Northern Kentucky University allows audiences to see two artistic visions with the opening of two art shows: “Awfully Mighty Sexy,” a retrospective of Donald Henry, and “Attachments: New Work” by Rondle West.
“Awfully Mighty Sexy” shows a large amount of artwork created by Henry during his time with Visionaries and Voices, a non-profit arts organization involved in creating artistic and enriching opportunities for over 130 artists with disabilities. Henry passed away in September of last year, leaving behind a large collection of artwork.
Henry’s art is considered “outsider art.” An outsider artist is usually an artist with no artistic training who works on the outside of the artistic arena. Outsider art is also referred as to “art brut” which can be translated to raw art or rough art.
“There’s this raw element that trained artists like myself, you spend all this money going through school and all this time trying to get back to the point that outsider artists are naturally at,” Robyn Winkler, a studio coordinator with Visionaries and Voices, said. “It’s just really raw, instinctual element, and that’s what I love about outsider art. There’s emotion behind it.”
All of Henry’s body of work focused on the people and places in his life. Some words that describe Henry’s body of work are simple, colorful, machine and architectural-oriented, imagery and personal. People are represented as robots, each with a personality of their own. Places, such as one of his favorite restaurants, Frisch’s, are represented as houses.
“He’d go in cycles, whether it was houses or people in his life,” Winkler said. “It was really what was just happening in his everyday life, that’s what his art was about.”
“Realizing every robot’s different, every house is different. They may appear the same but there are little details that are very unique,” Nick Paddock, marketing director with Visionaries and Voices, said. “And it takes the viewer time and patience to really look in to read that. Every piece is very dear to him and very important.”
Henry used crayons, pencils, markers, construction paper and paint to create his pieces. Henry often produced anywhere from seven to ten artworks a day. Gina Henry, Henry’s sister, talks about his dedication to his art.
“He was a born artist,” Henry’s sister said. “If he was up and ready to draw or paint you better have it there for him to do.”
Rondle West, a mostly self-taught artist, has recently gotten back into creating art. He has been actively pursuing his art for approximately a year now and “Attachments” is his first art show. The work that he creates involve the use of found objects consisting of metal, wood, toys, spray paint and many different types of adhesives.
West describes his art as assemblage sculpture. The artwork is bold, colorful, textural, overwhelming, chaotic and organic. You never quite know where to direct your eye first. The viewer wants to touch the artwork to feel the many different levels of texture at play. And while viewing, you can tell the artist has a sense of fun about him while creating his artwork.
“I like to poke fun at things that people may take serious,” West said. “I am also working on things that are not serious and making them serious. I have taken something that is lighthearted and made it serious or spooky.”
Many of the sculptures that West has created have religious references, using iconography from Christianity and Buddhism.
“We all have this stereotype of what we think is good and bad in the world,” he said.
“What if what you’ve been told all your life is really good and you find out it’s bad. And everything you’re taught is bad is actually really good. What do you do then?”
All of West’s sculptures tell a story through the use of characters from comics, cartoons, pop culture and science fiction/technological references that he has shaped into a connected piece making a statement on religion, evolution, science and many other topics.
“For me they’re like little mini stage sets,” West said. “They tell a story. It’s like looking at a theater production for me.”
NKU’s two new art shows will be open from Sept. 30 through Oct. 29 in the Main and Third Floor Galleries located in the Fine Arts building.
Story by Shawn Buckenmeyer