28 show (she described the colorful abstract portrait as “a little mysterious looking”).
Blayney also contributed to the Old Market Art Project; hers was one of 37 banners selected (from nearly 300 submissions) to be displayed outside the Mercer Building as renovations followed the M’s Pub fire.
"It's an abstract painting that took forever,” she says. “There's a lot going on in it. Finally, it just came together. I collaborated with another artist in the process of painting it, and then I finished it."
She sees many opportunities for local artists in Omaha, but there is room for improvement, too. "There's definitely room to grow—I’d like to see even more galleries because there's so much talent here,” she says.
Going into the fall, several commission projects were "consuming" Blayney’s time. Her projects come from anywhere and everywhere. "Lately, it's been more people coming to me and asking either for a portrait of themselves or of a family member. I can be surprised. I've given my card to someone and then a year later gotten a commission. It's unpredictable."
Visit erinblayney.com for more information.