By Augusta Olsen
Laura Vranes and John McIntyre share many passions, and one of them is a passion for collecting contemporary art. This month the librarian and the banker share their enthusiasm for street art with Omaha, showing their collection of prints and original artwork at the Hardware Gallery at 1801 Vinton St. The “NFS (Not for Sale)” show will feature selections from the Omaha couple’s sizable international street art collection.
The collection is a veritable primer on the street art movement of the early 2000s. The couple began collecting street art in 2007, expanding their interest in contemporary pop art. They now own approximately 70 pieces of street art, which makes up about half of their entire art collection.
Their collection started in earnest with their first wedding anniversary. “His birthday is Oct. 3, we got married Oct. 6, and my birthday is Oct. 7. So we decided for every year we were just going roll everything together and buy a really nice art piece, so that’s how it started. Then I kind of got bit by the art bug with street art when I saw Banksy’s work.”
“A lot of these pieces I started collecting when street art was just coming into vogue, so people didn’t really know what it was, didn’t care about it,” said Vranes. “Gratefully, I found it early enough and snagged these pieces when nobody wanted them,” she said.
“Our collection is full of whimsy,” said Vranes in the midst of her West Omaha home, which is a practically a pop art museum, with interesting and surprising images covering the walls of every room. “We don’t take ourselves seriously,” said Vranes standing next to a toilet seat cover dispenser from a public bathroom that was tagged by San Francisco artist Twist. “We take art seriously, but we also like to have a lot of fun with it,” she said.
In addition to prints by iconic American street artist, Shepard Fairey, the couple has acquired a few unique pieces by Banksy. They own one of Banksy’s famous tenner notes and an actual British street sign that has been stenciled with one of Banksy’s portly, eminent rats.
The Banksy pieces have yet to be authenticated, though, because as the Banksy website explains, in typical Banksy fashion, you can a send a piece in to them to be authenticated, but you might not get it back. “We’re just having fun with it,” said Vranes about their Banksy pieces.
The couple owns many signed, limited edition prints by the controversial artist, Mr. Brainwash. Vranes started collecting his work in 2008, two years before the movie, “Exit Through the Gift Shop” chronicled his rise to fame. In addition to these well-known names, the couple also owns work by Rene Gagnon, Fake, Dolk, Imbue and Static, just to name a few.
One of the standout pieces of their collection is by Btoy, a street artist from Spain. “Deep Blue Dream” is an epoch canvas, with a giant acrylic Judy Garland imposed over spray-painted graffiti. Btoy’s multi-layered stencil technique produces vividly shaded and contoured portraits for a unique street art style.
McIntyre and Vranes chose this canvas for their combined birthday gift last month, and an awesome choice it was, well-representing the emerging Btoy, who is a bit of a rarity as a female street artist. “I would see her carving her own niche, very much an individual artist,” said McIntyre.
Another interesting piece is an actual stencil of “Ready in the Can” by British artist Hutch. “He actually sold me one of his stencils he uses in his work,” said Vranes. “He was wonderful to deal with, the nicest man,” said Vranes.
“I’ve made a lot of friends with a lot of the artists,” she said. “They’re just wonderful. You’ll email them, and they will email you right back and they’re so friendly and want to chat, it’s really neat.”
“Technology really opens it up,” said McIntyre.
“I credit my library experience with helping to build this collection because I am ruthless when it comes to searching, I love research. By doing a lot of research, I found a lot of artists,” said Vranes.
McIntyre and Vranes hope to change some opinions about street art by sharing their collection. “A lot of people see it as graffiti, they are similar, but they are definitely different,” said McIntyre.
“I don’t think people understand how fun street art is,” said Vranes. “And how whimsical it can be, yet also how political it can be, all at the same time. It really hits you hard sometimes with the messages they’re trying to convey. It really makes you think. There are some messages you just can’t ignore with street art.”
“It’s grown into art,” said McIntyre. “It’s become its own animal, and so that is something I think that’s very interesting to watch.”
“Street art is still very affordable, so if this is something you really like, street art is something that people can still afford and really enjoy and have a lot of fun with it,” said Vranes.
The couple also owns many contemporary pieces by Omaha artists. They are very excited to add an original piece by Gerard Pefung to their street art collection, as they purchased a canvas by Pefung this summer. Pefung will be at the opening reception of “NFS (Not for Sale)” Friday night with a special limited edition print that actually will be for sale.
Visitors to the Hardware Gallery will also have the opportunity to win a signed Shepard Fairey print and a Mr. Brainwash print Friday. Vranes and McIntyre will raffle these two pieces at the Friday night opening for free, offering raffle tickets to everyone who attends the show.