Jon Stommel brings his colorful cast of characters to Columbus

The CCAD grad, who recently completed a mural for Alley Islands outside of the downtown gallery Blockfort, returns this weekend for a group show at Home Sweet Gallery.
A mural by Rather Severe now on display outside of the downtown gallery Blockfort
A mural by Rather Severe now on display outside of the downtown gallery Blockfort Andy Downing

Jon Stommel has long gravitated toward mural work, drawn in by everything from its massive scale to the egalitarian nature of the form, with the artwork remaining accessible to anyone who happens by.

“There’s no admission like you have with museums,” said Stommel, a CCAD graduate who recently moved back to his hometown of Indianapolis following a stretch when he lived in Portland, Oregon. “And galleries are a free thing people can do. But they have hours, so you have to go when they’re open. With outdoor murals, they’re there all the time.”

In the six years Stommel lived in Columbus beginning in 2005, he painted a number of murals. Some of these still exist (see: the north wall of Magnolia Thunderpussy), while others are long gone, including one that used to grace the exterior of Carabar and was erased along with the building that once housed the Olde Town East bar and music venue. More recently, the artist contributed a colorful assemblage to this year’s Alley Islands, joining with Travis Czekalski (the two work together under the name Rather Severe) to fill a wall outside of the downtown art gallery Blockfort with something that resembles a street scene from a city populated with trippy Adult Swim characters. 

“Hopefully it has a sense of energy, or there’s a lot of personality. We wanted these moments happening where these characters are looking around and noticing one another, or having different facial expressions,” said Stommel, who will return to Columbus this weekend to display at Home Sweet Gallery on Parsons Avenue alongside artists BlenkmHighben and WXVVY from 7-11 p.m. on Friday, May 24. “It was really an opportunity to have fun filling a space with character designs, which is one of my favorite things to do.”

Stommel has been creating his own creatures from childhood – an inventive cast that evolved gradually from his efforts to recreate the characters who filled his TV screen growing up and included everything from classic Looney Tunes cartoons to “The Ren & Stimpy Show,” “Beavis and Butt-Head” and the weirder, comparatively underground art that turned up late night on MTV’s “Liquid Television.”

“When I was in elementary school, I was drawing characters to impress other kids, and they would ask me to draw Bart Simpson or some other character from memory,” said Stommel, who took further inspiration from illustrations done by the likes of Shel Silverstein, Dr. Seuss and Richard Gorey. “I feel like every artist, every illustrator, we all start drawing like our heroes, our inspirations. And you learn how to draw like them, and how it feels to make those shapes, those marks. … And in that repetition and in drawing things over and over again and continuing to do that year after year, your brain begins to experiment, and you start to push things one way or another with the shapes and the patterns. And then you’ll have these moments of discovery where it’s like, ‘Oh, I just drew something that’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. And so, that’ll be my shape.’ And maybe it’s a way of drawing something like a leaf, where it’s inspired by things I’ve seen in Seuss or in Looney Tunes, but I drew it so many times that it morphed, or it became a certain weight or size or scale, or it had a sense of character or movement to it where I could just sort of feel that it was my own.”

It helps, of course, that Stommel also has art in the blood. Both of his parents pursued art prior to making career changes; his mom leaning into portraiture, often working with charcoal and pastels, and his dad creating colored pencil renderings of birds and other things he spotted in nature. Additionally, Stommel’s brother is a Los Angeles-based photographer and video artist, and his uncle, Denny Wainscott, is celebrated for his intricately hand-carved gourds.

Stommel’s forthcoming show at Home Sweet Gallery sparked after he moved back to Indianapolis and began to reconnect with a number of the friends and artists he knew from his years in the Midwest, including Columbus painter Davey Highben, one half of BlenkmHighben alongside Martin Blenkinsopp. Stommel and Highben have collaborated on murals in the past, and the two share an artistic sensibility, the warped creatures populating their paintings sometimes serving as funhouse mirror versions of one another. 

“We both have a mix of character-based work and abstraction, and I’m excited to see all the work together in the space, to see how it all relates,” said Stommel, who estimated he would have about a dozen works on display. “Most of the paintings [in the show] are character based, but there are also a few landscapes. And then I’ve also been doing this scribbly spray paint and kind of letting the paint build up and drip, almost like you’d see on a wall that got tagged and buffed a few times. So, some of them have this texture built up where it looks like people have painted over the same surface several times. … I wanted to have that same feel or energy of a free wall outside where people are having fun just scribbling and painting. In that way, it’s similar to the stuff I make outside.”

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