Search Modern Luxury

Niki Woehler

Niki Woehler

FEATURES

The Art of Living

By Riki Altman-Yee, Nora Burba Trulsson, Nick Esquer and Teresa K. Traverse

Photos by Carl Schultz

11.19.18

These Valley creatives are adding unparalleled flavor to our growing arts scene, whether it’s on canvas, center stage... or beyond.

Niki Woehler
Step inside Niki Woehler’s Arcadia home, and it’s clear that she’s an artist. Her abstract canvases and resin panels are stacked deep in the kitchen; the living room floor is splattered with paint; the dining room has been converted to a studio; and her car—a Suburban—is fitted with special racks so she can personally deliver artwork to galleries that represent her. Woehler never intended to be a full-time artist. She was a full-tilt marketing executive with no art training who painted for herself. A former client goaded Woehler into taking her artwork seriously. In 2012, she quit marketing and devoted herself to creating works inspired by nature and weathered textures that sell in a nanosecond. Her paintings found their way into galleries across the West (in Scottsdale, at House of Anderson); scores of homes; and in corporate settings, like CBRE’s Phoenix headquarters, for which she created a 54-foot-long piece, and Indeed’s Scottsdale office, where she designed a custom logo art wall. At home, Woehler’s building a backyard studio now that her art career is bursting at the seams. “I’m never going to cover up the paint splatters inside my house, though,” she says. “They’re part of who I am.” –NBT

Bill Tonnesen
If you know anything about Bill Tonnesen, you know that nothing that comes out of his creative mind is ever “normal.” Tonnesen’s latest salvo on safe expectations is the Lavatory, a permanent experiential art project in a 16,000-square-foot building that opened last month. The six-room installation, inspired by projects like the Museum of Ice Cream and Santa Fe’s Meow Wolf, includes odes to the porcelain gods—like a fountain-style wall of flushing toilets, an all-white room covered in granulated sugar and populated with live mice, and a black room for which participants must sign a nondisclosure agreement before entering. The piéce de résistance? The Pit, the mother of all ball pits—filled neck-deep with 120,000 clear spheres—where turbines, sound and lighting change the vibe from volcanic cauldron to turbulent sea. Does it bother Tonnesen that some might find the Lavatory disturbing? “This is not for everybody,” he says. “I am interested in the bizarre. If you’re interested in finding your happy place, go to Disneyland.” $25-$35, 4700 N. 12th St. –NBT

Daniel Funkhouser

Daniel Funkhouser

Daniel Funkhouser
Daniel Funkhouser (@funkhouserfever) spends evenings and weekends working alone in his studio adjacent to Bentley Gallery in the Phoenix Warehouse District. Far from being the lone-wolf type, Funkhouser—an ASU BFA grad—has advanced his emerging artistic career through a series of collaborations and group exhibitions. Saved from being a starving artist, he stumbled into a day job in 2007 as a preparator for Scottsdale Public Art, where he’s worked on scores of installations, including the Canal Convergence festivals. Funkhouser’s branched out to do his own commissioned installations at Mesa Arts Center, SMoCA and Phoenix Art Museum, exploring a variety of mediums, and has been part of Chaos Theory, an invitational exhibition. More recently, he’s mentored other artists as a member of Artlink Artist Council and is donating art to the 2019 Art d’Core Gala, a fundraiser for Artlink, which organizes First Fridays and Art Detour in Phoenix. Even Funkhouser’s upcoming show of acrylic assemblages, Futureland AZ at Vision Gallery in Chandler is a collaboration with artist Sarah Hurwitz. “I have so many influences and projects,” Funkhouser says with a laugh, “but my work-life balance is terrible right now.” Jan. 8-Feb. 15 –NBT

Joe Willie Smith
Joe Willie Smith sometimes creates site-specific land art in empty city lots and steps back to allow man and nature to get involved. So it should come as no surprise to learn he sometimes does not even give his multimedia works formal titles—only codes with numbers and letters. “It’s good to just look at something and think what you think,” he explains. Perhaps this current laissez-faire attitude is an evolution stemming from his experience decades ago in Milwaukee where, he recalls, “African-American artists weren’t accepted.” So when Smith moved to Arizona in 1987 to become a graphic designer for the Arizona Republic, he pursued a dual career and began exhibiting personal works every chance he got. Some creations, many of which have ended up in private and public collections, comprise found objects he turns into small musical instruments. His KO MO—Not Knowing exhibit at Mesa Arts Center, includes 12 Stream of Consciousness paintings and a dozen of the aforementioned Sonic Sculptures, one of which features giant nuclear siren horns. Though museumgoers can listen to Smith playing some of the pieces via video, they will otherwise sit silently—with disquieting presence. Through Jan. 6 –RAY 

