Greatest Hits

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“Thunder-Sky!” documentary poster by Todd M. Coe

“Super What? [Part One],” Drew Kidd and Bill Ross

“Bloodbath,” Tony Dotson and Bill Ross

“Turn the Negative into Positive, Part 4,” Antonio Adams

“Dracula,” Raymond Thunder-Sky

“So You Think You Can Dance,” Mike Weber and Dale Jackson

“Direct Contact: Self Made Pop” opens October 22, 2011 at Bromwell’s Gallery, on the second floor of Bromwell’s (117 West Fourth Street), the longest-running business in downtown Cincinnati. Bromwell’s Gallery’s mission is to bring Cincinnati fine art that is accessible to all art enthusiasts, and “Direct Contact” is an accessible, fun, unpretentious survey of art made by unconventional artists including Antonio Adams, Todd M. Coe, Cedric Cox, Tony Dotson, Drew Kidd, David Mack, Bill Ross, Spencer van der Zee, and the late Brian Joiner and Raymond Thunder-Sky.

The show is kind of like a “greatest hits” album for Thunder-Sky, Inc.  It includes work from previous shows, as well as art made by artists who have had work in some of the 12 or so exhibits we’ve curated in the space since opening two years ago.

All the artists featured in “Direct Contact” create their work in a diverse range of styles and subject matters, and yet what their works have in common are styles and attitudes borrowed from popular culture, including narratives and imagery from B-movies, video games, comic books, tabloids, 24-hour news cycles, and so on. In other words, they create aesthetic universes from cultural litter. Dotson’s use of cartoon compression and satire reveal the joke of just about everything most people take seriously. Ross’ slick, Technicolor exercises in kitschy surrealism come off like candy-colored pastiches of 50s monster flicks. Van der Zee delves into the R. Crumb depths of ‘zine culture for a lot of his inspiration and comes up from the underground with drawings that simmer with weird associations and few bitter truths. Adams’ paintings of Lady Gaga literally kicking the ass of Osama Bin Ladin read like Quentin Tarantino editorial cartoons, and his collaboration with the late Brian Joiner (created in 2009) repurposes superheroes and 9/11 imagery in a chilling homage to Picasso’s “Guernica.”

The central figure in “Direct Contact” is Raymond Thunder-Sky. His whole persona and art come from a desire to merge the Pop-Art, primary-colored sadness of clowns and carousels with the dreamy anxieties of demolition sites and vacant buildings. Before passing away in 2004, Thunder-Sky walked around the city of Cincinnati for decades, often dressed in a clown/construction-worker costume; he would set up a drawing table in front of demolition sites and draw the destruction head-on, finishing each work in the privacy of his apartment. The results are drawings that marry docu-drama severity with the clown/poet’s need to re-envision the world as a place where bulldozers named Dracula help pave the way for the new Clownsville Amusement Park and Super Highway.

Thunder-Sky made direct contact with the world through his need to make art. He took popular culture and reshaped it into a series of indelible images. Mack, Cox, and Coe pay homage to Thunder-Sky’s influence in a series of drawings and paintings that turn a street-person into an icon. Mack is a graphic-novelist and artist from Kentucky, and he has produced a suite of Thunder-Sky drawings and paintings that reveal both his stubbornness and his innocence. Cox has taken a print of one of Thunder-Sky’s unfinished drawings and finished it in his own style. And Coe, a filmmaker and artist from Wisconsin, contributes images he made for animation sequences for a Thunder-Sky documentary titled Deconstructing a Legacy of Art.

All the artists in “Direct Contact” have exhibited their works at Thunder-Sky, Inc., the gallery in Northside created to archive the 2,000-plus drawings Thunder-Sky left behind. Thunder-Sky, Inc.’s mission is to keep Thunder-Sky’s legacy alive through educational programs and exhibits, as well as showcasing and supporting unconventional artists like him from across the region. Bromwell’s mission is to bring Cincinnati fine art that is accessible to all art enthusiasts – whether you are a seasoned collector or simply want a unique, quality piece for your home. They represent artists whose roots hail from the midwest, and their promote their works via exhibits backed by art openings, gallery tours, private showings, artist lectures and educational events.

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