Creative Catalysts Driving Art in Central Oklahoma - 405 Magazine

Creative Catalysts Driving Art in Central Oklahoma

All art is personal, but every person can be an inspiration. In painting as a cathartic means of healing, in wearable ceramic celebrations of the female form, in photography rooted in an imperfect focus, in emotionally resonant music, these Oklahomans are individually helping to shape their state’s artistic voice.

Central Oklahoma Continues Its Transformation Into A More Diverse, Eclectic And Cosmopolitan Destination.

Picture the Devon Tower punctuating the Oklahoma City skyline like an
arm raised in triumph as the Thunder fans roar below in Chesapeake Arena. Bricktown, once a cemetery of abandoned buildings, has been transformed into a vibrant destination for fine food, live music, horse and carriage rides and RedHawks baseball at the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. As we continue the collective evolution of our area, the transformative natures and journeys of five talented Oklahoma artists characterize the creative catalysts presently shaping and re-shaping our state’s artistic vision and voice.
Meet them here.

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Zach Burns has always had an interest in photography and visual art, so it comes as no surprise that he earned his Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Photography and Design from Oklahoma City University in 2010. Since then, Burns has exhibited his photography across Oklahoma and has works in numerous private collections. A particularly intriguing aspect of Burns’ photographic oeuvre is that he is legally blind in his left eye, which inherently adds a unique perspective on the world. While some might consider this a challenge for a photographer and designer, Burns has embraced his “unfocused” view of the world and made it central to his photography exhibitions.

By juxtaposing an unfocused image next to an image that is more sharply focused, Burns reveals to the viewer insights into his visual experience. In addition to his candor about his condition, he also has a positive sense of humor about himself. “I am a half-blind, curly-haired, freelance artist and illustrator improving our galaxy through photography, design and geekery,” he says. While experimenting with focus in gallery settings, Burns often creates an interactive experience, offering the viewer an active role in the exhibition.

Burns is currently preparing for a photography exhibition at IAO to be held this spring. However, he says he is moving away from blurred focus experience, which he worked on exclusively for two or three years. “This show will be more about landscapes and urbanization and the clashes between them.”

Photos courtesy Zach burns

Burns and his brother, Jacob Leighton Burns, grew up on movies. “We watched tons of movies and admired all of the creative things photographers could do with composition,” he says. So the brothers decided to collaborate on their own film projects. After successfully completing a series of short films, the brothers began producing their first feature, “The Fable of Shannon Cable,” written and directed by friend and frequent collaborator Vinnie Hogan, and screened at the Austin Film Festival in 2013. The Burns brothers’ current feature-length collaboration, called “Electric Nostalgia,” is written and directed by Jacob, while Zach has been producing the film along with Hogan. Zach also has been the on-set photographer and head of props, among other jobs. “Making a movie on a small budget is very difficult – you have to wear many hats,” Burns says.

 According to “Electric Nostalgia’s” trailer, “Unfamiliar memories haunt a young woman after she has been brought back from the dead, but in a different body. How is that possible? Robots.”

“What distinguishes this film from other sci-fi films is that rather than focusing on large conspiracies and action … we are focusing on the personal implications in someone’s life if they suddenly woke up in a body that was completely different from their previous body; what that would do to them and their relationships with other people.”

Among the talented local cast are Page Tudyk, Lauren Analla, J. Alan Davidson and Stephen Goodman. “Finding and utilizing local talent was a must on this production, and I truly believe we found some of the best Oklahoma has to offer.” Much of the filming has taken place in and around Oklahoma City, with a large portion conducted in the Paramount building on Film Row. “Melodie Garneau, the owner of the Paramount, was very nice to work with, allowing us to take over nearly an entire floor of the building for a week,” Burns says.

The Burns brothers have finished filming “Electric Nostalgia” and are now in post-production. To find out more about the film, check out To see more of Burns’ unique perspective on the world as seen through the lens of a camera, visit

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Exercising The Artistic Muscle

Born in Mexico’s Ciudad Guzman and raised in Oklahoma City, Eleazar Velazquez has been drawing since the time a crayon was placed in his hand. He vividly remembers, “Drawing and doodling on walls just like the great artists of the 21st century.” Velazquez also recalls sitting in his art teacher’s class when he heard the news that he had placed as runner-up in a statewide art contest. “It felt like a Matisse had been sold,” he says. It was the first time he had ever won an award for his art. However, based on his current work in acrylic on wood, drawing and fashion sketching, that award will not be the last.

