The Alchemy of art and life 

3 of Indy’s whimsical artists showcase new work

click to enlarge Emma Overman at her house
  • Emma Overman at her house

Packing for cross country trips, painting clouds on the ceiling of a cramped studio, and a fresh perspective are all shaking the artwork of three notable Indy artists.

Not too long ago, one of Emma Overman’s friends proposed two titles for her forthcoming exhibitions: “Girls, Girls, Girls,” and “Loose Women of Springtime.” For anyone even vaguely familiar with the menagerie of storybook characters found in Overman’s paintings — both animal and hominoid — it might be hard not to laugh. Because there’s nothing remotely sexualized about these creatures.

Such titles just might draw in a crowd.


Overman, 41, will be sharing that crowd (and a gallery space) with painters John Klinkose and Johnny McKee for the “Modern Alchemists” exhibition at Indiana Landmarks, opening April 1. This grouping just might give this Harrison Center-based artist an opportunity to attract a different kind of audience — perhaps some patrons unfamiliar with Overman’s work — for her latest “loose” paintings.

“I’d say that I have an interest in line and flat color that I’m exploring lately,” says Overman. “At the same time it helps me provide a different product where I can make the prices a little lower because I’m not putting every hair on the rabbit.”

Overman’s trying to find the sweet spot: She wants to paint at a good clip without compromising her artistic processes. She’s newly-single, with her 4-year-old daughter Anabel (as well as a big house and two dogs) to take care of. Time, therefore, is at a premium.

click to enlarge John Klinkose in studio
  • John Klinkose in studio

For John Klinkose, coming home after two decades to Indianapolis, where he grew up, has been a sweet experience. This is in part due to the plethora of arts organizations that have blossomed in the last decade; organizations that, he says, don’t have any equivalent in Philadelphia where he and his partner Jennifer lived most recently.

“We just got back in town a year and a half ago,” says Klinkose. “We spent the last twenty years on the east coast. We also lived in D.C. for a while, Rhode Island, and Florida.”

Klinkose, 51, currently works for as a conservation technician for the firm Kreilick Conservation LLC, based out of Miami, FL. He also was in the Coast Guard for four years.

He’s painted for 20 years, combining subject matter that he loves with portraiture. “I started out flying at Indiana State University and then I was in the coast guard for a while. So there’s boats and a lot of water going on in a lot of the work,” says Klinkose of his oil paintings.

He views “Modern Alchemists” as an opportunity to display some more of his stranger, “more speculative ideas.”

Such ideas are amply on display in his second floor studio in his house in Indy’s Meridian-Kessler neighborhood. In one painting you see a woman on a front porch of a house, her features slightly blurry, out of focus, in an apparent state of contemplation. Overhead though, in the upper right of the canvas, is a flying saucer. Hopper meets Close Encounters.

And then there’s a piece that relates to his homecoming to Indiana, a painting entitled “Child of the Race,” featuring a child in the foreground. In the background you see a pagoda that used to be on the Indy 500 track but burnt down in 1925. And overhead is a blimp releasing a sky-full of balloons.

click to enlarge Johnny McKee at the Harrison studio
  • Johnny McKee at the Harrison studio

Klinkose’s excited about sharing exhibit space with Overman and McKee. “I think we’re all trying to conjure up made up worlds,” says Klinkose. “I like that about their work.”

Johnny McKee, however, isn’t conjuring made-up worlds for the show: he’s painting starscapes. It’s thematically expansive work, especially for an artist whose studio at the Harrison Center for the Arts isn’t all that much bigger than a walk-in closet.

It’s really hard,” says McKee, 41. “I couldn’t figure out why it was affecting me so much but I think that part of it was that I have this air conditioning unit that runs 24/7. It was this auditory thing that I just couldn’t get past … and then also, not having outside light come in.”

For a while the space yielded conceptual limitations like less cloudscapes, because he wasn't able to look out any windows for inspiration.

After a year in the studio, he’s figured the space out. He’s even figured out how to create large scale work in it — and painted a cloudscape on his ceiling.
McKee has been involved in arts education in Indianapolis over the past two decades. Currently he teaches art to people with disabilities at Ashland Gallery. He’s also taught at the Indianapolis Art Center, as well as for IU Health. He lives in Irvington with his wife Janeale.

It may surprise some that this art instructor, with a very technical aptitude for creating portraiture, produces so many expressionistic cloudscapes and starscapes. But then, perhaps there’s something mysterious — a certain alchemy — about his art that defies explanation.

“My teaching is opposite of how I create,” says McKee. “Mostly when I’m teaching drawing classes, it’s very much drawing what’s in front of you: how to see; my art is not that at all. I taught the plastic surgeon residents from IU Health and you have to know what you’re drawing and how you’re drawing it. The surgeon who set up the program just wanted them to learn how to see differently. His idea was that it would help them in their approach with their patients.”   


Modern Alchemists
New Visions by Emma Overman, Johnny McKee, and John Klinkose
Opening reception April 1
Indiana Landmarks, 1201 Central Ave.

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