Vanessa Vasquez
When Scottsdale-native Vanessa Vasquez takes the Symphony Hall stage Jan. 25 for Arizona Opera’s production of Verdi’s masterpiece La Traviata, her angelic voice will likely travel through the audience members’ ears and straight into their hearts, especially since many of her family members, former vocal teachers, drama professors and choir directors will be in attendance. “A lot of them have never seen me in an operatic role,” she explains.  The Colombian-American soprano starlet says her childhood home was always filled with music, but opera never entered the picture until a college professor suggested she learn about—and follow the path of—its legends. Vasquez still was not entirely convinced until just a few years ago, when she accidentally caused a glass door to shatter while singing in the shower. Since then she has completed a four-year residency at the prestigious Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia and won a number of awards, but Vasquez says nothing compares to performing as lovestruck courtesan Violetta: “This is the role of a lifetime. I can’t think of a better homecoming.” Tickets from $30 –RAY

Ib Andersen

Ib Andersen

Ib Andersen
From overseeing rehearsals on one show to choreographing movements for another, it’s plain to see that Ib Andersen, Ballet Arizona’s artistic director, likes to keep things, well, moving. This hurried clip pushed the choreographer from his Danish roots to New York City, before, in 2000, he grand jetéed his way to the desert, where he’s injected touches of his European perspective and Balanchine-style technique. “Growing up in Denmark and being here for a long time has changed me,” notes Andersen, who will debut The Firebird—an original take on a Russian fairy tale—this February. The Firebird takes on a classic story arc of love and fantasy, and blends it with a dreamlike Space Age setting, spurred on by a score by Igor Stravinsky. Andersen is even hauling in a massive 120-foot-tall panoramic screen—think IMAX instead of Nijinsky—challenging the viewer to see ballet from a different perspective. “Hopefully, it’s going to be something that is very visually striking,” he says. “Why do something that you’ve already done before? It’s not interesting. Not to me, at least.” Tickets from $38, 2835 E. Washington St., Phoenix –NE

Geri Wright
Geri Wright is president and CEO of Act One, which partners with more than 70 local arts organizations, in addition to corporate luxury partners like Neiman Marcus and Kendra Scott, to provide families and children with artistic experiences. There are two programs available: Public library card holders can check out a Culture Pass, which offers two complimentary tickets to local performing and visual arts events and attractions; or the organization arranges field trips to professional theaters, museums, and music and dance performances for students attending Title I schools. Between the two programs, more 500,000 people in Arizona have access to the arts who would otherwise not participate. Since Wright started at Act One in May 2015, the budget has doubled; the staff has tripled; and the field trip program has expanded to serve 45 percent more children annually. Wright—who herself is not an artist—previously worked for the Heard Museum and Arizona Theater Company, where she discovered the impact the arts can have in our community. –TKT 

Toby Yatso
You would be hard-pressed to find a local actor with a better résumé than Toby Yatso. Since 2008, Yatso has served as the artist-in-residence at Phoenix Theatre. He also teaches musical theater performance at ASU’s School of Music, and serves as a regular performer, narrator and collaborator for The Phoenix Symphony. Just how does he juggle so many roles? “I just love it more than anything else,” says Yatso. “The No. 1 influencing factor is passion for what I’m doing and to always keep topping myself.” Yatso—who has received 15 ariZoni nominations for acting, directing, choreographing and music directing—has played roles ranging from Buddy in Elf: The Musical to beloved characters in Avenue Q and The Producers. Yatso credits Phoenix for being “such a young city” and providing artists with room to grow and find their niches as actors. “When I perform, I want to affect people,” says Yatso. “I want to give them a message of hope for whatever they might be struggling with.” Elf: The Musical, Nov. 14-Dec. 30, tickets from $36, Phoenix Theatre’s Mainstage Theatre, 1825 N. Central Ave., –TKT