Velazquez attended Millwood High School in Oklahoma City, and his passion for creativity blossomed in art classes. He later attended the School of Architecture at the University of Oklahoma. Although he embraced his love for architectural design (and still does), his professors felt differently about his drawings. “My professors kept telling me that my work was ‘too artistic,’” he says. Discouraged that his work was not compatible and practical with architecture, Velazquez left school for a job at a bank. “I had lost some of my passion for art during that time, but I kept drawing and sketching on deposit slips and loose paper.”

Although he learned line work in architecture school, Velazquez still considers himself a self-taught artist who has learned many techniques through experimentation and research. “I treat my art like a muscle,” he says. “As long as I keep exercising it every day then I can continue to get stronger as an artist.”

His admiration for Mexican artists Frida Kahlo’s brightly colored paintings and Diego Rivera’s murals has made the most impact in his work today. “The Power of My Soul” is one of Velazquez’s earlier works, featuring a portrait of Kahlo painted on an old piece of plywood. The piece is one of three portraits of Kahlo in his current collection.

“Frida was famous for her self-portraits, so I studied her particularly to develop my skills in painting faces. But I also see Frida as a warrior. I admire her so much because of the tragedy she endured in her life, and yet she still accomplished so much. I have developed her in various different artistic forms and have created a modern Frida.”

Velazquez’s work appears to be becoming more tribal over time as he draws inspiration from warriors, such as Kahlo. Nevertheless, some of Velazquez’s strongest work is also in line drawings. “One Night in Paris” reflects a bold and abstract style in Velazquez’s drawings, while “Twin Flames” appears to reflect a more controlled line, perhaps influenced by his architectural training. “Fashion sketches by Alexander McQueen are also really inspiring to me. At some point I hope to bring some of my designs to life in fashion.” Locally, Velazquez most admires the work of Amanda Bradway, owner of DNA Gallery in The Plaza District. “I also see her work as tribalesque.”

Currently, Velazquez is preparing for the Deluxe Winter Market 2014
(, to be held on November 29 and 30 at Leadership Square in downtown Oklahoma City. “I appreciate that all the arts and crafts in this show are handmade by the artists, most of them being local. As an artist, I hope to provoke the mind and share my artwork with my community. My idea is not to create perfection, but to feel the imperfections we experience in everyday life and transform them into true beauty.”

See more at

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Art as Therapy

The catharsis of painting is the creative catalyst for Soni Parsons’ work. Emotion guides the Edmond resident’s paintbrush more than anything else. “I started painting for myself as therapy after my father died,” she says. “I was very depressed and had not painted in a long time. My doctor suggested that I start again as a way to express my emotions and get them out of my body and onto the canvas.”

Parsons began with a self-portrait – a painting that she does not exhibit, but one that she keeps as a reminder of who she was during that time in her life, and the way she felt. “When I look at one of my pieces, I know where I was physically, as well as emotionally, when I did each one. My art is filled with joy, sorrow, anger, rage and secrets. Each piece is a roadmap through the journey of my life.”

Parsons’ artistic visual memoir continued to evolve in art classes led by one of the great local artists, Bert Seabourn, which were held at City Arts Center (now Oklahoma Contemporary). Parsons noticed that when she had complex situations to resolve, her work appeared more impressionistic or abstract, reflecting her lack of clarity. When those situations were resolved then her art appeared more detailed and deliberate. “In each work of art goes a little piece of my heart and soul,” Parsons says. “It’s more than just paint and canvas; it’s filled with emotions, stress and sometimes even tears.”

Parsons enjoys working with recycled materials, particularly mannequin body parts from clothing store displays (although she prefers the torsos have no heads). Once Parsons artistically interprets the pieces, the mannequins become sculptural works, some of which convey beauty as well as emotion. One such torso is covered in old computer parts that spell “Escape Reality.” Other torsos evoke elegance in design or simply a mood through color.

