Thomas Condon Without the Taboos

The first things you notice in "Dog Man Star Repose," one of three recent paintings by artist Thomas Condon currently on display at the OKI: New Art show at NKU's Fine Arts Center galleries, are a c

Sep 3, 2003 at 2:06 pm

The first things you notice in "Dog Man Star Repose," one of three recent paintings by artist Thomas Condon currently on display at the OKI: New Art show at NKU's Fine Arts Center galleries, are a child's soulful eyes at the center of his cherubic face. I use the word "cherubic" because of the subtle images of angel wings and a heavenly halo that surround the child.

His gaze is mournful, knowing and wise beyond his days. "Dog Man Star Repose" speaks to our hearts, which is the best a piece of art can do.

There is an undeniable emotional connection to "Dog Man Star Repose." The figurative image is everyday and otherworldly, inspired by a photograph Condon took of a friend's child. Subtle pastel colors appear more delicate on the painting's roughhewn canvas, a frame constructed from plaster slathered across surgical gauze.

Condon captures the timeless, mysterious quality of childhood here. The effect is peaceful for the viewer.

I'm hopeful about the work's prominence in the first must-see gallery show of the 2003 fall arts season.

As part of this survey of contemporary Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana artists, the work must offer some peace of mind to Condon.

His three paintings are in good company, sharing space with Barry Anderson's digitally-enhanced landscape photographs, Emily Sullivan's hallway installation that connects the show's two galleries, an abstract mosaic of black felt shapes and script and Christopher Corbett's matter-of-fact installation "Hefty 2000," a humongous assembly of 33 gallon-sized trash bags inflated by a hidden fan.

For the moment, at least in the quiet confines of the NKU gallery, Condon and his artwork break away from political controversy and tabloid spectacle.

Condon is known as the "morgue photographer," due to his conviction on April 29, 2002, when Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Norbert Nadel sentenced him to two and a half years in prison for taking pictures of corpses at the Hamilton County Morgue without permission. Condon was released on appeal after spending 110 days in prison last year, but he continues to attract attention for reasons that have little to do with his artwork.

On July 2, Fifth Third Bank and Hamilton County "executed judgment" on Condon's art space at Essex Studios in Walnut Hills and removed his artwork — including "Dog Man Star Repose" and two other paintings selected for OKI: New Art — due to an overdue small business loan he obtained for Thomas Condon Photography Inc.

A private collector purchased the works at a recent auction and loaned them for the show. It's a brief happy chapter for Condon, ensuring that his works can be seen by the public — at least those willing to make the trip to the NKU campus.

Because of political attacks and convictions, we might never know what Condon planned for the photos he took at the morgue, involving corpses posed with books and syringes. It's worth noting that there are no taboos being broken at the OKI: New Art show. It's not what Condon sets out to do, no matter what Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen might say.

For the time being, in the quiet of NKU's galleries, Condon is away from the politics and the spectacle. That's a good place to be. He's seen as an artist instead of a political martyr, which is all he wants and deserves.

Meanwhile, Condon awaits a ruling on his appeal. If he loses, he'll be headed back to prison to serve the remainder of his sentence.

Thinking about Condon, I keep returning to the cherubic face of a friend's child at the heart of "Dog Man Star Repose." It's an image of childlike innocence.

This is Condon without the taboos. It's how he deserves to be known.