In a very alternative and “outsider” way, Raymond Thunder-Sky seems to becoming the next Cincinnati artist — after Charley Harper — to be discovered internationally.
Harper, the Art Academy-trained Modernist long popular locally for his streamlined and colorful wildlife imagery, was championed late in life by the designer Todd Oldham. In 2007, he shepherded a best-selling art book on Harper’s work, An Illustrated Life. Harper died at about the same time the book appeared, but his work has grown ubiquitous since.
Thunder-Sky, who died in 2004 at age 54, has a far different background. Considered an Outsider Artist, he probably had autism and was beset with numerous physical ailments when social worker Bill Ross discovered his drawings in 1999. Sometimes dressed in a clown costume, Thunder-Sky (his father was Native American) would visit construction sites around the city, using Magic Marker to imaginatively draw the works-in-progress as amusement parks, clown-suit companies and more.
Ross went on to champion Thunder-Sky’s work. He and Keith Banner created first Visionaries & Voices, dedicated to helping other artists with disabilities, and then the Northside nonprofit gallery Thunder-Sky, Inc., which furthers his legacy, sells his work and shows other self-taught artists like Antonio Adams.
“People are really fascinated by Raymond’s story,” Banner says. The gallery has become locally accepted since opening in 2009, and Banner and Ross have become local advocates for de-romanticizing Outsider Art as a product of disabilities/primitivism and seeing it more broadly an alternative to art school. To them, too much of the following for Outsider Art has its roots in the way French artist Jean Dubuffet, influenced by the work of isolated psychiatric patients, came to champion “art brut” or “raw art.”
Hard Knocks: Art Without Art School is on view at Thunder-Sky, Inc., through Aug. 12. Go here to read Steven Rosen's full story.