Father, Son Artists Paint CVG Airport


Staff Report
The River City News
A father and son duo are bringing the walls to life at the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG).
Two post-modern pop murals will be completed next Wednesday for travelers to enjoy thanks to a partnership between CVG and Covington-based creative firm BLDG.
Kevin T. Kelly and Jack Kelly have been working on the art at the airport. Kevin, 56, is a graduate of the Art Academy of Cincinnati and worked in New York City as a studio assistant for pop artist Tom Wesselmann for six years. His son, Jack, 23, graduated from Columbus College of Art & Design and lives in Cincinnati where he works as a freelance commercial artist.
“This is a fantastic opportunity to showcase true performance artists and their pop art to our passengers,” said Candace McGraw, chief executive officer, CVG. “We’re excited for this partnership and to see the end result that will adorn our Customs area in Concourse B to welcome guests to the region.”

Kevin T. Kelly
Kelly’s work is decidedly “Neo-Pop” or “Post-Pop”. Infused with a postmodern sensibility, contemporaneous subject matter, and executed in what the artist refers to as a “hyper-chromatic” palette, the paintings are not only redolent of contemporary issues and politics, but excel as studies in formal definition, composition and color. Allowing for open-ended lines of query and interpretation without the burdensome weight of didactic pretense, Kelly chooses to establish a dialogue with the viewer vis-à-vis the painted image rather than wag his finger sanctimoniously from an ivory tower like so much “Activist Art” does today. The work has been described as: “Roy Lichtenstein meets Dennis
Hopper on Steroids.” It’s a wry, complex admixture of sardonic social commentary, the six o’clock news and the Sunday funnies.
He currently lives and works in the Greater Cincinnati area. His paintings have appeared on the cover of New American Paintings in 2000 and 2003. His work is featured in numerous public and private collections both in the United States and abroad, including Breitling S.A., The Kinsey Institute and Procter and Gamble. In addition to having taught as an adjunct professor at The Art Academy of Cincinnati and the Baker-Hunt Foundation in Covington, KY, he has also written critical review for Cincinnati CityBeat, Dialogue magazine, New Art Examiner and AEQAI.

Jack Kelly
Jack Kelly, born in New York City in 1993, recently graduated from the Columbus College of Art and Design with his B.F.A in Illustration and a minor in Fine Art. He has recently moved back to the Greater Cincinnati area where he has been working as a freelance commercial artist.
Jack’s work bridges the gap between many diverse media ranging from motion graphics, to pattern and textile design, to illustrative graphic posters and apparel design. His visual style incorporates the fundamental skills of draftsmanship, strong composition and graphic reduction with an emphasis on utilizing limited palettes. His working methodology has developed from his interest in commercial illustration and traditional printmaking techniques such as silkscreen and intaglio.

The Carnegie showcases a massive survey of stripped-down style from Edie Harper and Tony Dotson

By Kathy Swartz

The Carnegie is currently presenting two solo exhibits, each to give a deserving Cincinnati artist time alone in the spotlight. But sometimes 1 + 1 = 3. By pairing Tony Dotson with the late Edie Harper, exhibitions director Matt Distel has created a super-sized — and super-enjoyable — look at stripped-down visual language, with more than 300 examples in all.

For the first time, Harper — so often referred to as “the wife of Charley Harper,” the Midcentury Modernist known for his geometric paintings of wildlife — is receiving a solo retrospective of her diverse career. Who knew that she was not only a painter, illustrator and photographer, but also that she mastered sculpture, enameling and weaving?

Harper, who passed away in 2010 at age 87, had been featured alongside Charley, who died in 2007, in major shows at the Contemporary Arts Center and Cincinnati Art Museum. She also received smaller solo exhibitions during her life. But E is for Edie: An Edith McKee Harper Retrospective encompasses a half-century of work, dating to her student days in the early 1940s at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. 

Dotson, whose cartoon-like folk art is familiar to Carnegie audiences from The Art of Food extravaganzas, created 50 new works for his first solo show in four years. “I wanted to set him free from a theme and let him express the insanity happening in his head,” Distel joked during a preview tour. 

Though Harper and Dotson are separated by generations and tone, the prolific Cincinnati artists share an affinity for basic shapes and childhood memories. “Both practice deceptively straight-forward image-making,” Distel said, “but to different ends.” 