When Parsons’ three children left home after high school, she began a series of paintings called “Under the Same Moon,” which she says helped with the physical and emotional anxiety she experienced in her empty nest. “I started the moon series to take comfort in that no matter where we all are, we are all looking at the same moon.”

The therapeutic healing Parsons has experienced through art over the years led her to the University of Oklahoma where she earned her Masters in Human Relations with an emphasis on Counseling. She currently is working towards earning an LPC license, after which she will focus on more training in art therapy. “Art therapy is very different from art classes because there is much less formalization,” she says. “It is not so much about the finished product and more about the healing process that goes on in between.”

Parsons is presently creating an art space at Children’s Hospital where kids and parents can gather to alleviate some of the tension of being in the hospital by creating art. “Sometimes there’s not a voice or words to explain what someone is feeling inside,” Parsons says. “So if a person needs to purge their emotions, expressing them on a canvas or any art project may help them feel better.”

See more of Parsons’ work at

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A Ceramic Journey 

Nicole Moan’s ceramic tiling takes the viewer on a sensual journey. Inside her home, the tiling transforms entire rooms into other worlds … walking into the bathroom is like diving into the ocean. The underwater seascape swirls with glistening seashells and fish. The texturing in the water tiling is dense, like a three-dimensional Van Gogh painting magnified into a mural. “The brilliance and texture of the tile don’t just invite viewers to brush their fingers over the crevices and curves; they demand it,” Moan says.

In other parts of the room, the tiling emerges from the underwater wonderland and into a forest. Tall trees climb the walls, shimmering in ceramic glaze. The spacious living room floor is fully tiled resembling an abstract rug design. Ceramic wall hangings also feature underwater scenes as well as abstract human forms, perhaps in innate homage to her father, the painter Albert Riddle, who paints in a cubist style similar to Picasso. Most distinguishable in all of Moan’s ceramic work is a respectful reflection of nature. Moan’s mother Deborah Elders Riddle’s paintings express this same appreciation of nature, although in a more realistic style. “My parents worked large and used brilliant colors,” Moan explains. “This was a constant source of inspiration to me in my work.” Her distinctive perspective on nature, however, reveals a much more playful spirit, which she says her three young children continuously inform, inspire and invigorate.

A typical driver might never imagine that the crossing guard, wearing a neon vest and holding a “STOP” sign, may very well be at a Carnality Ball later that night wearing little more than a ceramic corset she has made from the same clay with which she tiles. Moan’s ceramic corsets have become her most visible work, most often seen on a runway at a fashion show, at an art gallery opening or on stage as a costume in a theatre, opera or dance performance. She has transformed corsets, once symbols of male oppression to literally bind women into the desired hourglass form, and made them wearable art.

Photo courtesy Nicole Moan

After a decade of experimentation and imagination, Moan’s corsets have become signature couture, often sexy and seductive, and instantly identifiable as her distinct “balance between the functional and the whimsical.” At first glance, the corsets may not even appear ceramic. The gleam from the glaze may be the only indication that the corset is not made from the traditional fabric, stiffened over the centuries with dry reed and “whalebone” (actually baleen from whale mouths), and later replaced by steel and plastic. A closer look reveals a vibrant “Peacock” corset may be completed with peacock feathers. Another glimpse into her friskiness is exposed in her “Calamity Jane” corset, upon which a ceramic, hand-molded pistol is mounted on each breast.

Experiencing Moan’s journeys in clay are well worth the trip. She maintains her intrinsic whimsy in her new series inspired by “Alice in Wonderland.” She says, “I don’t much care for trophy animal heads hanging on a wall, so I have created my own version of wall hangings featuring characters from the story, such as the Cheshire Cat, Mad Hatter and White Rabbit.” Moan is also currently unveiling a new line of wearable ceramics devoted to mermaids. And in her tireless tiling work, she has extended the seascape inside her home to the exterior of her house. Once completed, one need not go to a fashion show, art opening or theatrical performance to enjoy Moan’s work. Anyone who happens to be passing her house will be treated to the artist’s journey under the sea.

