Northside is known as Cincinnati’s hippest, artiest neighborhood, so it’s fitting that a new “post-outsider art” gallery (Thunder-Sky Inc.) will open there Oct. 30. It couldn’t have a better location: 4573 Hamilton Ave., in the string of storefronts that also includes The Comet and N-Vision.
Bill Ross and Keith Banner have founded Thunder-Sky Inc., a nonprofit group working to preserve, archive and promote the work and legacy of the late visionary artist Raymond Thunder-Sky as well as to pay for a headstone on his grave. The organization doesn’t have ownership of the approximately 2,000 drawings he left behind but works with a family friend, Larry Higdon, who is on Thunder-Sky Inc.’s board and is in contact with Raymond’s surviving brother.
While Northside’s hipness certainly doesn’t hurt, it isn’t really why the gallery is locating where it is. Thunder-Sky, who would show up at construction/demolition sites around the city with an artist’s toolbox, construction coveralls and helmet — and sometimes a clown costume — lived nearby.
“When I first met him in 1999, he was in an apartment complex across the street and I was able to build a relationship with him,” Ross says.
In 1999, Ross was a social worker as well as an artist and was trying to help Thunder-Sky get aid for his health problems.
He wasn’t aware of his secret drawings. “At one point, he showed me his drawings at a meeting, and it was a life-changing experience,” Ross says.
Ross gave Thunder-Sky a chance to show his work at Overthe-Rhine’s Base Gallery. The reception to his vividly rendered fantasy drawings — done with professional-grade Magic Marker — of demolitions, accompanied with printed narratives imagining the replacements, set off huge interest in “outsider art” in Cincinnati.
“Many times in the corner of a drawing he’d have a narrative of what would go in place,” Banner explains. “Institutions like nursing homes, police stations, churches and prisons would be destroyed, and he’d have them replaced with amusement parks or clown-suit companies. He was in control of his life through the narratives of what he was drawing.”
Ross and Banner created Visionaries & Voices, a Northside-based organization devoted to artists with disabilities, because of their admiration for Thunder-Sky’s hidden talent.
Thunder-Sky died of cancer-related illness on Oct. 29, 2004, at age 54. It will be almost five years to the day that Ross and Banner open the new space. (At the same time, Visionaries & Voices, at 3841 Spring Grove Ave., is having its own Thunder- Sky tribute show and dedicating its new outdoor wall mural, painted with the help of ArtWorks, honoring Thunder-Sky.)
The new space will launch with a 6-9 p.m. reception Oct. 30 for the show Raymond Nation, featuring tribute pieces plus limited-edition prints for sale of some of Thunder-Sky’s drawings. A back room will contain helmets, artist toolboxes and other materials belonging to Thunder-Sky.
“We’ve been busy with making sure Visionaries & Voices was going strong, (so) we never figured out a space where we could archive everything,” Banner says. “His whole life was about his art, so we needed his own space to show everything he was. Now we have a chance with this space to maintain his legacy and grow it a little.”
The first show at Thunder-Sky Inc. will be up Oct. 30 through Jan. 31. For more information, visit www.thunder-skyinc.blogspot.com or call 513-823-8914.
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