Dotson’s exhibit is titled An American Outsider. The 45-year-old is a self-taught painter who combines recognizable pop-culture icons with biting social commentary about racism and myths we’re fed as kids. His materials are junked wood and house paint.

Dotson’s depiction of a Disney cruise ship is a full-steam-ahead assault against “The Wonderful World of Stereotypes” seen in the studio’s early cartoons and WWII propaganda films. White folks, represented by smiling circles in the shade that Crayola used to call “flesh,” enjoy the nice view on the deck, while Hispanics, Asians, African-Americans and American Indians are packed in steerage. Walt Disney has been frozen and tossed overboard.

“I do not play by the rules,” Dotson said during a gallery talk at the opening. “I see things through a 6-year-old’s eyes and put my spin on them. I paint like a child that’s been warped.” 

In Dotson’s version of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Fred and Captain Kangaroo string up that interloper Barney the dinosaur.

Though Dotson built a towering, 20-foot sculpture of King Kong and the Empire State Building under the Carnegie’s rotunda, Distel does just manage to contain Dotson’s impishness downstairs, reserving the upper galleries for Harper. Even so, visitors can’t consider one artist without thinking about the other. 

“I could have been one of her kids,” Dotson remarked, as he compared their minimalist styles. 

Harper (who was the mother of another local artist, Brett Harper) was focused on form but inspired by sweeter subjects — like nature, her cats and family gatherings. Yet she also took a tongue-in-cheek approach to everyday themes and even the Bible, with fun titles like “Super Supper” and “What Ever Happened to Baby Moses?” 

Arranged chronologically and by subject, the Harper exhibit reveals an inquisitive artist with a sense of whimsy — one who freely moved from one medium to the next in order to grow creatively. In a 1947 self-portrait hung at the entrance to the show, she crosses her freckled arms, smirks and cocks her head as if to say, “I’m really too busy to sit still for a painting.”   

While at the Art Academy, Harper demonstrated she was a skilled at Cubism and Surrealism, painting portraits with alien faces. Once she settled into her sparse Midcentury Modern style, she applied that lens to any medium or subject.  

During World War II, while her beloved Charley was overseas, Harper was using an actual lens as a photographer for the Army Corps of Engineers in Cincinnati. The “dullsville” job meant taking pictures of experiments with soil, concrete and airplanes, but she also created fine art by focusing her camera on the same kinds of lines, shapes and patterns that she already was painting on canvas. She received a solo show of her photographs in 1961 at the Contemporary Arts Center. 

Formalism was her overriding approach to seeing the world. In one upstairs gallery, Distel marveled at a square weaving with an open circle in the center as being “unmistakably Edie.” 

When she took “a new look at the Old Book,” as one section of the exhibit is called, Harper wasn’t motivated by religion but an opportunity to create interesting modernist visuals using the Bible’s narrative. As the work was being installed, Dotson especially envied Harper’s sparse geometric paintings depicting the Apostles. 

“I made a Last Supper for Art of Food that I thought was as simplified as you could get,” Dotson said. “She did 12 circles and some lines and blew me away!” 

Both solo exhibits were blowing people away on opening night. According to Distel, this is the most art The Carnegie has shown at once in a long time. And for Harper, one more huge display could be ahead. 

ArtWorks, which honored Charley Harper with a downtown public mural in 2012, says it hopes to add Edie to its 2017 portfolio. But now that The Carnegie has revealed how broad her talent was, will the side of one building be big enough?  

AN AMERICAN OUTSIDER and E IS FOR EDIE continue through Feb. 11 at The Carnegie, 1028 Scott Blvd., Covington, Ky. More info: thecarnegie.com.

“The Orient – Expressed”


By Pamela Dillon – Contributing Writer
Dayton Daily News

Be inspired by the simplicity of Asian beauty when you view a series of four by Diana Marra: Serenity Series, Sumi-e Series, Elements Series, and Designer Series at the Middletown Fine Arts Center. Also included with the four collections are smaller works and notecards.

“The Orchid and the Butterfly” is an example from her Serenity Series. Her watercolor on rice paper is mostly untouched, with the elegant lines of the orchid leaves enhanced by a beautiful butterfly flitting among the delegate golden petals.

