It will soon be time to say goodbye to Northside's Thunder-Sky, Inc. The gallery, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary, has announced that 2020 will be its final season.
Founded by Bill Ross and Keith Banner, the beloved art space first opened on Oct. 30, 2009. But it was earlier, in 1999, that Ross first met the gallery's namesake: Raymond Thunder-Sky. Ross was a social worker at the time and Raymond was one of his clients.
“He just opened the door into a whole new world for me,” Ross told CityBeat's Steve Kemple in a recent interview. “I never expected to find somebody with such an intense sense of what they were doing.”
A man who frequented demolition sites clad in a hard hat and known for wearing clown collars, Raymond would draw the scenes with markers on paper. Upon seeing Raymond's art, Ross knew that it needed to be shared. In the spring of 2000, along with Banner, he exhibited 12 of Raymond's drawings at Over-the-Rhine's Base Gallery.
While popular, the exhibit resonated with another local artist: Antonio Adams. Ross and Banner began exhibiting both of their works, which led them to found Visionaries+Voices — a local nonprofit that works with artists with disabilities — in 2003. Raymond died of cancer in 2004 and Banner and Ross left V+V in 2008. (Though the spilt was caused by creative differences, Banner and Ross have since made amends with V+V and are proud of the work they do today.) They opened the doors to Thunder-Sky the following year on Oct. 30.
"Almost 20 years ago, when we were all getting to know each other, Raymond Thunder-Sky, Bill Ross, Antonio Adams, and I (along with a few other folks) took a field trip to Anaheim, California, for a disability conference where we set up a table featuring artworks by Raymond and Antonio," Banner says via an email announcement. "The conference was right across the street from Disneyland, and Raymond spent most of his time there, while the rest of us sat at our art booth, doing what you do at conferences. Raymond didn’t like the whole scene obviously, and we would get reports from his support person who came with us that he was having a high old time riding rides, eating Disneyland treats, just basically being himself. This trip really is mythic to me because it was the first time all of us hung out together, and also the first time we all felt connected to something outside of Ohio, outside of our usual haunts and selves. Even though we didn’t know it at the time, this trip was about a solidarity we were forming, a mutual momentum we were creating that would eventually yield a lot of great stuff in the future, including Visionaries+Voices and Thunder-Sky, Inc."
The release also recalls that they attempted to locate Raymond's birthplace in Hollywood. Driving through the neighborhoods, nothing rung a bell with Raymond and so they came back with no results.
"The effort was worth it though, just to pursue a common quest, trying really hard to track down the past, but mainly just enjoying each other’s company, the atmosphere," Banner says in the release. "We hope that’s what everyone will think about Thunder-Sky, Inc.’s legacy. It was an effort that was worth the energy and time just because we were all in it together."
Nearly 20 years later, after the space has played host to 100 exhibits (and Banner and Ross curated 50 elsewhere), Banner writes that the time has come to say goodbye. Aside from exhibitions, Banner also notes that they have archived all of Raymond's drawings — more than 2,200 — on raymondthundersky.org and co-produced a documentary about his life. A permanent sculpture memorializing Raymond was placed in Covington in 2016, created by Tom Tsuchiya.
"Our work is done in many ways, and we’re ready to pursue other endeavors," Banner writes, "always keeping Raymond in our minds and hearts of course, and also maintaining his archive and his memory online and in any other way that pops up."
Season 11, the statements reads, should be thought of as a tribute to every artist, curator and anyone who has contributed to Thunder-Sky, Inc. in the past decade. Closing season exhibitions (as pulled from the release) include:
- Leap Year Cake Farm, Jan. 11-Feb. 29, 2020: Mass media works by a cavalcade of artists celebrating leap-year birthdays, with “cake” at the center. Artists include: Sharon Butler, Bill Ross, Jeremy Johnson, Jan Nickum, Katherine Michael, Jim Damico, John Ross, Jessica Wolf, Sara Caswell-Pearce, Kenton Brett, Emily Brandehoff and Laurel Tope.
- Eminent Domain, March 14-April 30, 2020: Collages, assemblages and photographs all focused on the meaning of private property and public imagination. Artists include: Reed Ghazala, Jason V Mann and Patrizio Martinelli.
- Sign/Symbol: Looking at the World via Highway 127, May 9-July 4, 2020: Artist and litter activist Robert McFate walks the streets of Cincinnati with a magnet on a string collecting fragments of metal and using the bits to create art; this exhibit is a dream that he’s been having for over 10 years and pulls together a wild and wonderful assortment of artists to make it come true. Artists include: Robert McFate, along with Sayla Johnson, Lauren Allen, Clifford Land, Brian Pollard, Angie McFate, and David Earl Johnson, alongside Trust me, a show by Anna D'oh in the basement space, Under-Sky.
- Backbrain, July 11-Aug. 31, 2020: Paintings and scribbles by two artists whose practices and products intermingle on the mental back-porch.
- Left Brain, Right Brain, Sept. 12-Oct. 17, 2020: Original paintings, drawings, photographs and multiples, created by imaginative regional artists and curated by Tom Strohmaier. All proceeds will be donated to the Alzheimer’s Association in search of a cure.
- Violet % Generous, Oct. 30-Dec. 12, 2020: Antonio Adams completes a cycle of works and shows from his experience as the Artist-in-Residence of Thunder-Sky, Inc. for 11 years with the help from some very talented friends, including Tony Dotson and Pam Kravetz. This one is a culmination of a lot of thought, work and hope.