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First Major U.S. Survey of Raymod Thunder-Sky's Work to Open at Carnegie

Raymond Thunder-Sky. He was a familiar figure in Cincinnati until his death in 2004, a Native American dressed in a clown collar and construction hat, walking the Cincinnati streets with a toolbox in tow, drawing demolition and construction sites across the region.

When he died, Thunder-Sky left more than 2,200 drawings, which “often re-imagined those sites as locations for utopic and potential uses, and buildings such as clown museums, circuses, subway lines, or costume shops,” explains Matt Distel, exhibitions director at The Carnegie.

Thunder-Sky’s work is now collected internationally, and has been in gallery and museum exhibits across the world. A bust of Thunder-Sky highlights the front of the Hellman Creative Center, the new home for the Center for Great Neighborhoods of Covington.

Demolition Man: Selected Works from the Raymond Thunder-Sky Archive at The Carnegie is the first major survey in the U.S. of Thunder-Sky’s life’s work, opening April 28 with a free reception from 5:30-9 p.m.

A gallery talk opens the evening led by Distel with Keith Banner and Bill Ross of Thunder-Sky Inc., and Peter Huttinger, co-organizer of Wordly: John M. Bennett, also on view.

The primary focus of the exhibit will be a large selection of Thunder-Sky’s drawings and many of his clown costumes, construction hats, and tool-boxes.

Distel says, “Raymond has been one of the more compelling artists I have ever known. He has actually been a fairly profound influence on me though I never really met him.

“I first saw him when I was in high school while I was driving around downtown Cincinnati. The image of him never really left me. It wasn't until I was out of college and starting to get involved in the art world that I ended up seeing his first exhibition at Base Art on Main Street.

It was, Distel says, “pretty thrilling. Flash forward many more years and I end up as the director of Visionaries + Voices, an organization that Raymond helped found and continues to be a guiding spirit of, even as most of the artists who knew him personally no longer work there.”

Keith Banner of Thunder-Sky, Inc. (which collaborated on the exhibit and has a gallery spotlighting unconventional artists at 4573 Hamilton Ave., Northside) says it’s vital to keep the memory of Thunder-Sky alive culturally.

“He represents a kind of stone-cold allegiance to being exactly who you are and want to be. He dedicated his life to his art, but also to being fully himself, in persona, costumes and in the way he integrated himself into the community, not asking for permission or seeking acceptance, but participating on his own damn terms.

“He did not waiver in the face of all kinds of obstacles:  he just worked it and worked it, until he got where he needed to go…. The evidence of his journey…are really beautiful relics symbolizing a life lived bravely, totems representing idiosyncrasy, talent, perseverance.”

Distel wants Demolition Man to illuminate two things:

“One, that Raymond was a prolific and fascinating artist who developed a complex system and language to contextualize the world he traveled in. He used his city to express some profound ideas about how things are and what they could be. That is directly evident in the drawings.

“Secondly, we want to provide a larger context for how Raymond lived his life and the objects he chose to surround himself with. He died too early for us to decipher all of his methodologies but shows like this one can help to piece that together.

“It feels correct to examine the work he made in the context and environment that he made it. It felt impossible to separate Raymond the person from Raymond the artist.”

Wordly will be on view in the upstairs galleries. Curated by Peter Huttinger, it will examine language as it is employed by visual artists John M. Bennett, Fred Ellenberger, and Avril Thurman, whose works “are conjunctions of text, image, object, and place realized through the mediums of sculpture, drawing, poetry, assemblage, and contextual installation,” according to the curator.

“The three artists each approach the use of text in differing ways – as poetry, as object, or even as the mere suggestion of a word,” said Distel.

“Huttinger has developed a wide-ranging approach using sculpture, environmental installations, archiving, and organic and community farming and gardening that inform his curatorial approach to the material created by Bennett, Ellenberger, and Thurman.”

Also on view will be work by three Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts (GSA) participants including Covington Catholic student Joseph Suetholz.

Demolition Man/Wordly, April 28-June 9. The Carnegie, 1028 Scott Blvd., Covington.  Opening reception 5:30-9 p.m. April 28.  Gallery hours: 12-5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. 859-491-2030 and www.thecarnegie.com.

-Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts