“Dear Raymond”

(Alfred Eaker, as BlueMahler)

Dear Raymond,
We hope you enjoy this short companion film to the documentary Thunder-Sky as much as we’ve enjoyed your life’s work. I hope you travel well…

(BlueMahler’s homage to Raymond Thunder-sky)

About the movie

BlueMahler pays homage to the artist Raymond Thunder-Sky. BlueMahler is the performance art character of artist Alfred Eaker. Like Raymond’s stoic construction clown, BlueMahler is not a clown in the traditional sense. Rather, the clown characterization is merely a skin to wear for the spirit journey.

“Wanderer, there may be no destination, but you must travel the road anyway.” (Luigi Nono, composer).

BlueMahler feels this is something Raymond understood and identified with. It is that which endeared Raymond to BlueMahler. This is BlueMahler’s tribute.

Co-directed by Alfred Eaker and J. