Gary Gee, who will show his paintings and ceramic sculpture at Indiana Landmarks on Sept. 2, once worked as a licensed cosmetologist.
"I was doing hair," he says. "I was getting better at it but mentally and physically I wasn't there."
The processes that he learned in this career, however, were not wasted on his career as an artist.
"There's color theory with hair, technique," says the 46-year-old Gee, who grew up in Indianapolis. "I had to humble myself too because when you're a guy you think there's no reason for [a woman] to be here all day until you actually learn the process."
But it's the processes of human evolution and history, as well as the history of street art, that are the subjects of his paintings and ceramic sculpture. In these works, you can see images of Olmec statues and Buddhas swirling around like leaves in a stream. You may have seen some of his paintings previously at Meet the Artists at the Indianapolis Library and FLAVA Fresh, both of which are showcases for African-American artists.
Gee is working towards his B.A. in integrated studio practices at the Herron School of Art and Design. So it's no coincidence that he'll be showing his paintings — as well as recent work in ceramic sculpture — along with paintings by Herron instructors Samuel E Vázquez and Hector Del Campo.
And it's easy to see why these artists feel a kinship with one another. In all of their work, you can see nods to the history of street art, graffiti and the importance of the urban experience in American culture.
The process involved in the nexUS exhibition coming together was a
"My manager Amy Ward was showing my work around town in different galleries," says Gee. "And she showed it to the Rapp Family Gallery; they loved my work. And they wanted it but I only would have seven months to fill this big venue. She talked to me, and she was like, you talk about Sam and Hector a lot. They've already been established. ... So the whole concept of nexUS just evolved."
"Nexus means the connection between things or persons," says Sam Vázquez. "We knew each other: I knew Hector, Hector knew Gary. Also, the roots of why we do this as far as artists is rooted in the genesis of street art. The roots are there, but each of us will interpret it in a different way. That's the connection that we have as artists."
Vázquez was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1970 but grew up mostly in New York City where he tagged quite a few subways and subway lines. Indeed, it's Vázquez's canvases that seems closest of all these artists to the New York City graffiti scene in their expressive and extemporaneous abstraction.
Yet all of these artists have a certain outsider perspective to the Indianapolis art scene, which continues to evolve from its roots in landscape, nature and portrait painting. In the case of Vázquez and Hector Del Campo, that sense of being an outsider is accentuated by their coming to Indianapolis from elsewhere.
"I'm a first generation Cuban American," says the 39-year-old Del Campo, who grew up in Tampa, Florida. "Literally understanding and seeing cultures, that's what I grew up in, and having that weave between different cultures and sharing different ideas, talking, communicating; even art, food and music. That weave between everything was really rich."
There's a richness to many of Del Campo's paintings; you can almost see different styles — geometric abstraction and more expressive gestural work — wrestling it out on his canvases. There's also a richness as far as texture and different media that are used. You could also talk about a certain conceptual richness in his work. Take "Altered Rainbows" which is a quite literal mashup of various rainbows in various shades of grayscale against an olive green backdrop.
And it was Del Campo and Vázquez who helped Gee see the rainbow, as it were, at the end of his occasionally stormy experiences in school.
"Both of them as friends and mentors over the past two years have just groomed me to be a better me," says Gee. "Hector kind of laid out a plan one time. We hung out after a class one time and he showed me; 'Man, you got potential to more than you think that you can.' I was at Ivy Tech, I was finishing off a graphic design degree. I was struggling. I wasn't the greatest graphic designer. At the same time, I stayed in the program."