Saturday, June 27, 2015


So why do we keep on doing Thunder-Sky, Inc.?  We're 6 years in now, and sometimes it feels like a never-ending cycle of chores -- news releases and Facebook posts and nails into walls and spackle and paint and bathroom cleaner and paper-towels and buying beer and wine and pop and ice, all in the name of curating the best and weirdest and sweetest art shows we can pull together, 6 times a year.  What is it now?  33 shows so far, with maybe about the same number installed in other galleries and places across the region.  God knows we don't do it for the cash.  Thunder-Sky, Inc. is all non-profit, all volunteer, all kind of makeshift and holy and silly and serious and sarcastic simultaneously.  It's about Raymond Thunder-Sky sure, but I think what's evolved from the initial desire to keep Raymond in the mix is this:
Antonio Adams.  He met Raymond the same time Bill and I did, and he was with us through the whole V+V evolution, and when we had to find an escape and a life-raft from the whole complicated V+V thing he came with us.  The life-raft was that space next to N-Vision, next to the Comet, 4573 Hamilton Avenue, Northside.  And in those six years Antonio has found a voice deeper and more hilarious and smarter and assured than ever before.  He uses the space during the week as a studio.  He calls "Artist's Meetings" to order on Saturdays, whether other artists are there or not.  He creates his own sense of super-stylish chic through costume and custom, always looking forward to next year.  And look at those gloves.  Damn.
Last night we opened our 34th in-house gig called "History Channel:  New Art from Old Art," and as usual the opening was joyous, off-kilter, clumsy, sweet, perfect.  I screwed up the wall-text with using the wrong abbreviation for "Price on Request," and Bill had a cow.  But despite that (or perhaps because of it) it was still hilariously what always happens:  lots of people from all kinds of different backgrounds, creeds, classes, etc., hanging out, walking around, making conversation, laughing.  There was a rainbow outside above the joint for a little while too, kind of like the 5:4 decision given its own God-blessed neon light.  Antonio invited his mom and sister and they all showed, and he got costumed and held court awaiting their presence.  Some artists from a studio in Hamilton called InsideOut, a place, like V+V, for artists with developmental disabilities, were there, totally enjoying their little bit of spotlight, and their excitement kind of got to me in the same way seeing Antonio holding court gets me.  They were all excited to see their art-history-inspired art on our humble white walls.  I truly loved the work.  Loved Cassie Sullivan's quilted Warhol "Marilyns" and Alicia Jones' "Frida Kahlo" painting, an astute rendering of the artist as both goddess and cartoon and David Campbell's beautiful and fragile and kind of satiric take on Grant Woods' "American Gothic" sour-pusses...    Hanging with the InsideOut-ers was a flashback to the days when Bill and I were pulling together gigs for the artists with disabilities we'd stumble upon doing out regular work, that sense of discovery and bliss, like art can truly matter when you let everything else go. 
The other artists we've gotten to know through Thunder-Sky, Inc., some labeled, some not, were there last night too, hanging out.  Marc Lambert, super-genius painter of sci-fi visions on ceiling tiles, contributed an archive of Styrofoam pharaohs and a couple ceiling-tile Sistine-Chapel fist-bumps to "History Channel," and he came to the opening with his whole extended family all dolled up and pleasant and affable.  Robert McFate did a great Cincy riff on Hopper's "Nighthawks," and Emily Brandehoff came up with some great historical zingers, the best of which combines Goya and the snack-meat product Slim Jim's.  It's to die for.  Scott Carney merged Japanese nautical art with Peter Max.  Alex Bartenberger Rothko'ed it up.  Avril Thurman took on Jenny Holzer in the best teletype kind of way.  Dale Jackson turned Yoko Ono's instructions from Grapefruit into gorgeous recipe cards.  And Antonio took on Da Vinci,  Michelangelo, Thomas Hart Benton, all in a deluxe super-Antonio manner.
It's all like that:  arbitrary, heart-felt, odd, but exactly what it should be. 
We're not creating anything institutional or pretentious or even practical at Thunder-Sky, Inc.  We are not building it to last, because nothing really does.  Just take a look at Raymond's drawings and you'll get that doom validated and made fun of.  What we do at Thunder-Sky, Inc. is very momentary and slap-happy because it has to be:  we only want what is authentically here, weird enough to tickle us, solidly made, simply presented, but also nutty enough to not be like anything else.  
And then everybody gets together and eats potato chips.  And drinks some beer and wine and pop.
Last night was such a great example of why we do it.  So thanks to everybody who does it with us. 
And then when we got home on CNN President Obama was singing "Amazing Grace." 

