by Ben Shine
If you read my last post, you already know that I’ve decided to dedicate the bicentennial year to celebrating Indiana the best way I know how: talking to culture makers about what they love about our state. I want to talk to writers about their favorite Indiana authors and poets. I want to talk to painters and sculptors about their favorite Indiana artists. I want to talk to local music makers about their most influential Hoosier artists.
I kicked things off asking local musicians to talk about their favorite Indiana music. This time, I asked 10 local visual artists to name their top three, all-time favorite Indiana artists, and to tell me a little bit about why they love them.
I gave them my criteria for ranking their favorites, which is pretty simple: I’m not looking for the most successful and famous artists from the state, or else Robert Indiana, T.C. Steele and Gustave Baumann would dominate most lists. Instead, I’m looking for picks from the heart - three Hoosier artists whose artwork, style or process impact them on a personal and professional level.
William Merritt Chase - traditional, created in depth depictions of his sitters' personalities. Several are penetrating especially his self-portrait in the Richmond Museum.
A major influence for me, David K. Rubins, artist/sculptor who taught at Herron. I met him in seventh grade when I started attending Herron’s Saturday School figure drawing classes and later befriended him in college at Herron. He had retired by then but occasionally during lunch we would sit in the hall discussing the figure. He created the young Lincoln by the Indiana Statehouse and wrote a book, The Human Figure.
Paul Sweany, former Herron instructor. He loved the Old Masters and we would talk art history when I worked with and for him at Herron. Although not a student, I was his T.A. and I consider his work some of the best watercolors created by Indiana artists.
I always cite my favorite local artists as Tyler Meuninck and Nat Russell ... both geniuses but I say it so adamantly and so often it’s starting to get weird, and I don’t need another restraining order. So here is a different list.
The best artist in the world happens to be from Indiana, Bruce Nauman. His video work is pure joy for me, very inspirational. His video double no at the Tate Modern altered my DNA.
Carla Knopp is an amazing Indianapolis artist that sort of epitomizes what it is to be an “artist.” Smart and steady, everything she makes is great; I’m a huge fan.
Mike Lyons - His work and his process of making work are fascinating, completely beyond me, I have no idea what’s going on, but it’s always beautiful or terrible in the best way ever.
Kipp Normand - His work makes the deepest part of me make sense. The world is made of boxes, filled properly, with the right amount of light and dark. And I'm allowed to keep all of the things, if I put them in the right places. And there are an infinite number of secrets and things to be curious about and places to trespass.
Kyle Ragsdale - His work is filled with colors that I never use, but love when he paints them together. I get lost in the dreams and the people I know and ones I don't know and want to make a costume and join the joy in the canvas.
Johnny McKee - His work is quiet and beautiful. Even pieces with a touch of violence are quietly beautiful. I like how deeply calm his work makes me feel. A cosmic stillness and peace.
It is impossible for me to list just three Indiana Artists. I've been influenced by hundreds of artists since moving to Indiana, and I feel that it would do a disservice to ignore so many great artists. I really can't make up my mind, so I will simply list the first Hoosier artist that inspired me while growing up in Defiance, Ohio.
1. Jim Davis - Once I mastered drawing Garfield, I knew I could become an artist. It was a simple litmus test, but an important stepping stone. Growing up in the Midwest, Jim Davis was a hero.
Casey Roberts - I love the way he combines visual imagery with process to create dreamlike landscapes that both calm and provoke my brain.
Benny Sanders - I've seen much of his recent work on my facebook feed, and wish I had more disposable income to add some of his mixed-media drawings and prints.
Barbara Zech - I love great handmade ceramics, and Barbara's pottery is some of the best that I have in my kitchen. Her tiled mosaics, seen on the canal walk and in several local neighborhoods, are one of my favorite things about Indy.
