NEO Geo Studio Visits

By Theresa Bembnister, Associate Curator

If philosopher Alan Watts is right, and museums are the places art goes to die, then the artist’s studio must surely be the birthplace of a work of art.

For the record: I disagree with Watts. But I do relish the opportunity to see art in its native studio environment, before it’s displayed on the museum’s pristine walls. The context of an artist’s workspace offers clues as to how or why a particular artwork was made.

Studio visits made up a large part of the efforts required to organize NEO Geo. After scoping out an artist’s website, I would set up a studio visit to observe the work and ask questions. Not only did these observations and conversations guide my selections of works to include in the exhibition, but they were integral to gathering key information I could then convey to museum visitors through labels, tours, the brochure and this blog post.

NEO Geo artist Erik Neff

Pastel drawings on display in Erik Neff’s studio.

Pastel drawings on display in Erik Neff’s studio.

I visited Erik Neff’s studio in Newbury in rural Geauga County in early April and mid-May of last year. A prolific artist, Neff creates pastel drawings on paper in addition to the oil paintings and wooden sculptures selected for NEO Geo.

Small paintings stored in a flat file in Erik Neff’s studio.

Small paintings stored in a flat file in Erik Neff’s studio.

Neff’s studio serves a dual role of a place to make and store artwork. His flat file drawer holds examples of the modestly scaled paintings the artist made when his children were younger. Now that they spend their days at school, Neff has more time to devote to larger canvases like the ones you see in NEO Geo.

Erik Neff’s paintings in their natural habitat.

Erik Neff’s paintings in their natural habitat.

During my visits, Neff displayed his larger and mid-sized canvases propped up on aluminum cans, leaning against the wall. Neff’s painting Between, which is included in NEO Geo, is on the right of this photograph; the edge of Breakwater is barely visible on the far right.

The studio mascots in the studio.

The studio mascots in the studio.

Neff places his small wooden sculptures, or studio mascots, as he likes to call them, on a wooden bench. Here you see a set of Neff’s pastels in the background, and the wooden stove that heats his studio is visible on the far right. The wooden blocks Neff uses to construct his sculptures would have ended up in the stove if they hadn’t had a visual appeal to the artist, who sets them near his palette and brushes paint on their surfaces from time to time.

NEO Geo artist Paul O’Keeffe

I visited Paul O’Keeffe’s studio, which was specifically designed and constructed for the backyard of his Cleveland Heights home, in mid-March and late June of last year. A beautiful natural light fills his workspace.

Paul O’Keeffe’s stash of acrylic.

Paul O’Keeffe’s stash of acrylic.

O’Keeffe purchases colored acrylic pieces that are rejects from improperly cut commercial orders. He layers the translucent sheets atop one another, creating new hues in the process.

The early stage of a distant silence XXX and XXI.

The early stage of a distant silence XXX and XXI.

When I visited O’Keeffe in June, he had begun work on his two newest sculptures in the exhibition, a distant silence XXX and XXXI. You can see the skeletons of those two works, which were constructed in part with materials from a botched job for a Victoria’s Secret store.

O’Keeffe’s method of combining individual components comes from an example set by sculptor David Smith. “Years ago, as a student, I came across photos of him laying out individual found metal elements on the floor prior to welding (and also composing with cardboard). My acrylic pieces are generated in a similar fashion although the sensibility is considerably different.”

NEO Geo artist Janice Lessman-Moss

I first visited Janice Lessman-Moss’ Kent studio in mid-March of last year, with a follow up visit at the end of May.

Sketches pinned to the wall in Janice Lessman-Moss’ studio.

Sketches pinned to the wall in Janice Lessman-Moss’ studio.

Pinned to the wall above her flat file are print-outs of digital sketches for the artist’s Random Walk series. The random walk theory, which is used to explain the unpredictability of the stock market’s rise and fall, serves as inspiration for the patterns that appear in works in this series, which Lessman-Moss weaves on a digital jacquard loom in her studio. None of the Random Walk weavings are on display in NEO Geo, but the work visible on the right in the above photograph, #420, is part of the series of tapestries created at the same industrial mill in North Carolina where the textiles in NEO Geo were woven.

Janice Lessman-Moss’ “crayon box.”

Janice Lessman-Moss’ “crayon box.”

On the opposite wall hangs what Lessman-Moss refers to as her “crayon box,” a tapestry that doubles as a palette for the colors the artist creates by instructing the industrial digital loom to weave threads in a particular order. She set up a corresponding digital palette in Photoshop, the program she uses to create her designs before transferring them into files for the digital loom using software called Pointcarre.

Janice Lessman-Moss sharing the "crayon-box" during her talk at the NEO Geo opening reception. Photo: Shane Wynn.

Janice Lessman-Moss sharing the “crayon box” during her talk at the NEO Geo opening reception. Photo: Shane Wynn.

Each of the many, many colors featured in the complex designs of the weavings on display in NEO Geo corresponds to a square on the crayon box. This tool, which hangs on the wall directly above the desk where the artist sits to design her tapestries, provides valuable insight into the work’s creation—insights best obtained through visits to the artist’s studio, the birthplace of the works of art.