Saturday, June 20, 2015


I'm not going to mention his name.  Not going to call him a name either.  Just what he was:  young white male.  What he did:  walked into a church, sat among 13 or so prayer service attendees for an hour, accepting their kindness, and then shooting 9 of them dead. 
One of the dead was named Sharonda Singleton, and these are her children Chris and Camryn pictured above.  The picture is from a memorial service for their mother at the school where she was a coach.  What Sharonda's children said at that memorial was this:  "We're full of love.  We already forgive him."  
They were able to communicate a grace that's impossible to explain just by simply saying those eight words unflinchingly, with humility, with a detachment from the world and its furies and anguish.  They weren't hiding or lying by saying those words.  You could tell it was a part of who they were, who their mother willed and helped them to be.  It is a moment I don't think I'll ever forget, just that snippet of news footage shining out of all of the nastiness and horror of what happened.  The simplicity of their grace and mercy.
I'm not religious.  But I really want to be sometimes.  And I felt like this is one of those times when I can be, when I feel God for real. 
The young white male has been quoted as saying the church members that night were so kind to him that he almost  could not go through with his plan.  But he did.
Here's a Mahatma Gandhi quote:  "I know, to banish anger altogether from one's breast is a difficult task.  It cannot be achieved through pure personal effort.  It can be done only by God's grace."
There you go.  A perfect flesh-and-blood example of God's grace.  Those two beautiful kids, letting us know how foolish and horrible the world is by not being a part of it, and looking out with love and forgiveness to allow all of us a chance to witness how God is beyond understanding and yet possibly the only way to stay completely sane.

Monday, June 8, 2015

A Little Drag

Emily Brandehoff's take on Goya.

Marc Lambert's take on van Gogh.

Antonio Adams' take on da Vinci.
Why not go for the gusto?

"Carnival is a pageant without footlights and without a division into performers and spectators. In carnival everyone is an active participant, everyone communes in the carnival act… The laws, prohibitions, and restrictions that determine the structure and order of ordinary, that is non-carnival, life are suspended during carnival: what is suspended first is hierarchical structure and all the forms of terror, reverence, piety, and etiquette connected with it… or any other form of inequality among people."  From Mikhail Bakhtin's Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics.

Since starting this whole thing with Visionaries + Voices (V+V) back in the day, I always wanted to focus on the way art made by artists who are disconnected from the "restrictions that determine the structure and order of ordinary [...] life" is packaged and seen and thought about, and one of the best ways, at least from my POV, is to locate it right smack-dab in the middle of the restrictions.  One manner of defining "outsider artists" is to assume they have no connection to art history, that narrative and thoroughfare and etiquette through which credentialed "insider artists" often enter into careers, or at least shows.  In fact that definition is often celebrated by both ends of the spectrum:  by outsider art enthusiasts gloating over an artist's disenfranchisement and therefore his/her "power" in that realm, and by insider art critics who dabble a little bit in outsider-art criticism when there's a big museum show featuring some of it, wherein outsiders artists are cast as heroic self-taught "geniuses," beyond the "need" for education or edification or inspiration outside of their own little screwy worlds. 

In 2007, one of the first big gigs we did as V+V was "Pop Life:  Outsider Artists and the Pop Idea" at the University of Cincinnati Galleries.  Basically we took Andy Warhol's oeuvre and used it as a resource and confidence-builder for artists at the studio to kind of relocate themselves beyond "Outsiderland." This intervention was pretty conventional and yet kind of messed-up too, allowing participating artists a place where they were able to find a little piece of the world free of the "terror, reverence, piety, and etiquette connected with hierarchical structures."  It was a joyous thing to me to witness:  all that art being birthed from the heard of Zeus/Warhol, positing Andy as an outsider in multiple incarnations (gay and working class, just to start).  A review in one of the local papers stated:  "Outsider art is controversial. Some theorists claim that 'pure' outsider art can only be made when the artist hasn't been exposed to art history or contemporary culture. But that belief assumes that somewhere there exists some Eden-like state, chaste and unmolested, and forgets that even things like art history and contemporary culture are arbitrary. Some might call Aboriginal art outsider art without considering the fact that Aboriginal artists have history and culture; it just doesn't look like ours."  The writer tries really hard and with a lot of genuine sweetness there, but she still doesn't get it.  Kudos for trying anyway.  It's not about "their" history and culture "looking like ours."  It's our culture and history.  Period. 

Oh well.

In 2009, we did it again at the Cincinnati Art Museum, with a show called "Matisse & Picasso:  a Visionary Exploration."  This one had the same strategy as "Pop Life," but we emphasized the inspirations taken on by Matisse and Picasso back when they were formulating their versions of Modernism -- as in lifting ever so lovingly from African sculptors and residents of insane asylums, etc.  In flipping that script a little, we tried to figure out how artists we were supporting had a powerful place to work from, outside of being "educated" about art history.  They have a claim to make.  We did a little slightly saccharine but well intended video for this gig.  You can check it out here:  "Matisse & Picasso: A Visionary Exploration."

