During the whole Thomas Condon trial, the one thing I clearly understood from Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Norbet Nadel and Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen is this: Condon is not an artist. His work — especially his morgue photographs involving corpses with books, syringes and other items posed on them — does not qualify as art. It has no artistic value, and his conviction on eight counts of gross abuse of a corpse for taking photographs at the Hamilton County Morgue has nothing to do with art or artistic expression.
Everything Nadel and Allen have been telling us changed July 2 when Fifth Third Bank and Hamilton County "executed judgment" on Condon's art space at Essex Studios in Walnut Hills and removed his artwork and art supplies without his knowledge. They're scheduled to be sold at public auction.
The source of Condon's latest round of chaos is a Fifth Third small business loan he took out for Thomas Condon Photography Inc. During the past year, most of Condon's corporate clients left him due to the negative publicity over his criminal conviction, and his photography studio on Gilbert Avenue closed as a result.
He was unable to make loan payments while in prison, but he tells me he sold off $12,000 worth of equipment from his photo studio to pay down some of the approximately $60,000 he owes the bank.
Seeking to recoup as much of the loan as it can, Fifth Third got Hamilton County Sheriff's deputies to raid Condon's private art studio as an extension of his professional photography studio. The art items — sketches, drawings from prison, supplies — should have never been taken for auction, but they're gone.
The ransacking of Condon's art space looks like harassment.
To the powers-that-be at Fifth Third Bank and Hamilton County, it's Cincinnati-style business as usual. Condon owes Fifth Third money, and the bank wants it back. It doesn't matter if his once-thriving business is now in ruins over a gross injustice. That's a moral issue, and Fifth Third is simply interested in the bottom line.
There is one slight, positive effect for Condon. The bank's and county's actions disprove everything that Nadel and Allen have been telling us.
Even Hamilton County officials now regard Condon as an artist. Why else do they think his artwork would attract bids sizable enough to make an impact on his outstanding Fifth Third Bank loan?
Emptying Condon's private art studio says this: His work has value. It offers artistic meaning to potential buyers who will shell out their hard-earned money to buy a Thomas Condon drawing.
I remember one piece in particular from my frequent visits to Condon's studio. The cherubic face of a friend's child supplies the core image on a canvas constructed from plaster slathered across surgical gauze. Powdered pigments change the surface into a subtle pastel image. Images of angel wings and heavenly halos give the child spirit-like quality.
That piece, along with all the others, is now missing. It's in county storage somewhere, probably damaged, perhaps destroyed. For the time being, it represents the chaos that is Condon's life.
A Hamilton County judge rules Thursday on the validity of Fifth Third Bank and Hamilton County's "executed judgment." No matter what happens, Condon's defaulted loan remains. While there are moral and ethical reasons why Fifth Third could change its decision, it's unlikely the bank will forgive the debt. Business is business.
Unless his current appeal is granted, Condon is headed back to prison to serve the remainder of his sentence. He's paying his debt to society because county officials deemed his morgue photography art project as having no value.
Now he's paying his debt to Fifth Third because county officials have deemed his art suddenly valuable.