Visionaries at Work

Artists at Visionaries + Voices prepare for the nonprofit’s major annual event, Double Vision

click to enlarge Double Vision pairs Visionaries   Voices artists with professionals in the local arts community.
Double Vision pairs Visionaries Voices artists with professionals in the local arts community.

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or the nonprofit organization Visionaries + Voices, which helps artists with disabilities learn to create and sell their work, the upcoming Double Vision auction of art is a crucial event. Held annually, it’s the organization’s biggest and most high-profile public fundraiser.

V+V artists team up with those from the outside community to create work specifically for the event. Then, on the evening of May 7 at St. Xavier High School, 25-30 of those pieces will be live-auctioned to guests while the rest will be put up for silent auction.

That sounds like a clever idea — and it is — but many of those guests, who have paid $65 each to attend the event, may not realize just how seriously the organization and the participating artists take their task. It’s meant to be a valuable learning experience for all involved, not just a gimmick to raise money.

Not that raising money isn’t crucially important. “The fundraising for Double Vision is to keep our studio operating,” says Diamond Snowden, a V+V artist.

But when Krista Gregory, exhibitions director, arrived at V+V when Double Vision was in its fourth year (the 2016 event will be the seventh), she found it needed some intervention.

“I noticed there was a drop in interest,” she says. “(Artists) from the community would be asked to participate and they’d bring a piece that was unresolved in their studio and just drop it off. Being an artist myself and being someone who works in a collaborative way, I knew that intimacy builds up when you truly make art with somebody. There’s a potential to build friendships and have a learning experience.”

As a result, Gregory added what Visionaries + Voices calls its “Pairs Well With” component to Double Vision. In September, V+V issued a call for community/professional artists to join with its own artists to create works together. Many who have participated previously in Double Vision volunteered, in some cases to work with the same V+V artists as in past years.

Two weeks ago, at V+V’s Northside studio, as many of the participating 44 pairs as possible met for a midterm critique, a crucial part of the process. It started at around 6:30 p.m., with free pizza, drinks and chocolate-chip cookies. Gregory had assigned artist pairs into small discussion groups, and they started putting up their works in progress on the walls near their designated meeting areas.

“We will give our staff some leading questions, nothing formal, to get it started,” Gregory said before the event. “Like, ‘What’s strong about a piece? What’s working?’ Then the conversation migrates organically where they talk about everyone’s piece. It’s sort of like what happens in a college critique.”

Promptly at 7 p.m., the groups started. I joined one in a front room that had six artist teams; it was being supervised by Karen Boyhen, V+V’s creative director, herself an artist. In fact, she has paired with one of V+V’s most gifted artists, Courttney Cooper. They were working on producing drawings of Cincinnati views. This is their third year working together. (Cooper’s large, amazingly detailed pencil drawings of the city have been shown at the Cincinnati Art Museum and in private galleries; his Double Vision work will be smaller because of size limits.)

Their work in progress garnered much discussion at the critique. On the wall were separate sketches showing various Cincinnati views from city parks like Bellevue Hill and Fairview.

“We decided we would go to parks and enjoy ourselves and just draw,” Boyhen said. “We’re not sure how we’ll put them together.”

One community artist, David Estep, noticed how Boyhen’s own single lines differed from Cooper’s much thicker, heavier markings. “I think they complement each other,” he commented.

Estep was collaborating with V+V artist Snowden. Together, they have been working on what so far is an abstracted totem-like white outline of a figure with its head surrounded by a huge blue aura. It is in front of a brilliantly yellow background.

If one looks closely at the blueness, pencil sketches of Cincinnati landmarks emerge. Those are Snowden’s contribution, and there was discussion among the group as to whether he should fill those in with color or paint their outlines so they stand out more.

Cooper, relatively quiet for much of the exchange, interjected, “I really like it,” and stepped forward to shake Snowden’s hand. It was a powerful moment.

Cole Carothers, a veteran community artist respected for his realist paintings and who has shown at the CAM with Cooper, introduced his collaboration with V+V artist Andy Eisenacher. Their work was a fanciful and lively scene, set at a sock hop and featuring a bevvy of bright, animated cartoon-like characters in a room. The principal one is a poodle in a poodle skirt that itself has a poodle emblem on it.

Eisenacher wasn’t present, so Carothers explained that his role primarily was to help Eisenacher achieve his vision. “He may work on it a little more,” Carothers said. “But there’s a point of overkill, so don’t expect too much more.”

Other teams in this group were Ros Bush and Julie Lonneman; Jennifer Crowe, Mark Sullivan and John Auer; and John Nusekabel and Jaclin Hastings.

As the event ended at 8 p.m., the bond that was forming around the participating artists was evident. Gregory had earlier foretold that.

“The best part is to the see the relationships that develop,” she said. “The instinct to create art is universal, and it’s up to the arts community to embrace that idea and notion. By offering this opportunity, we hope to help the artists we have had in our studio become richer parts of the arts community in Cincinnati.”


DOUBLE VISION VII takes place May 7 at St. Xavier High School. Tickets/more info: visionariesandvoices.com.


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