Harry Davis was one of the first Indiana artists that I actually met. I was working for Indiana Landmarks in 1989 and their main office here in Indianapolis was at Crown Hill Cemetery at that time. They had a series of large paintings of Indianapolis buildings from the 19th century all painted in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The paintings perfectly captured the tension between the beautiful architecture and the shabby condition of the buildings. Harry Davis actually came to one of our staff meetings to talk about his work and when I learned about his experience at Herron and saw his fantastic early work from the 1930s, he became a hero of mine. He painted brilliantly all his life, a career of more than 60 years.
Eve Mansdorf teaches painting at IU. She is not from Indiana. She paints figures in interiors mostly. Somehow she has captured Bloomington perfectly. The style and colors of the rooms and the quality of the light is marvelous.
Casey Roberts work is simultaneously simple and multifaceted. He makes images that he calls drawings using a 19th-century photographic process called cyanotype. I don't know anyone else who does this. His imagery incorporates nature, folklore and the complications of modern life. He is one of the most prolific artists I know and one of the nicest. He also makes movies that are brilliant.
Lois Main Templeton - I love her because her work is, above all, authentic. She shows us who she is, in the now. She is clearly the godmother of Hoosier modern art.
Vija Celmins - She graduated from Herron in 1962. I heard her speak at Herron while I was there, and that talk and her work has made a profound impact on my work. Her influence on my art is pretty obvious.
Phil Campbell - His massive "Catfish Friend" took my breath away when I saw it in person. His personal narrative and careful craftsmanship make him one of Indy's all-time greats. My list could go on and on, and my love of local artists is strong. Our community of artists is made up of some of the hardest working, most dedicated people there is. I'm proud to work among them.
Ed Funk - Seeing his multi-layered paintings and woodblock prints for the first time inspired and confounded me simultaneously. Employing lines and shapes that have some underlying structure or rhythm that upon further investigation disintegrate, he seemed to be playing all the notes that were between the notes. He taught me how important the strength of a single brush mark could be.
David Kleeman - His sculptural work has always moved me. The use of found objects with hand-carved and molded mediums are Multi-dimensional, shamanistic and humorous. There is a wealth of symbolism and hidden facets to these works to investigate. It's a pleasure to revisit them again and again.
MaryAnne Nguyen - Her paintings and drawings always seem to possess remarkable craftsmanship, thoughtfulness and care-free humor. Just the studies and sketches that she prepares for paintings alone have been very inspiring to witness. There's an ethereal quality to her work that goes beyond description.
I'm known for struggling to pick favorites but Indiana has interestingly deep and rich ties in the world of art. One of my favorites would be an artist lesser known to have Indiana ties but who grew up in northwestern Indiana and that would be Isamu Noguchi. His work is so compelling in its understated but powerful concept and aesthetic. As I mature as an artist, I look to work like his as vital.
Another artist with stronger Indiana ties whose work I really enjoy is George Rickey. His kinetic sculptures are just gracefully elegant.
Picking a third is where it becomes nearly impossible so I have to draw a straw to choose, and I hate doing that. The arts in our community are growing leaps and bounds so it's such a broad swath of choices. Could I just take a moment to praise the great work of a whole community of artists? If so, I would have to shine a huge spotlight on the work of the artists at the Harrison Center. That would not only include the artists but the amazing ways the staff is always looking to promote and support us creators in the building. It's a magical place that deserves recognition for all of the amazing and creative components held within its confines.
T.C. Steele - Steele was a master of the young American Impressionist painting movement and was as good as any painter in the world. In addition to being
the most famous Indiana painter still, he also played a major role in the founding of John Herron School of Art, which has produced many of the artists who
impact our city every day.
Brian Myers - Myers' painterly style and choice of everyday subject matter had me instantly fascinated. His use of negative space and play between strokes of muted and bold colors create a sometimes dreamlike sense of perspective for the viewer.
Quincy Owens - Quincy's abstract paintings are rich and compelling with a lot of play between color and shape. His light installations are wonderfully simple and clean; sometimes more angular, sometimes more linear as circumstances vary.
Who are your favorite Indiana artists and why? I’d love to read your picks down in the comments or over on our facebook page.