You’ve seen these artists before, but when was the last time you saw them exclusively at one time in one place? To encourage such, 26 members of the former 13th Street Gallery have invited you to attend their latest reunion exhibit, Old Friends—New Work at the Hot Shops Art Center, 13th and Nicholas. Last Saturday, several hundred patrons of this 30-year-old plus group flocked to their opening and found the show worthy of the considerable attention it has received. Originally part of the Artist Co-op which thrives in its current Old Market space at 11th and Harney, several members broke off decades ago to create, arguably, edgier work on their own in a South 13th Street location. “We all considered ourselves to be part of an Omaha renaissance in art,” said artist Robert Willits, the curator of Old Friends—New Work. Creating the 13th Street Gallery seemed like the best way to continue that spirit. With this exhibit, we wanted to show Omaha that we are still doing it.” Included in this arts reunion are Kelly Adams, Marcia Joffe-Bouska, Richard Markoff, Eddith Buis, Jeremy Caniglia, Michael Flecky, Thomas Hamilton and Dennis Wattier, among many others, some who exhibit on a regular basis and others for whom this was an opportunity to put new work in front of their public. Photographer Larry Ferguson says reunions have additional benefits for both artists and their markets. “I feel a strong connection to my past and the people who helped support it,” Ferguson said. “What it offers to the public is a sense of history. Nobody just comes out of nowhere. Artists learn from each other.” This might explain his contribution in this show, an homage to Harry Crook, the late entrepreneur and arts collector who passed last month. Crook had a close relationship with many area artists, and Ferguson features the fun-loving and open-minded Crook as Santa with the bare-breasted Naughty Elf Nancy on his lap in a stereoscopic image and accompanying color print. It also recognizes the genealogy of an exhibit that boasts three generations of support and interdependence. Mike Loftus and Caniglia were former students of Willits at Creighton Prep; Willits of Willits who was mentored by arts photographer Nick Chiburis, also in the show. Reunions of any sort, family, education or the purely social offer an interesting dynamic. After five or ten years it’s often about status and one-upsmanship. At 20 or 25, people are more relaxed and accepting — of others as well as themselves. By the 30th it might be more about renewal or merely survival. The latter seems to fit Old Friends—New Work as several artists, such as Susan Knight, James Freeman, John Miller and Bob Osco brought work so new that “the canvas was still wet when I hung it,” as Miller said. All in an effort to say that as artists they were still “au courant.” This is particularly true perhaps of Knight’s experimental hanging sculpture resembling red pickup sticks in cellophane, Crunch/Crack and Bosco’s large mixed media collage of storyteller Rita Paskowitz. A work in progress, this dramatic portrait is prelude to his current, ongoing 3-year project, a 40-foot mural in the theater lobby of Creighton University’s Lied Center. For others, current means work made and shown in the pasrt two or three years, such as Larry Sosso’s Free Flying People that flew successfully at RNG Gallery last year, Susan McGilvrey’s colorfully animated pitchers and vessels that were right at home at the Bemis Center two years ago and Kristin Pluhacek’s striking self-portrait, Conflict , behind a screen of emoticons that highlighted an exhibit recently at the former Jackson Artwork. Overall, Old Friends—New Work is as fine a large group show seen in Omaha yet this year: an interesting mix of traditional earthenware from Duane Adams and porcelain from Thomas Hamilton to the funkier sculpture of Les Bruning, Allan Vap, Buis and Sosso; from the more realistic figurative painting of Stephen C. Roberts and Charles Novich to the disturbing imagery of Freeman and Willits. What follow is a short list of additional works that deserve special mention in this exhibit: Predators and Victims by Robert Willits. Not sure this mixed media made the show but it was in the gallery earlier. Nevertheless, it is emblematic of Willit’s socio-political work that combines his newer Victims series with his previous Pig Men one. In this work, two figures, a dominant bald corporate bald-headed corporate bigwig, pink and prosperous, lords it over his blindfolded, anonymous lackey who sports sporting a target on his chest. n “ Studio Stories 1” by James Freeman. In black, white and grey acrylic, Freeman takes the above two-figure scenario and makes it more twisted, personal and demonic. Though the artist references Basquiat’s 80s expressive imagery, the psychodrama powerfully rendered here is all his own. n “Still Life with Candle” by John Miller. Another strong, expressionistic work and in Miller’s characteristically surreal and mannered style. Running the emotional gamut with iconic motifs of fire and ice, this piece is more serene because all his demons are absent and we are left with the aftermath in this domestic tableaux. Still, there is that matter of the spilled wine on the table. n “Tree Lines, Again” by Deborah Murphy. In sharp contrast we have virtually the only two landscapes (along with “After the Flood” ) in the show. Murphy’s prismacolor rural vision is etched in exquisite, convincing detail, but curiously her habit of placing the horizon in the virtual center rather than at the top or bottom third, forces the eye to wander on either side rather than emphasizing the dominant two thirds plane, sky or land, which would better focus her POV. n “Six Above” by Charles Novich. Though his larger, bolder oil “Six Buttons” may have gotten more attention, of the two character studies on a landscape backdrop, the smaller, delicate watercolor is more successful. It more accurately reflects the angst of the huddled figure beautifully composed in right foreground of a wintry background. Second, while the larger figure is nicely enigmatic, she is diminished by her disproportioned right eye, which threatens to float off her face. n “Katherine” by Thomas Schlosser. There is much good 3D work in this show, metal, ceramic and wood but none finer than this polychromy bust in wood of a beautiful woman, august and vulnerable and captured in a moment of serene ecstasy. “Man as Aquariunm” by Les Bruning. Another superior piece of sculpture, this ceramic blend of armor and warrior in tones of weathered bronze is both ancient and futuristic. n “The Pink Pregnant Lady” by Mike Loftus. Possibly the most outré piece in the show by this clever satirist, his figure ain’t no lady. Think of her as Marge Simpson on drugs as she defiantly smokes while naked and pregnant. Pity the child to be. n “Awakening Triptych” by Nick Chiburis. In this nude series of a model rising from a prone position, a very elegant, statuesque brunette, with a figure more carved than chiseled, strikes a less erotic and more vogue-like pose on a dramatically black background. Quite beautiful. Old Friends-New Work continues through May at Hot Shops Art Gallery, 13th and Nicholas. For details go to

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