Thunder-Sky, Inc. is here at the Atlanta Folkfest through Sunday August 22. Located in a huge trade center in North Atlanta, it’s billed as the largest art festival of its kind (focusing on contemporary and traditional folk, outsider, self-taught, etc. art), and from day one I was struck by the work of artist Andrei Palmer. He builds exquisitely detailed cars from cardboard and electrical equipment, and each automobile has a distinct, homemade ingenuity. They are lovely to look at, like really great toys with the gumption and vitality of Red Grooms. There was an article in the Atlanta newspaper about Andrei: “[He] loves cars as much as any all-American guy. Except the 23-year-old Stone Mountain resident, who was adopted from Romania at age 6, brings a bit of an outsider’s perspective to the infatuation.”
Andrei’s status as an “outsider” actually doesn’t matter too much when seeing what he is able to do of course: his work has the tenacity and whimsy of really cool art plain and simple. But his bio does lend a little depth to the whole enterprise. Having survived some horrific times in Romanian orphanages he has been able to create an aesthetic and a life from what he loves. When I met him last night he was hard at work on another vehicle, and he was totally enjoying the spotlight in his booth. I asked his dad what it was like witnessing the way Andrei found how to make what he makes, and he said he had always been worried that Andrei might just become a video-game recluse. But he said that Andrei puts on 80s music and creates car after car. He has a sense of purpose, he said.
Andrei’s work when contrasted with a lot of the other art here at Folkfest has a singular shine. Its carefulness and purposefulness really allows it to float to the top. In that aspect, his work reminds me of Thunder-Sky, Inc.’s Antonio Adams': Antonio’s story parallels Andrei’s in a lot of ways. They are both two people who have discovered unique ways to live and to understand the world. They have found just the right mix of materials, creativity and artistry to build art that seems both innocent and indestructible. Antonio’s work here at Folkfest, the cat sculptures and paintings, also stand out because they seem to have been made in order to exemplify clarity and simplicity, playfulness and ease. But there’s a seriousness to what they do. In one piece, Andrei has built a hearse with a beautifully detailed casket inside; Antonio’s cats are totems resurrecting celebrities who have passed away, giving each person, in Antonio’s words, “new life.”
Both Andrei and Antonio seem to be creating art that is both easy to be around but also weird enough to make you rethink the way you see the normal world. That leads me back to the whole reason we do what what we do at Thunder-Sky, Inc.: we want to keep Raymond Thunder-Sky’s legacy alive. Like both Antonio and Andrei, Raymond went in search of his artistic purpose and discovered it mainly on his own, creating drawings that seem naive yet clever, simplistic yet sophisticated, old-school yet shiny and new.
Top to bottom: Raymond Thunder-Sky, circa 2000; Antonio Adams standing in front of his cat sculptures at Atlanta Folkfest 2010; and Andrei Palmer with his work in his booth at the Atlanta Folkfest 2010.