I’ll never forget my first day of art school. It was my freshman year at UC’s DAAP and I had been instructed by my professors to bring with me a laundry list of art supplies to my various studios. What resulted was a portfolio full of the usual inventory: pads of drawing paper, a T-Square, graphite pencils ranging from 9H -9B, charcoal, fixative, the works. As I dragged this body-sized bag across campus, an overwhelming feeling of self-awareness came over me. I began to have flashbacks to my first day of elementary school where I was sent to class with a back pack full of three ring binders, notebook paper, and pencil pouches galore, also overcome by the size and load. Was this not art school? Had I not entered the land of non-conformity? Why was my inauguration into the study of art so dry and familiar and even more institutionalized? Begging these sorts of questions but even more profound and articulate are the artists of Art School. Positioned appropriately in the art-centric neighborhood of Northside, Thunder-Sky Inc. presents this quaint but finely curated show.
A formalist by nature and a conceptualist at heart, artist Ethan Waldeck offers the show an uncanny blend of the two. Creating objects rife with skill and meaning, he indulges in the worlds of the trained and non-convention. We see this done with tact and sentiment below.
The title giving way to a supposed contradiction, 34 lb Balloon sits soundly on a pedestal in the corner of the gallery. It’s gold and glossy and presumably weighs thirty-four pounds. Contemplating this fact or folly, the viewer must trust the artist, or be left in total disbelief. While there, we too must reckon with the implications of a balloon memorialized, its flight suspended, its celebration made solemn and stagnant. Will our doubt lift the balloon from its plinth or will belief give way to grief and gravity? It’s the land of the flux and the work welcomes us warmly there. Playing with the viewers’ perception is but one of Waldeck’s strengths; his skill and artistry are the others. Unhallowing the hallow, the making of his pieces is involved and complex. Exposing the material to welding and waxing, working and re-working, the artist forges objects through numerous and variable processes. He’s not only knowledgeable but adept, too, which we see in his arduous input and seamless result.
Fixed centrally on the floor of the gallery is a field of sculptural work by artist Curtis Davis (pictured below). Atop a patch of synthetic grass, his gradation of works are titled appropriately by color. If the turf were not enough to invite you in, there’s a sign employing the viewer to “Please Walk on the Grass.” This sort of interactivity really brings the work to life, allowing the viewer to engage on a sensory level. Feeling the crunch of the grass beneath your feet, you begin to imagine the works before they were works, before they were assembled and painted and curated in the gallery context.
An innate collector, Davis does just that. With the world as his school he gathers and retrieves from his natural and everyday environment. Assembling, painting, and layering, his work is concentrated and habitual. At the base of each sculpture you’ll find varying combinations of logs on trees, trees on logs, logs on processed wood (pictured in Blue above), and processed wood on rocks. Coating these assemblages are pastel hues of greens and grays and blues with the occasional poppy pink. But for Davis, paint isn’t just paint. Instead it serves as a sort of plaster, the objects below now adhered and melded together. What results is something labored and lovely. His forms are more like fossils, or vessels of permanence. Davis confronts the passing of time through his pairing of objects (a natural log lying prostrate on a sheet of fabricated wood) while placating it through his religious layering (a conscious (or un) effort for the work to stay, to exist, to last).
I’ve had the privilege of working with Curtis Davis at Visionaries + Voices just a mile down the road from Thunder-Sky. Having knowledge of his work prior to seeing the show was a little intimidating – as a writer wanting to be objective and as an enthusiast do his work justice. But seeing his work outside of the studio was all the more humbling and refreshing. Curtis’ practice and character match his artistic ability – diligent, playful, and one to be admired.
Through the use of more conventional art materials, artist Arvind Sundar explores the subtleties of the human experience. Mapping memory, color, and light, his minimal paintings convey the human ability (and fallibility) to both retain and obscure information.
Nine paintings (ten in all) make up the series presented by Sundar. The formal components of the work draw the viewer in, the compositions small, the colors contrast, and the presentation of the canvases linear and repeating. As you move from left to right you watch as the blocks also move, shifting in color and space. Paired with the black backgrounds and pixilated forms, the work feels arcade-like as if the succession of the pieces were controlled by an algorithm or play. But his work is less sterile than that. Materializing the intangible, Sundar recreates the moment your eyelids lay over your eyes and the colors and impressions that ensue. But this phenomena, though interesting, is still not really what the work is about. We discover this in his titles, the way they are descriptive and personal. A spectrum of blues grace the top of his piece Unfathomable Tears, while rich earth tones follow in his piece titled Lips. These moments of vulnerability and intimacy are now shared through his personification of color. Texture finds its way into his work, seen suggestively and playfully in Freak Show, bringing not only visual interest but levity, too, to the breadth of work. Sundar’s paintings embody our propensity to process moments both significant and mundane, to reminisce over relationships both personal and passing. There’s a level of emotionalism in his work that makes it relatable and even more successful.
Art School is a lovely inclusion of both thoughtfulness and assertion. The artists of the show pose as many questions as they answer, and it’s up to the viewer to decide which is which. To sum it up in even more words than mine would be an injustice, but we can begin to earmark the lessons learned or at least made ready for our willing eyes.
We learn to take with us not only tools and supplies, but our experiences, as well.
We learn that feeling (the emotional kind) can make a piece just as much as any firing or forging can.
We learn that material can be anything, and sometimes everything.
We learn that diversity doesn’t just elicit differences, but similarities, too.
We learn that credibility doesn’t just come from credentials, but inherent skill and heart and things you can’t learn within the confines of four walls.
We learn that we are all students and subjects of the wonderful world of art school.
Thunder-Sky Inc. is located at 4573 Hamilton Ave. Cincinnati, OH 45223
Art School is on display from January 5 – February 15, 2019
Other artists include: Clint Basinger and Malik Harris