Check Out My Melody, Gary Gee
“[I’m] not like the rest of them, I’m not on a list,” Rakim raps in the first verse of his song “My Melody” (‘87). Growing up, artist Gary Gee really resonated with this song and found inspiration in it. As the song’s unique style continues to influence his life and work, “Check Out My Melody” became the perfect title for Gee’s playful, bold, and soulful show in the City Gallery.
Gee is an Indianapolis native; he grew up in Brookside near Spade’s Park Library. He’s been an artist just about his whole life and is fascinated with what the element of “play” brings to his creative ventures. He viewed drawing and painting as an act of play that he exercised even while in the military and in cosmetology school. It wasn’t until later in his life that he started to explore art as work when he went to Ivy Tech to study graphic design. Through his studies, he reignited his love for fine arts and was encouraged by his professors to transfer to Herron School of Art & Design, where he graduated with a BFA in 2016. Even though it was challenging, especially because he was raising his two sons, this was the first time in his life that he really enjoyed school, and was proud to show his sons that it’s not too late to go back to school even later in life. He worked hard to be able to start showing his work in coffeehouses, breweries, and local galleries even while he was still in school.
He realized the dreams he’d had as a kid were actually attainable and started reflecting on his childhood to recover his aspirations. When a professor asked who his inspiration was, Gee said that besides family, J.J. Evans from the TV show Good Times that he watched as a kid was his biggest inspiration. His professor laughed. “Don’t you know that J.J. Evans didn’t actually make those paintings?” his professor asked. “You should find out who the real artist is.” While Gee still admired J.J., donning a similar signature bucket hat, he became even more inspired with the real artist, Ernie Barnes. Ernie, besides being a professional football player, was the first African American artist to have a solo show in New York City. As Gary developed as an artist, he continued to be inspired by art history, not only by other African American artists, but also by “hidden cultures,” such as German Renaissance artists who rebelled against the Nazis. Additionally, his work heavily celebrates hip-hop culture and influence. He loves to “remix” his pieces, often going over them several times with more layers of color, text, and illustration.
These influence play out in the ceramic slabs and bricks that comprise the base of his pieces. He says the bricks are partially reminiscent of his childhood and the brick streets he used to play on around this area, partially reflective of a graffiti-covered brick wall, and partially a nod to the fall of the Berlin wall.
His travels and quotes are also important to his work and development as an artist. He was working on remixing several “Kurt V Was Here” pieces for this show when he travelled to San Francisco for a show. One morning, while he was eating breakfast at Aunt Mary’s cafe, he overheard the couple next to him talking about art. When Gary introduced himself as an Indianapolis artist and learned that the boyfriend was from Northern Indiana, he shared about this show and started talking about Kurt Vonnegut. “It reminded us of that quote,” Gary explained, “the one that says, ‘I don't know what it is about Hoosiers, but wherever you go there is always a Hoosier doing something very important there.’”
That quote is one Gary thought about a lot while working on this show, and one that he hopes to fulfill with his art. He loves travelling to large thriving cities, then coming back to Indianapolis to uncover and nurture the pockets of culture he finds here. Specifically for this show, he made several pieces about dominoes and the way they’ve built community in his life. One of his friends bought and remodeled the Festiva building on 16th Street. Next door was an old variety store, and Gary and his friend loved playing dominoes with the owner and his old-timey friends. The conversations they had and games they played gave Gary a chance to reflect on the most important things in his life: family, friends, and faith. When Check Out My Melody opened on November 2nd, Gary actually had a dominoes table set up in the gallery and played games during the opening.
“Growing up in this neighborhood taught me everyone deserves a little respect,” Gary said. “I hope my art reminds people of that. I’ve seen a lot of these same themes roll through my life, but they’re in layers. You have to find different meanings as you get older.” We hope that you can come Check Out Gary’s Melody this month as it hangs through November 30th.