I have driven by Gary Gee’s studio countless times and had no idea the small brick apartment building is home to many artists' studios. Gary’s neighbors on the first floor of Three Thousand and One include his colleagues in WE ARE Indy Arts and The Eighteen Art Collective.
Gary Gee is one of the more established members of The Eighteen, and he has a long career and education in the Indianapolis art scene. In junior high at Harshman (School 101) he won a scholarship to Herron School of Art and Design every semester he was eligible. He was also the first Black kid to attend Indiana University’s Summer Arts Institue in the early `80s. A self-described ‘deviant’, he was often in trouble at school and eventually dropped out of Arlington High School.
A now overturned drug conviction sent him to prison for three years where he reconnected with his love for drawing and committed to a serious career in the arts. He earned a BFA in Integrated Studio Practices from Indiana University’s Herron School of Art and Design (IUPUI) and an AFA in Fine Arts and a AAS in Visual Communications from Ivy Tech Community College.
Emily Sogard (ES): When did you feel like you really made a breakthrough in the Indianapolis art scene?
Gary Gee (GG): In 2018 I won the Beckmann Emerging Artists Fellowship from Indy Arts Council and from there things started rolling for me. It was a big deal. Then my ceramic piece from Art and Soul sold at the inaugural BUTTER Art Fair in 2020. I am surprised by the rooms I end up in.
ES: How did you get involved with the Black Lives Matter mural on Indiana Avenue in 2020?
GG: That’s actually a funny story. I was the last one to get a letter. Early in the process Stacia Murphy brought up my name to Mali and Alan, but I didn’t even know that. Later, someone dropped out, and I was in. Around the same time, I had a mural on the boarded-up windows of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra offices. George Floyd was the subject of those murals, and it was on my mind that Michael Taylor didn’t make it on those panels. That’s how I landed on my subject matter for the Black Lives Matter mural.
ES: How did your experience with the Black Lives Matter mural impact your career?
GG: There was a surreal synergy around the mural. It happened so quickly and organically. It was a feel-good moment in history. And we knew it then. I’m the same old Gee. But kids ask me now, are you famous? The Eighteen Art Collective evolved from that energy. We are all individual artists, but being a part of the collective has changed my thought process and my confidence.
ES: You are a member of two collectives, The Eighteen and WE ARE Indy Arts. How can Indy support living, local artists?
GG: There has been a lot of momentum recently, GANGGANG’s BUTTER, We. The Culture at Newfields, The Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites. The Indy Arts Council has a great art entrepreneurship program called On-Ramp, but I think what Indianapolis is still in need of a bigger administrative support system for artists and creatives. We have creative talent in the city, but right now artists have to do it all themselves; marketing, invoicing, shipping, everything. We need more galleries, dealers, shows, infrastructure to support the business of art.
ES: Do you have a goal that you would consider the pinnacle of your career if you achieve it?
GG: I’ve had dark days, but I’m happy as long as I can create and people like it. I am a dreamer, and Art Basel Miami is the goal, beyond Miami the rest of the world! But, Indianapolis will always be home.
You can find Gary’s work online @originalgarygee and artbygarygee.com. You can see his work in real life at We. The Culture Works by The Eighteen Art Collective right now at Newfields and at Central Library this summer for his exhibition Hip Hop Anthology Vol 4.
We. The Culture: Works by The Eighteen Art Collective is presented by Aaron Wealth Advisors, Gary & Hannah Hirschberg. Lead support is provided by Rachel M. Simon & the Herbert Simon Family Foundation and June McCormack. Associate support is provided by IceMiller and its Racial Equity Solutions Team. Additional support is provided by Judy Donner, Nathan & Deborah Oatts, and Emily A. West.
Installation views of We. The Culture: Works by The Eighteen Art Collective in the June M. McCormack Forefront Galleries, September 23, 2022–September 24, 2023. All artworks © their respective creators.
Artist Gary Gee of The Eighteen Art Collective stands in front of the title treatment to the exhibition We. The Culture: Works by The Eighteen Art Collective in the June M. McCormack Forefront Galleries, September 23, 2022–September 24, 2023.