“When I first started my business In 2011, I visited art fairs … and noticed too many mixtures of design color, and framing. I wanted a more unified and contemporary twist on the ancient art form of Chinese brush painting,” said Marra, a Cincinnati resident. “The simplicity of brushstrokes and design … gives one a feeling of peace and tranquility.”

Marra was able to follow her lifelong dream of becoming an artist when she retired from Formica in 2008. The former global product manager started studying brush painting at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. She has also studied art techniques with Karl Feng in Montgomery, Ohio, and Ning Yeh in China.

“Happy Dragon” depicts a work in her Sumi-e Series. With the single color of black, Marra is able to make her subject come alive. The ebony of the dragon’s back spikes and long claws make a nice contrast to the lighter touch of the scales. One almost senses the dragon will jump off the paper.

“Centuries ago, this art form was created with tones of ink on rice paper. I wanted to honor the tradition and create some works with only ink, and the absence of color,” said Marra.

Her Elements series were tucked in among the others, as MAC had four large walls for her to use. The series was a collection of abstracted small studies, not final artworks. The title of this series was a grinning nod to her very first concert, Earth, Wind, and Fire.

“I found I wanted to hang the show with less art/more wall space, and kind of blurred my delineations of each series,” said Marra. “Combining basic elements with Feng Shui; I wanted to create the five elements with Earth-Wind-Fire-Metal-Water as a theme.”

The Designer Series was a practical use of color, design, and contemporary trends.

Some in the series use splashes of brilliant trending colors of national brands, like Sherwin Williams. “Golden Floralbunda,” a work reminiscent of Georgia O’Keefe’s macro florals, is an example of this.

“Oftentimes I was giving the client that which they did not even realize they needed,” said Marra. “The utilization of Asian materials, various rice papers, are used to create a collage of materials, more so than an actual painting. As I love to do custom works, bits of memorabilia from the client could easily be included in these collages.”

Four of her paintings now showing at MAC will be exhibited at the Atrium Medical Center in Middletown directly after the exhibit. Besides working in her studio, she continues teaching art and has recently completed a Japanese Garden “to support her aesthetic.”

Sandy Russell – Breaking Down Walls


“Breaking Down Walls”
Photo by Sandy Russell
Written by Doug Geyer

When Nicéphore Niépce captured a view of his estate in eastern France with his camera obscura in 1826, photos have been capturing our hearts and minds ever since.

Whether via film or chip, there’s something magical in arresting and holding moments of history both sweeping and grand as well as personal and pedestrian. Goggled explorers encircled by wisps of snow on the summit of Everest and our neighbor’s dapper snowman.
One giant leap for mankind or tiny feet taking their first, small steps.

The ability to bend light to our will is only part of the power. It’s in the viewing and sharing of those frozen images that the photographer transports themselves and others through time and space, connecting us to places we’ve never been, people we’ll never meet, and events we should never forget. We experience both the heartrending and heartwarming through images mimicking passports, held in our hands or framed on a wall.

But as anyone who’s ever clicked a shutter or tapped a screen knows, it’s all too easy to lose those moments in basement boxes, shelved scrapbooks, and archived JPEGs. Bringing photos back into the light takes intention. Sharing them takes passion.

426 Raw Walls 2 brought both intention and passion together and a dedicated artist’s photos into the light. But what happened on the evening of October 7, in a raw warehouse on Findlay Street goes beyond an Alumni Association fundraiser and to the heart of what the AAC is all about.

“To create and sustain radical, forward-thinking, contemporary visual artists and designers whose creative contributions make a substantial difference in all the lives they touch.”

A friendship that started at the AAC between two, non-traditional students is part of why that mission statement is more than words on a website.