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Photo by Keisha Register

Telling a Story

Samantha Crain’s third album, “Kid Face,” was released in February on Ramseur Records. Shortly afterward, it was nominated for three Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards for Best Folk Album, Best Producer for John Vanderslice and Single of the Year for “Somewhere All the Time.” Rolling Stone magazine recently named Crain as an artist to watch and anyone who has ever seen her perform would agree. The sincerity in her singing as she strums her acoustic guitar offers a hypnotic experience that flows like a river – smooth on the surface where the water runs deepest. Adding to Rolling Stone’s compliment, Crain, who is of Choctaw heritage, is also an “Artist to Hear.” Her lyrics tell compelling stories, beginning with her childhood in Shawnee when she taught herself to play guitar and wrote songs based on short stories she had written in high school.

Crain attended Oklahoma Baptist University, then at age 19, she signed up for an off-campus study program on Martha’s Vineyard. The program earned her a few college credits, but more importantly, it gave her the courage to pack up her guitar and hit the road. Since then, Crain comes home to Oklahoma as often as she can, but most often to perform. This month alone, Crain kicks off her November tour in Atlanta and performs all the way to Portland, with stops in nearly every major city in between. She did manage to pause long enough to answer a few questions …

Photo courtesy Michael Cooper

Which of your song(s) are most rooted in or inspired by your life in Shawnee – what themes in your songs are rooted in home for you? 
My earlier songs feel a little more inspired by life in Shawnee, as anything I was writing after that was written in the midst of a great deal of traveling, which really has become my life. “Devils in Boston” from “Songs in the Night” is about the shock of going to New York City alone, after a life of fairly rural existence. “The River” from “The Confiscation” (her 2007 debut EP) is a bit of an allusion to the harmful side of religious extremism and fundamentalism – and I experienced a lot of that growing up in Shawnee. “Rising Sun,” also from “Songs in the Night,” is definitely a melancholy love song with the fields of Pottawatomie County as the setting. After a while though, traveling and my life outside Oklahoma became my muse. 

What themes in lyrics and musicality have emerged since you left Shawnee and started touring?
At first, when I started leaving home more, loneliness and longing was a very apparent theme in my songs, but then that turned into independence and the songs started becoming a bit more strong-willed, which, in fact, is completely reliant on my growth as a woman. Musically, being outside of Shawnee, being outside my comfortable zone, challenged me to think different about chord progressions and strumming. I stepped more into a rock territory as far the actual songwriting goes, and sorta forgot all about the three-chord folk song for a while. I feel like I’ve come back around to that at times though.

Who and/or what are some of your greatest inspirations for your music?
Jason Molina for his vulnerability; Neil Young, for his individuality; Woody Guthrie, for his progressiveness; Lhasa de Sela and Marc Bolan, for their voices; Elliott Smith, for his all-around genius in crafting a song; The Beatles and Wilco, for melodies; Joni Mitchell, for her inventiveness; Sam Cooke, for his soul; and Bob Dylan and Conor Oberst, for their lyrics.

Photo courtesy Todd Roeth

What are your favorite songs to perform live and why? 
Right now, a new song I have called “Elk City” is my favorite to play live. It’s a quiet fingerpicked song with a long and full story, so it feels like an intimate story time when I play it and I like that about it. Over the years though, “Lions” and “Santa Fe” have been great fun because the audience seems to really like them and also because I can always take myself back to the place where I wrote those particular songs and re-experience my own life.

What is one of the most important things you have learned about yourself, others, and/or your music during your career? 
Bands and songwriters come and go like new days, but if you really want to stick around, just write good songs, be kind, be honest and don’t drink too much. Longevity is the only part of a music career that is actually up to you. Fame, fortune, popularity – those things are all decided by outside forces, by fate and luck. But longevity, that is something you can be sure of if you work hard and, in the words of Warren Zevon, “enjoy every sandwich.”

What are you exploring creatively at the moment?
 Are you working on an album or with a particular artist?  What are you looking forward to sharing with us – your audience – in the near future? I’m almost done writing songs for my next album, which I’ll be recording in December. I’ll be working again with producer John Vanderslice (who did “Kid Face”), at his studio Tiny Telephone out in San Francisco. I’ll also be using the MagikMagik Orchestra to really make my vision of this next album a reality. I am really excited to hear the finished album by Small Houses. I just added background vocals to that album earlier this summer. I also added vocals to Dylan Stewart’s new album, so I’m excited for that release as well. 

See tour dates and more at  

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