Saturday, September 10, 2016

Yours Truly

Tomorrow we're going to be pouring the concrete platform for the permanent sculpture commemorating Raymond Thunder-Sky's cultural status here in the area.  I've written so many times about Raymond sometimes I think I'm really not writing about him anymore, just telepathically conveying what he means to me over and over until the meaning becomes my status of things, the way I hope people see the way I think.  Raymond, to me, was a godsend because he helped me in many ways imagine and re-imagine what I wanted to make happen in the world, as well as how to survive what happened once things get put into place.  

That may sound odd, but Raymond was a specter of survival more than anything else; he used the world to his purposes and found ways to keep going even though the world often seemed not to care.  His ghostliness, his weirdness, made him more powerful and yet also easy to dismiss, and his art, elemental and hilarious renderings of destruction and madness and creativity done in Magic Markers, has that same quality:  some people look at what he did as endless unnecessary doodles, others as social commentary, and then others (like me) simply a vibrant, anarchic diary of existence translated through a need to be seen while disappearing.    

Here's the official data about the sculpture:

“The Raymond Thunder-Sky Spirit Tower”
The Center for Great Neighborhoods

“The Raymond Thunder-Sky Spirit Tower” is an outdoor sculpture created by renowned international sculptor Tom Tsuchiya, commemorating the life and legacy of Raymond Thunder-Sky, a Native American artist (also labeled with a developmental disability) who traveled around the region dressed as a construction worker and clown, drawing construction and demolition sites in Cincinnati, Dayton, and Northern Kentucky.  He left behind over 2300 drawings after his death in 2004, and these drawings, along with many of his tool-boxes, costumes and other items, are archived at Thunder-Sky, Inc., a gallery opened in his name in 2009 in Cincinnati.  Mr. Tsuchiya has completed many private and public sculpture commissions, including statues of Cincinnati Reds players at Great American Ball Park, completed in 2004.  In 2009, he was commissioned to create the "Madden Most Valuable Protectors Award,” the trophy that is annually given to the National Football League's best offensive line.  Other works have been exhibited at Cincinnati's Fountain Square, New York City's Grand Central Terminal, and Washington D.C.'s National Mall.  On September 15, 2016, 4 to 7 pm, “The Raymond Thunder-Sky Spirit Tower” will be unveiled at the old Hellmann Lumber Mill at the corner of Fisk and MLK (formerly 12th street) in Covington, the new office complex for the Center for Great Neighborhoods.  During the unveiling ceremony featuring Tom Tsuchiya with give a short talk about the creation of the sculpture, as well as what Mr. Thunder-Sky meant to his creative process.  As well, inside the Center of Great Neighborhood’s new offices, works by local artists commemorating Mr. Thunder-Sky’s legacy will be presented, as well as a video documenting an educational program that took place at the Carnegie this summer in which Mr. Thunder-Sky’s drawings were used as inspiration for short plays.  “Demolition Man: Selected works from the Raymond Thunder-Sky Archives,” the first retrospective of Mr. Thunder-Sky’s works since his passing in 2004, opens April 28, 2017 at the Carnegie.  All of Mr. Thunder-Sky’s drawings can be viewed at    

Bill met Raymond back in 1999.  He introduced me to Raymond's drawings before I got to meet the man himself, and I was kind of blown away by the simplicity of his art's philosophy and execution. Bill and I were members of an artists collective in Cincinnati and so we were able to curate/sponsor Raymond's first show of drawings.  From that a lot of things unfurled, including a relationship with the great Antonio Adams, lots and lots of shows, eventually founding a non-profit called Visionaries + Voices and opening a studio in Essex Studios in Walnut Hill which was modeled on the artists collective we were in.  And then V+V transforming into an organization/studio solely about artists with disabilities, and then Raymond passing away in 2004, and Bill and I helping V+V to grow into 2 facilities/programs with a staff and clientele.  And then figuring out we needed to keep Raymond somehow in the mix, in 2009, we left V+V and started Thunder-Sky, Inc. in order to reclaim that sense of art without labels, harkening back to that moment when Bill first showed me those Raymond drawings in 1999, using that nostalgia and stubbornness to keep ideas and aesthetics in the mix without the  diagnostic/programmatic/charity overlay.  

For seven years we've kept it going at Thunder-Sky, Inc.:  exhibits and stunts and events that feature artists of all socioeconomic, cultural, educational, etc. backgrounds showing what they can do under the regal banner of a Native American construction-worker dressed up like a clown with a tool-box of markers, getting a kick out of how people build things only to tear it all down and rebuild.  Rinse and repeat.

And now a great sculptor named Tom Tsuchiya has generously created a wonderful monument to Raymond.  When we pour the concrete tomorrow (ironically on the anniversary of 9/11, which is completely unintended and yet kind of brilliant without being brilliant), I'll be thinking of Raymond Thunder-Sky not as a memory but as a force of nature, a weird silent asteroid who came through this area and paved the way forward for a lot of human beings, including yours truly.

To Raymond.

Below are photos with captions of some of the history of Raymond's life, and the history of the sculpture.  

1999:  Raymond with Paul Rowland and Antonio Adams outside the Base Gallery in Over the Rhine, where this whole shebang started.

Raymond drawing, with a mention of Covington, Kentucky.

Antonio with a print of a drawing of Raymond by David Mack, circa 2012.

Drawing of the concrete platform and the Raymond Thunder-Sky Spirit Tower by Sculptor Tom Tsuchiya.

Tom with a replica of the Spirit Tower.

Plague for the Raymond Thunder-Sky Spirit Tower.  David Wecker was one of the first journalists to write about Raymond.

Tom Tsuchiya's plan-out for the sculpture.

Raymond in Chicago, by the then-named Sears Tower...