From Bill Ross, who curated our latest show, “New Magic & Costume Shoppe: Paintings by Yohana Junker, Masks by David Earl Johnson, and Clown Costumes by Raymond Thunder-Sky”
Alfred Eaker forwarded some images to us about a year ago, from a couple of artists to consider for a possible show. Of the work shared, Yohona Junker’s interested me most. Alfred had been working with us off and on over the last few years filming “Thunder-Sky,” a documentary about Raymond Thunder-Sky, which is now complete. A version of it was featured this past fall in the “Cincinnati Film Festival.” From this experience, Alfred Eaker was interested in working with us on a show focused on spirituality in art with an unconventional spin. This appealed to me. Yohana’s work became the starting point. Her paintings took on the notion of spirituality head on using her academic work in theology as a diving board. Detached from their theological origins, Yohona’s paintings feature glowing shapes swimming through darkness. These shapes spoke to me as glowing spirits, as if she were painting nude studies from some dark and mystical other world. From here I knew we would tie in Raymond Thunder-Sky’s store bought clown suits. Many of which he customized. We had talked many times about the spiritual qualities of these clown suits. They were his holy robes so to speak. When wearing a clown suit, Raymond could be both a spectacle as well as find a place to hide like a priest, magician or of course a clown. By wearing clown suites, Raymond was able to do the serious work of imagining a world constantly being destroyed and rebuilt. While the rest of the world would wonder, why is this guy dressed like a clown? A few days after discussing this concept show with Alfred, David Earl Johnson walked into Thunder-Sky, Inc. He asked about possibly having a show of his masks at some point. During my studio visit with him, I realized his work provided the 3rd element needed to complete the show. Plus when he shared his story and the origins of the masks, I realized these masks were not only “SPIRIT” masks, they also served as a kind of football helmet for the soul. David had been through hell. These masks offered protection! At this point, I couldn’t wait to introduce David and his work to Yohana and her work and move forward with the whole notion of this serendipitous, unnerving and joyful spirit carnival called “New Magic & Costume Shoppe “ a title assembled from one of Raymond’s older drawings. Keith and I frequently find ourselves struggling with how circumstance, diagnosis and/or tragedy tends to shape how viewers and critics see the work done by many artists we choose to show, especially those whom are self-taught. Frequently we find these stories to limit what the art can be and do. Simply being “HUMAN” can provide damage enough to produce great art. With this show, I wanted to address this with this notion of spirituality. I am getting to an age where spirituality is something I am more interested in exploring, both in my own work and the shows we do. To be clear, I am not talking about the kind of spirituality of organized religion with prescribed ways of being. There seems to be too many unwanted side effects with such prescriptions. Plus for me religion seems to have all fun and mystery stomped out of it. I am interested in the intuitive spirit that makes us human. For me art offers the best and safest way to explore this. “New Magic & Costume Shoppe” serves as an example of this intuitive spirit. So “New Magic” features the work of Yohana Junker, a young woman from Sao Paulo, Brazil. Her serious abstractions unhinge biblical text to reveal a spirit world purely her own. In doing so she allows the viewer to do the same. Her work provides a gravitational pull to the rest of show. Unlike what has been suggested, Junker states “ Sao Paulo is anything but carnival like. It is a city of more than 20 million people struggling to find its human-ness amidst suffering and poverty.” “New Magic” also includes the work of David Earl Johnson, an old school cool dude of the righteous variety living in Northside. His life has been shaped by too much tragedy, but somehow he is finding peace, humor and protection through his work making spirit masks. And of course, the store bought clown suites of a beautiful mystery named Raymond Thunder-Sky. This show offers, in its own random way an odd and compelling glimpse into the spiritual journey of 3 diversely different artists seeking to find and secure for themselves a bit of “human-ness” by making art. The combination of these 3 artists’ works creates a strange sort of magic that can only happen in a place like Thunder-Sky, Inc.