Thunder-Sky Studies Art History, Passes the Test

“Don’t know much about history,” Sam Cooke sang. The good news is that you don’t have to know much about art history to tune into a wonderful world at Thunder-Sky, Inc.’s History Channel: New Art from Old Art.

click to enlarge Marc Lambert’s sci-fi version of van Gogh’s “The Starry Night”
Marc Lambert’s sci-fi version of van Gogh’s “The Starry Night”

“Don’t know much about history,” Sam Cooke sang. The good news is that you don’t have to know much about art history to tune into a wonderful world at Thunder-Sky, Inc.’s History Channel: New Art from Old Art. Well-known masters are represented among the more than 50 pieces, and several have been masterfully reimagined.

The contributions by Marc Lambert, a self-taught artist who is one of the Northside gallery’s brightest stars, are like CliffsNotes for Art Appreciation 101: They’re precise and easy to read.

Lambert’s “Fist Bump” diptych is his take on Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” from the Sistine Chapel. It’s the perfect meeting of artists, subject and material, because Lambert often uses acoustic ceiling tile as his canvas. The tentative touching of pale fingers in Michelangelo’s work has been updated to show two darker-skinned hands clenched with confidence, ready to celebrate that first spark of power. The image says “I’m here for you,” whether you’re unsure about wandering through an art gallery or journeying through life.

“It was incredible to see it after the whole Charleston situation,” says Thunder-Sky co-founder Bill Ross.

We’ve been cautioned that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. But why study art history? Can artists remain original and “pure” once they’ve been exposed to what came before? Is our appreciation of new art, especially “outsider art,” diminished or enhanced by being able to compare it to famous work?

Thunder-Sky, Inc. acknowledges that the idea behind this exhibit — which is presented with InsideOut Studio, a space in Hamilton for artists with developmental disabilities — is rife with both pitfalls and possibilities. In an essay, Thunder-Sky co-founder Keith Banner tackles whether the tricky “outsider” label is compromised when cultural inspiration is introduced for an exhibit. It’s a question he also faced while with Visionaries + Voices, a Northside organization similar to InsideOut. His advice: Get over thinking about labels and consider this show a carnival. Call it revisionist art history, if you wish.

Lambert again embraces and aces the assignment with his version of van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” as one of his futuristic cityscapes pops up in 1880s France. The artist’s brushstrokes expertly mimic van Gogh’s, and his introduction of a spaceship and a sci-fi glass dome over part of van Gogh’s village are so subtle that they don’t mock the original work, but instead magnify its beauty.

Give Lambert another high grade for his relics sculpted from Styrofoam. Viewed out of the corner of one’s eye, they could be mistaken for antiquities in the Cincinnati Art Museum. Considering foam’s long life, these could be treasures of a future generation’s archaeological dig.

A carnival is beautiful, egalitarian and — most of all — fun. Emily Brandehoff says she chose three works that she knew she could make funny while she took on the challenge of studying each master’s technique. Saturn consumes his son in Goya’s original painting, “Saturn Devouring His Son.” In Brandehoff’s, he hungrily “snaps into a Slim Jim.” In the hands of the zombie fan, Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” becomes “The Rebirth of Venus.”

Mona Lisa sports not a hint of a smile but a big pink grin in a quilted portrait by InsideOut’s Keith Woods that would look at home in South Park. Scott Carney, a self-described “ol’ hippie,” brilliantly sends the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine sailing into “The Great Wave” by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai. Avril Thurman responds to contemporary artist Jenny Holzer’s “I SEE YOU” projection with the electronic ticker message, “YOU DON’T SEE ME.” Robert McFate sets Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” café scene in a Skyline parlor.

The artists turn serious, too. Antonio Adams’ version of Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgment” is a commentary read on current events, depicting accused Charleston killer Dylann Roof side-by-side with former NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal. Phylicia Rashad and Bill Cosby “are no laughing matter, but a harsh reality,” according to Adams’ caption. Can the TV lawyer get her fictional husband off the hook?

Inspired by the late “construction clown” artist Raymond Thunder-Sky, the gallery strikes the right balance between class clown and serious student with this show.

HISTORY CHANNEL: NEW ART FROM OLD ART continues through Aug. 9 at Thunder-Sky, Inc. More info:

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