Find out more about NEO Geo, on view at the Akron Art Museum through April 24, 2016. • View the NEO Geo exhibition catalog online.

2012 in Review

By: Bridgette Beard Klein, Communications Assistant


This image is from one of the most popular posts from our blog this year (and ever). Here the Inverted Q is shown through the Chromatic Vision Simulator’s Protanope filter. To view the Q’s typical appearance, visit the Akron Art Museum’s Online Collection.

2012 has been an exhilarating year for the Akron Art Museum. We continued to launch our new visual look, celebrated 90 years in the community, exhibited monumental art and made major leadership changes.

We really kicked off the year with our 90th anniversary celebration in February. The performance included abstract painter Al Bright in concert with the Jesse Dandy Band. In March, Ray Turner: Population opened featuring an ever-expanding series of portraits, including key Akronites from the University Park neighborhood and even some Akron Art Museum staff.

April and May saw the staff preparing for the sale of Cindy Sherman’s Untitled #96 at Christie’s Post War and Contemporary Art – Evening Sale on May 8, 2012. The money raised from the sale created a new acquisitions endowment. We retained another 1981 masterpiece by Cindy Sherman from the Centerfolds series, Untitled #93 (Black Sheets), subsequently named Sherman the 2011-2012 Knight Purchase Award recipient and purchased several works from her Bus Riders series.

Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui opened in June with the artist present in Akron! The Akron Art Museum was the first modern and contemporary art museum in the US to collect Anatsui’s work and is thrilled to organize the major traveling exhibition. Huffington Post recently called its presentation at the Brooklyn Museum one of “The 25 Most Anticipated Exhibitions of the New Year.” You can catch the exhibition on its national tour through 2014.

The summer sizzled with the always popular Downtown@Dusk concert series and the new to 2012 ArtCamp@Dusk for kids to enjoy while their parents listen and embarrassingly dance to music. In July, we launched our completely redesigned website and enacted two major admission changes. Children 17 years and younger are now admitted FREE to the museum’s galleries. Beginning in July, visitors receive FREE admission to the collection and exhibition galleries all day from 11 am – 9 pm, on the third Thursday of every month.

After 26 years as director, with one of the longest tenures of any art museum leader in the country, Dr. Mitchell D. Kahan announced to the Akron Art Museum’s Board of Trustees that his resignation, effective January 2, 2013, and assume the title of Director Emeritus. Janice Driesbach joined the staff in August after a yearlong national search, as the museum’s new Chief Curator and was named Interim Director in December.

The colder weather hasn’t slowed down this mammoth year. Sculpture exhibitions Adolph Gottlieb: Sculptor  and New Artifacts: Works by Brent Kee Young and Sungsoo Kim opened in late October.  In November, tribute was paid to Dr. Mitchell D. Kahan during a formal dinner on November 10 and a community day on November 11. Holiday mART expanded its hours to reach more people this year and the popular Island of Misfit Toys once again sold out.

You might think all of this is enough for one year, but think again. Just as many people were planning their final holiday shopping or how to best spend the time off with family, the Akron Art Museum announced a pledge from museum supporters Rick and Alita Rogers as the lead gift for the design and construction of its long awaited outdoor sculpture garden. The completed outdoor gallery and multi-use space will bear the name of Bruce and Susanne Rogers, Rick’s parents, who are among Akron’s most devoted community boosters.

From September to December, we added 131 new objects, many of which were donated in honor of Mitchell.  The museum’s commitment to photography holds strong and over half of the works in the collection are photographs. You can check out the museum’s collection at

As for the blog, some of the most popular posts have been The Q is Blue!, Staff Interview: Special Events Manager Sheri Stallsmith and Photographic Masks from the Collection.  We have some posts planned for the next couple of months that we can’t wait to share with you.

Don’t think the Akron Art Museum will rest on its laurel in 2013. As the search for a new director continues, the museum will open some amazing exhibitions and put on some great events.

 The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats pays tribute to award-winning author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats (1916–1983), the first to feature an African-American protagonist in modern full-color picture books and will open on March 16, 2013. The exhibition Draw Me a Story (February 9 – August 4, 2013) will celebrate Keats’s legacy and the power of visual literacy and multiculturalism. Elementary students from area schools will created collaborative picture books. The student artists will also meet and work with award-winning children’s book author and illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh, who will be here in the spring.

Drawn entirely from the museum’s collection, Danny Lyon: Bikeriders highlights one of the artist’s most celebrated bodies of works. Now, nearly 50 years after their creation, the images retain their original power and raw energy. Line Color Illusion: 40 Years of Julian Stanczak showcases paintings and prints collected by the Akron Art Museum since 1970. The exhibition documents both Julian Stanczak’s impressive career as a master of color and the museum’s longstanding commitment to his work.

Art and Ale returns this year on March 8 and the galleries will even be open for the first hour! Get your tickets now to take advantage of special pricing. Meanwhile, kids and teens will be delighted with our studio class offerings, but don’t wait to sign up because these classes are in demand.

As always, check out the website, Facebook, Twitter and this blog for the most up-to-date Akron Art Museum information.