Indy's April show supports artists facing challenges 

Friendships through art, struggle and space

click to enlarge Brian Duff and Sean Sturgis
  • Brian Duff and Sean Sturgis

Surely you've heard about the Stutz Artists Open House — during which the largest group of artists in the Midwest under one roof opens its studios to visitors — but have you heard about the April Show taking place the same night?

The April Show is a free, one-night-only exhibition, in its 19th year, that will be showcasing the work of 20 artists facing significant challenges in their lives. Per usual, the venue is an unassuming house at 322 N. Arsenal Avenue, where art will be displayed on every conceivable piece of wall space on Friday, April 29. Doors open at 7:00 p.m.

The particular challenge faced by artist Sean Sturgis, new to the show this year, is the chronic disease Sarcoidosis. "In my case, it affected my eyes mostly," says Sturgis, 44. "So I'm legally blind in both eyes."


But that hasn't stopped him from creating paintings that impressed veteran April Show exhibitor Brian Duff when he first saw them. They were displayed at Indy Indie Gallery, located in the ground floor of Indy Indie Artist Colony.

"I came by the gallery about a year and a half ago with some friends including David [Hittle] who runs the April Show," says Duff. "There's one piece in particular; there was a mountain with a red top to it; it was geometric; it was crazy; it was a beautiful piece."

And it was the 35-year-old Duff who suggested to Hittle that Sturgis's work be included in the April Show.

Duff, who's faced challenges of his own, including mental illness and bouts of homelessness, moved into Indy Indie Artist Colony two months ago.

"We became pretty quick friends," says Sturgis.

Sturgis was influenced by the New York City art scene of the 1980s.

click to enlarge Brian Duff and Sean Sturgis
  • Brian Duff and Sean Sturgis

"I came up through the graffiti street art era," says Sturgis. "But I was also raised in Long Island where I got access to education and more of a chance to look at fine art. I tried to incorporate the two situations... A lot of my pieces have the gestures of written word and language. But without it having literal meaning per se. I do a lot of work with shapes and geometry... along those lines. With my eyes being the way that they are, I lean towards the colors that I can still see.... Bright blues, pinks, oranges, that sort of thing."

He recalls that his interest in art blossomed in grade school — though not in art class.

"I was sitting in math class and found myself drawing these little symbols and by filling up the page with lines and symbols, eventually that evolved into what I'm doing now," he says.

His former wife Robin Williams, who was the inaugural director of the Garfield Park Arts Center, encouraged Sturgis to paint, whereas before he was working with markers.

These days, he enjoys working on a large scale.

"Sean does have some massive pieces... that will make things a little bit tighter," says David Hittle whose house it is that serves as the April Show gallery space.

click to enlarge Sean Sturgis and Brian Duff
  • Sean Sturgis and Brian Duff

Space is at a premium at the April Show both in terms of elbow room for patrons at the venue – 600 was the estimated attendance last year – as well as wall space. But it's a treasure trove of modestly priced art; pieces are generally priced between $8 and $500. And while the April Show is worthy of patronage on its own, most artists are donating 10% of their earnings to Stopover Inc., a shelter for homeless and at-risk teens on the near eastside.

Returning to this year's April Show is Jerome Neal, who had a solo show of his work at one of Indy's most prestigious venues, Gallery 924, in 2015.

But there will also be surprises, like work by elderly quilter Dorothy Caldwell.

"She's been in the show five years now," says Hittle. "In the past she's quilted what she thought might sell [like] baby quilts with a toy theme. She says that this year she's quilted... more along the lines of what she wants to do as her art. I'm picking up her quilts Friday and I'm looking forward to seeing what those are going to be like."

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