Among the concentration of Short North art galleries, Lindsay Gallery stands out, catching the eye of many passerby. While most galleries showcase the work of trained artists, Lindsay Gallery specializes in self-taught art that often lacks traditional art techniques. For 17 years, the gallery has highlighted a broad range of works by artists from around Ohio and the country.
The passion project of Duff Lindsay, the gallery sprang from Lindsay’s eclectic personal collection of self-taught and folk art. We sat down with the veteran of the local creative community for a conversation about Lindsay’s career change, the Columbus arts scene and more. For more stories about Central Ohio’s creative community, don’t miss tonight’s episode of Columbus Neighborhoods, 8:30 p.m. on WOSU TV.
How did you get into collecting art?
When I was at Ohio State—I went to film school at Ohio State—I got invited to work on a film about the Columbus artist Elijah Pierce. And that was really my first introduction to folk art. I was completely blown away by Mr. Pierce and his work and the idea that he didn’t need anybody to confer the title of artist on him; he didn’t need to have an art class or a diploma or anything.
After I got out of college and got a job, I got more and more interested in folk art and self-taught art. I started collecting as soon as I had the disposable income to do it and really collected my whole adult life.
I worked as an independent producer for Ohio State for a while. But then shortly thereafter I went to work at Channel 10.
I learned more and more about other self-taught and folk artists in Ohio, and I really kind of made it my mission to meet as many of them as I could. Because, you know, a lot of them were getting pretty far up in years by then, and I really wanted to meet these people and talk to them and learn about them while they were still with us.
Did you get a chance to meet other Ohio self-taught and folk artists?
Yeah, I got to spend time with William Hawkins, who is to this day regarded as one of the top self-taught artists in the country and sought after by collectors all over, not only in this country but around the world, too. And I got to know Smoky Brown. You know, it was a great time of exploration and learning for me and collecting. Eventually, I realized that it had kind of taken over my life.
At what point did you take the collecting to the next level in terms of starting a gallery?
Frankly, I was getting burned out on TV news. It’s a grind, and I was determined to leave it before I had bad feelings about it. I saw so many people get burned out and get bitter and started to hate their job, and I still liked what I did—I just didn’t love it anymore. And I wanted to leave while I still had good memories of it.
So I really did a lot of self-exploration and thought about, what do I have the passion for? And that’s when I decided that I was going to do something that was probably insane, which was leave a good job and open something as risky as an art gallery. And that was in 1999.
Have you had any help along the way, or has it just been you?
It’s pretty much just been me. I guess you’d say, my name’s on the sign and this is really my vision, my aesthetic. I’ve always kind of felt if I could find people who identify with the same kind of aesthetic that I have, then they would become customers.
It’s gotta be really difficult to categorize the kinds of things you’re looking for, since you’re looking at art that kind of defies the boundaries of traditional categories. So are there certain qualities that you look for when selecting art?
Oh, yes. Definitely. And the number one thing that supersedes all others is gut reaction. I’m interested in the art of the heart and not the art of the brain. You know, I’m not that interested in art that’s purely all technical expertise but no emotional content. I want art that really hits me personally, that either tells me a story or makes me imagine a story.
Another really important thing is I want to see consistency of vision throughout an artist’s body of work. And I don’t mean repetition of imagery; I mean consistency of vision. That they have matured enough in their visual vocabulary in what they want to put out in the world as their art and how they want to be perceived through their art. I don’t want to show artists who aren’t there yet.
But I’ve also seen people surprisingly in the beginning of their careers who have already figured that out and have already had a unique vision and are ready to go. … Ashley Pierce is a classic example of that. I knew Ashley Pierce, and I did not know that she was an artist. And she posted a picture of one of her paintings on Facebook one day, and I messaged her and said, literally, “WTF.” She wrote me back said, “Oh, I mess around and make some art.” And I said, “You need to come talk to me and bring some stuff in. And she brought some things in and blew me away.”
What was she doing before that?
Well, she has a full-time job. She’s a mom and, she just did it for fun, I guess. I sat her down that day and said, “Let’s get out the calendar and schedule you a show.” And she was like, “Really?”, you know. And we sold out her first show opening night.
Here in the Short North, you’ve had a front-row seat for not only the changing landscape of the neighborhood over the past 17 years, but also the hub of Columbus’ arts community. How has the arts scene here changed or stayed or the same since you opened Lindsay Gallery?
You know, it’s both. I mean it certainly has changed. But the core kind of feeling of it really remains the same. Columbus is an interesting market, in that people who collect art don’t seem to specialize as much as my clients in other parts of the country.
People in Columbus are more likely to just collect art. But they’re open to all genres. You go to their homes and you realize they’ve got some landscapes, they’ve got some abstracts, they’ve got some American folk art. You know, they might have a Joey Monsoon painting hanging next to a Paul Hamilton landscape. And on the one hand, you might have an initial reaction of, “How could these two things possibly relate to each other or interest the same person?” And yet, both pieces, both artists, both styles spoke to them on different levels and for different reasons. So that’s what I see here in Columbus, is really a much more broad focus.
Why do you think people here have broader interests art-wise?
Well, I think some of it is kind of a Midwestern sensibility. You know, that we don’t feel the need to pigeonhole so much.
But I think Columbus is also a very accepting community. I keep going back to Elijah Pierce because he was my introduction to this. You know, we’re talking about a man who was an elderly African-American barber, who had almost no formal education. From the time that Pierce came to the attention of the art scene in Columbus and around the country, he was embraced by the community here, by arts community, by the Columbus Museum of Art. That wouldn’t happen everywhere.
You know, there are a lot of cities that their museum would, especially back then, would have ignored a self-taught African-American artist. And there was kind of an open interest in that, almost an enthusiastic interest about that here. And that, to me, says something about Columbus and about people in Columbus who love art.
We have a Joey Monsoon show coming up in June, and that’s always a huge event for us. Over the years that I’ve shown Joey’s work, every show has been an evolution for him. He’s constantly morphing into a better realization of the vision that I saw from the first time that I saw Joey’s work.
His vision has been consistent over the years, but he has developed into one of the most powerful painters across the board that I have ever come in contact with, and I don’t care if we’re talking about Columbus, national, worldwide. His work just always blows me away, and the evolution that I’m seeing now in the work that he’s working on now, that will be shown in June, will surprise people. It has taken it to the next level.
People are going to be surprised. It’s the same, and yet it’s so not the same. It’ll be a shock to a lot of people. And I love that. I want people to react.
The worst thing in the world is for somebody to say, “Oh, that’s nice,” you know. It’s like, love it or hate it. I want a reaction.
Pen & Pencil Club, George Bellows, Hornsmith Preview
On this episode of Columbus Neighborhoods, we’ll meet the creative community of Central Ohio, starting with the Pen & Pencil artists club. We’ll learn about famed Columbus artist George Bellows, as well as local artists Carl Dumpke and Malcolm J. Then, we’ll visit the Ohio History Connection to view Emerson Burkhart paintings from the 20th century. (Episode airs at 8:30 p.m. Dec. 22 on WOSU TV).