In our guise as Thunder-Sky, Inc. we do a lot of this kind of stuff without even trying, trying to pull together artists from all kinds of backgrounds, contexts, and hierarchies into one small but truly articulated zone -- what Bakhtin posits as the "carnival [...] a pageant without footlights and without a division into performers and spectators. In carnival everyone is an active participant, everyone communes in the carnival act…"  This act is making art, showing it, and celebrating it without a lot of b-s (outside of the b-s I'm generating right now of course, which is the kind of b-s I'm drawn to so there you go).  But also finding meaning inside that smallness, and each show we do does what it does, hopefully accumulating some sense and significance through the process.  Since starting Thunder-Sky, Inc. in 2009, we've taken on William Blake, Flannery O'Connor, Abstract Expressionism, and a few other modes of American Art and Not-Art History; we don't do this just to be smarty-pants, because we're not that inclined to impress people, just to find a way to relocate and redefine and redeploy some of the ways we treat artists (and people) based on who they happen to be. 

So here comes another iteration:  "History Channel:  New Art from Old Art."  This one opens Friday June 26, 2015, reception 6 to 10 pm, at Thunder-Sky, Inc in Northide next to NVision next to the Comet.  Take a look up top to see some great carnivalizations of high-end art, tongue-in-cheek, but also lovingly made, with a strict eye toward creating something beautiful and funny to look at.  The artists we asked to be a part are maybe "outsider artists," maybe not.  Who cares?  That distinction kind of melts away once you get over a lot of things, including the need to care too much how you're seen and how you see.    

At the end of the day, as Rupaul says, "We're born naked, and the rest is drag."  The quote up top by Mr. Bahktin is probably the urtext that defines Ru's whole career, and what we're trying to do most of the time too. 

Raymond loved carnivals.  He also loved a little drag.    

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Technical Difficulties

We went to the Bjork show at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC a few days ago, and it was so disappointing it kind of was like a dream, like one of those abysmal, banal dreams you don't write down and only half-remember, blurry and a little worthless but also full of strange feelings that aren't really attached to anything specific, just in a stupid dream and then not.  I read all the reviews before we went, and just about every visual art critic in the city panned the show with such brio and sinister joy I truly wanted to prove them wrong.  I'd read a bunch of crap about the David Bowie museum show from a couple years back, and when I saw it in Toronto it was brilliantly what it was:  an exhaustive fan-letter, a scrapbook of ephemera, clothes, video, everything Bowie presented in such a blatantly superfluous manner you could only get caught up in the gloriously stupid and heartfelt celebration.  So the critics were wrong.
But damn are they right on this one.
This Bjork gig is not heartfelt or stupid or joyous.  It's just a sleepwalk of a thing, with some mannequins wearing Bjork-face standing around in her costumes in front of oddly un-meaningful backdrops ("un-meaningful" almost to the point of being bad jokes:  see above), with an accompanying headphone Euro-trash narration written by some Icelandic poet and spoken by some Icelandic speaker that tries to make Bjork into a bland feminist galactic/volcanic myth, but all of it kind of fades away as you walk through feeling sunk and tired and just well disappointed. 
Bjork definitely needs to record a cover version of Leiber and Stoller's "Is That All There Is?," and that sucker needs to playing on a loop for the duration of this sad little adventure.
The scale is wrong.  It's small without being intimate, which makes everything feel cheap.  And even in the dinky "auditorium" showing the MoMA-commissioned Bjork video for one of her newest songs, a romp through a volcano that ends with our girl slapping herself really hard on the chest (the one great image in the whole she-bang), you feel claustrophobic, as if Bjork is a genie that the curators somehow managed to shrink back into a bottle.  What a depressing feat.
Maybe a museum show for Bjork was just a bad idea in the first place?  One of the great things about her is her insanely beautiful opacity, her ability not to be a human while being one, that little-girl-getting-a-spanking face, those kitty-cat eyes that seem forever to be boiling over into laser-beams, that squeaky voice collapsing earthquakes and spider-webs and satellites and murderous-screamings into tones and melodies from an outer-space too dreamy and fucked-up to be sounds...  She's poetic without poetry, mysterious without mystery:  she just is.  A museum show tries to nail things down usually, but a really bad one like this uses thumbtacks and Scotch-tape.  What needs to happen with Bjork perhaps is a show that helps to obscure her, release her from costumes and cheap vignettes into a realm beyond institution and showing.  She needs real grandeur I think that isn't about "knowing" her, or "understanding" her, but somehow being attached briefly to her (for lack of a better term) "star." 
You don't get that kind of thing when the video-screens don't work.  And that was the last impression we had at the Bjork MoMA thing.  Waiting in line to go into some dinky makeshift theater to watch a survey of her videos and ka-blam:  "Sorry ladies and gentleman, we're experiencing technical difficulties.  Check back in a little while."
And there you go.