Sandy Russell (BFA ‘02) and Jennifer Grote (BFA ‘03), were slightly and more than slightly older than the typical student. At 44, Jennifer followed her dream of being an artist while still working as a nurse. She and her grown children were in school at the same time after she accepted a scholarship to the AAC. At 25, Sandy felt an instant kinship with Jennifer when they first met. Their ongoing relationship, in tandem with this Alumni Association opportunity, would ultimately inspire Sandy to reconnect with over a decade of photos inspired by the events of September 11, 2001.
Sandy already had a trip planned to New York City as part of an AAC student group. As the reality of what transpired at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and that isolated field in Shanksville, reverberated around the globe, she didn’t change her plans just her senior thesis. She wanted to chronicle the wave of patriotism that was swelling up in response to the now tangible threat of terrorism. Heading out pre-GPS, without a place to stay, Sandy embarked on a trip that would evolve into an annual pilgrimage. She was driven by a desire to document all the various ways people from various backgrounds, nationalities, and races were coming together in a rare display of solidarity. Year after year, mile after mile, and roll after roll, she kept her vision in focus.

And life happened.

She got married, had children, a full time job. But she kept traveling on her own dime with limited time. Going to the same spots the same time each year but meeting and engaging with new and different people and fellow pilgrims. First responders, military veterans, families, citizens, protesters, humans.

The sites changed and evolved as well. “The Pit” was slowly and respectfully transformed into “Reflecting Absence” – a memorial of trees and twin fountains perpetually flowing into twin pools. The names of all 2,977 victims, as well as the six who died during the bombing of 1993, inscribed on bronze panels forged around the perimeters. The memorial at the Pentagon came to life over time to honor the 184 who perished there. And the smoldering scar in the Pennsylvania field grew into the Flight 93 National Memorial to remember the 40 who gave their lives to save countless others.

Sandy saw it all through the years but didn’t always see her photos.

“The last two years that I went, I took the pictures, downloaded them on the computer… and I never even looked at them.”

It was Jennifer’s encouragement as they worked together to organize this year’s Raw Walls event that empowered Sandy to pull together her work and display it for the very first time. And not just a few chosen for framing but over 500 5×7’s. Even still, a fraction of all the moments she’d captured.

“She planted the seed. She really did. I’m sure she knew the possibilities before I did.”

While walls were constructed in the donated space for AAC artists to exhibit their art, walls were also broken down. No budget walls, no space and no audience walls, busy life walls. Walls that can typically inhibit and discourage artists from displaying their work and audiences being moved by it.

“To create and sustain… artist and designers… make a substantial difference in all the lives they touch.”

Sandy remembers on the night of the show how many were drawn into the world of her photos. And how many needed to step back and momentarily away, touched and moved as they were.

Though Sandy hasn’t been able to travel to the trinity of hallowed spots since 2013, her annual pilgrimage hasn’t stopped – it simply got shorter and more local. And she has brought along a very special helper. Her oldest son John, who was a second grader in 2013, has been coming with her each year.

“On September 11, 2013, after visiting several firehouses, we were at the station on Liberty Street in Over-the-Rhine. As I was telling my stories, John was finishing my sentences for me. It showed me how much he was listening and how much he’d learned that day. He has learned so much about me as a person, as an artist, and about 9/11. More than he would have otherwise ever known.”

These moments with John are ones Sandy will never forget. And thanks to her dedication as an artist and the support of the AAC family, her photos and what they captured won’t be easily forgotten either.

(read Sandy’s overview of 426 Raw Walls 2 on the Alumni Association page)










Interview with Chris Sickels


Watching his grandfather amble around the family farm hunting for bent nails is a memory that’s clung to Chris Sickels.

This regular quest was motivated not by safety or cleanliness but thrift. He was going to use them again. Bent nails. Something most would drop into the category of useless garbage before tossing them into the trash. But after the long day’s work was “done”, the nails would be pulled from his pocket and placed in an anvil for straightening. Chris recalls he’d also perfected a technique for effectively driving them post-anvil that involved spitting on the hammer’s head and rubbing it on his pants to ensure a clean strike.

This inclination to see the possibilities in that which is worn and weary also inhabited Chris’ father. As a dairy farmer living on the edge of success and survival, he had the ability to look at cows that were thin and/or ill and devise a plan to restore them to health. He does the same and more with horses today.

All of this recycling, hard work and perseverance was not lost on Chris. Though it’s been over 20 years since he left that small farm in Indiana for the big city of Cincinnati to attend the AAC, he finds himself on his own quest to reshape reclaimed items. His motivation is a mix of  thriftiness, a willingness to try and fail combined with a courageous creativity that allows him to envision and build extraordinary worlds with everyday items. And though he’s back living in another small Indiana town with his wife and four kids, memories from his time at the Art Academy have not only clung to him but played a part in reshaping him as well.

