Arts » Visual Arts

A Chilly, Cartoony First Friday in Indianapolis

Tuning your Eye to the Joy of Toons, and Advice for the Year Ahead



She Consists of Paint by Logan Thomas G.
  • She Consists of Paint by Logan Thomas G.

Anyone who went  to the Tuning Inception Group show at the Harrison Center for the Arts on First Friday expecting a repeat of last year’s Summer Landscape exhibition, also curated by Nathan Foxton, might have been surprised. While the latter show focused on artists who painted from real life, the artists in this particular group exhibition let fantasy hold sway. Or cartoons.

“It spans a pretty large idea but it is an idea,” Foxton said about Tuning Inception.  Like last summer's show, this exhibit gathers artists from a wider swath of geography than your typical Harrison Center group shindig.

“It’s about the idea of the cartoon, starting from the medieval idea of the cartoon,” Foxton continued. “You take these old, Renaissance or medieval drawings and they’re playful. They’re almost exaggerated… They’re like goofy little figures. But the idea is so immediate and there… Things get abstracted for the sake of the idea that they’re executing. There’s something about cartoons: As goofy as they are in their own genre, they also cut to the chase. In the same way, some artists like William Denton Ray and Quincy Owens take the cartoon idea and they play with it to cut to their motivation as well. Some people who are more figurative will directly use popular image conventions to cut to their idea: And some people will kind of boil down pop imagery ideas to also get there. Some of it’s figurative, some of it’s abstract but it has this idea of tuning inception, this idea of using those conventions of image making to get to the idea. There’s something simple and direct about cartoons and comics that get to that.”

The Bloomington-based Benjamin Lowery has a series of works on display here entitled “Hand Drawings,” composed with acrylic and charcoal on paper, that just might just exemplify the cartoony ideas that Foxton was talking about, where the drawings seem to come from a waking dream reverie-type conception of hands and handedness than being based on actual hands or photographic references.
Hand Drawings by Benjamin Lowery
  • Hand Drawings by Benjamin Lowery

And Logan Thomas G.'s “She Consists of Paint” showed off representational chops in its dreamlike illumination of the artistic process.  At the same time, its empty word bubble engages by begging you to fill in the blank.

Over at the Harrison Center’s City Gallery, Kate Oberreich was showing a dozen or so of her watercolor paintings entitled “Indy Cartography.” In this show, maps are a subject, but in these paintings —  like those in the Tuning Inception show —  the imagination and fantasy reigns over objective representation. That is, you wouldn’t want to use these maps to navigate your way from Fountain Square to, say, Broad Ripple (because by doing so you just may find yourself and your car swimming in the Central Canal Towpath.)

Meridian Kessler by Kate Oberreich
  • Meridian Kessler by Kate Oberreich

“I’m fascinated by maps,” she said. “The majority of these are individual neighborhoods and I’ve lived in all of them at some point in my life.”

Anybody these days can zero in on a map of their own neighborhood, and locate their house, on GPS using their Smartphone. On Google Maps many cities looks the same. That is, many cities on approximate the same geometry with their streets, houses, and urban grids. Maybe this creates a certain anxiety in artists who want to discover what’s special and unique about the places in which they live. Maybe it’s an expression of anxiety that explains the recent proliferation of 2D artwork that resembles maps, especially cartographic maps.   Anxiety, after all, is the handmaiden of creativity, at least according to Chuck Jones.

Also in the City Gallery, you can also check out Naplab’s Indianapolis neighborhood map, which revives all of the place names for neighborhoods that were used before the introduction of freeways which made it much easier to get from point A to point B at the cost of obliterating both neighborhoods and, to some extent, a certain idea of community that requires that people co-mingle or, at the very least, get out of their cars and walk around. The idea of walkable cities, of course, is coming back into vogue in a major way (although maybe not so much among Trump supporters.)  And when you’re walking around your city, place names like Holy Cross and Garfield Park make more sense than more generic terms like the Near Westside  and the like.

A detail from naplab's neighborhood map.
  • A detail from naplab's neighborhood map.

Speaking of Garfield Park, that’s where another show involving place and placemaking was….taking place. That is, 20-year-old Grant Lewandowski was having a show of his black and white photography entitled Down on my Knees I Pray at Listen Hear, run by Big Car Collective. Lendowski is a theology major at Moody Bible College in Chicago, Illinois.

He likes to focus his camera in on urban subjects in Chicago (and in New York)  with film and in black and white: a young man smoking on a corner, the El train in Chicago as seen from above, a homeless man lying near a lamp post on the sidewalk.

“The key for me to look at all the photographers that came before me,” he said. “A lot of the influences on my own photography not only have been black and white, where you get this old school classic vibe.”

Black and white photography in disadvantaged settings, however, also connotes a gritty, documentary-style realism à la  Depression-era photographers like Dorthea Lange and Walker Evans, photographers who got to the meat and bones of their subjects outside the soup of color.

Lewandowski’s are mostly tranquil urban scenes that exist alongside the horrible violence going on in the City of Big Shoulders, a lot of it egged on by social media. In light of this violence you might disparage his choice of subject. On the other hand, it must be true that when Jesus was being crucified, there were Jerusamites nearby munching on olives, herding their sheep.

Grant Lewandowski at Listen Hear
  • Grant Lewandowski at Listen Hear

Meanwhile, in Fountain Square, a very different kind of show was going on at General Public Collective, a zine release and exhibition entitled “Daydreamin’ no. 3” by the Droops, a sextet of six twentysomething Herron alumni, who all hail from rural Indiana. Their exhibited paintings are all composed collectively.  The particular ones in this show include a number of cartoony subjects, in black paint marker on white panels, featuring subjects like a pouting robocop, a farting slob, a beauty with pin up curls baring her backside, and severed heads. It was a veritable cornucopia of all kinds of whack clip art, the type that you won't find in any Dover book.  You just might find a mother-load of it, however, if you go far enough down the rabbit hole of your imagination.

Droop member Emily Gable was on hand for comment.  This artwork, she said, was their way to usher out a really shitty year. But alas, she had a good M.O. for  making certified 100% Droops art, which might also suffice as advice for the year ahead.

“Keep it toonsy,” she said.

Patrons Hanging with the Droops at General Public Collective
  • Patrons Hanging with the Droops at General Public Collective


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