Chris remembers entering his freshman year with an insecurity that sprung from his rural upbringing and what he thought would be his limited art education. But he soon realized that Terri Martin, who was his sole art teacher through both middle and high school, had more than equipped him. Her attention and dedication even set him ahead of the curve. She also went well beyond the obligatory classroom instruction when she helped him put his portfolio together for reviews and drove him to different art schools including the AAC where he ultimately enrolled after accepting a helpful scholarship. And though he was thoroughly versed in the inner workings of farm life including the birthing process of its animal residents, he was unaware of all the options and opportunities that lay before him artistically.

As he listened to and learned from his fellow students and dedicated professors, Chris began to see how the seeds they were planting in his already fertile mind were beginning to take root and produce strange but wonderful fruit. Susan Curtis, an adjunct professor from England, took him under her wing and pushed him out of the nest at the same time. Their trip to the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County opened his eyes to new forms and styles of illustrating he wasn’t aware of. She also “locked” him in a room with two VHS tapes with compilations of stop motion animation work by the Quay brothers. Former marine and then AAC student, Sean Wallace, brought him to a magazine stand to show him illustrations of C.F. Payne in Rolling Stone. Checking out the shows of avant-garde puppeteers Mark Fox and Anthony Luensman and experimenting with his own drew out of him the desire to push beyond the two dimensions of illustration and painting into a three dimensional universe with nearly  infinite directions.

These experiences and more were opening up borders, allowing Chris to explore and travel without ever leaving Cincinnati. This spirit of exploration is something Chris sees as unique and profoundly helpful about his time at the AAC.

“That’s what the Art Academy afforded me. You could take stone carving, woodworking, etching, printing making and oil painting. You could be a communication design major but you could still go weld. I was hungry to see all that.”

He didn’t know how it would apply to what he wanted to do down the road but he was grateful for the exposure. AAC’s intentional cross-pollination was highlighted when he spent a semester at another well-known art school for an exchange program of sorts.

“I went there to study scientific illustration but I remember trying to use their photography department but you couldn’t go shoot your flat work because you weren’t a photography student. I remember trying to make frames but I couldn’t use the wood shop because I wasn’t an industrial design major.”

The farm boy from Indiana had been given a passport with no travel restrictions and he had no intention of giving that up.

In the years after graduating in 1996, Chris has added more stamps to that passport as he’s ventured into projects ranging from magazine covers, children’s books, short videos, and sculptures which coaxe you from the real into the surreal (visit www.rednosestudio.com). The AAC honored him with the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2010.

Currently, Chris is busy making new memories with his family as he strives to stay open to all the ways they can inform his work and shape his heart. Combined with those from the farm and the AAC, these new memories are bound to birth creations which cling to those privileged to enjoy his work.

He’s still pushing. Still exploring. Trying and failing.

Always hunting for the next, bent nail.


Sarah Stolar Appointed Director of UNM-Taos Art Department

Sarah Stolar found her creative voice; you can too

Bill Knief, For The Taos News Sep 16, 2016

Sarah Stolar, the newly appointed director of the UNM-Taos art department, has been a practicing artist and art teacher for a good part of her life. Her mother, Merlene Schain, a college professor, holds a master’s degree and owns an art school in Cincinnati. Nevertheless, Stolar started out wanting to be a concert violinist – that is, until the day she came face-to-face with her true calling.

“I was living with my mom in Cincinnati, and one day I was walking through the lobby of the Art Academy of Cincinnati and I saw all of these amazing drawings on the walls and I had an epiphany,” Stolar said. “There was something about the energy of that building, and it kind of hit me all at once that I wanted to be there. I ended up getting my undergraduate degree in painting at the Art Academy and immediately went to grad school at the San Francisco Art Institute as a painting major.” Stolar said that, about halfway through the program, she changed to a new medium — new media, installation, performance and sound art — all mostly considered to be “non-traditional” forms of fine art.

“I’m a traditional painter in some sense, as I work with the landscape and the figure, but I make installations,” she said. “I do video art, sound art — I was a costume designer for a very famous artist named Annis Sprinkle and her equally notable partner Beth Stevens. So you could say I’m interdisciplinary and art has consumed my life.”

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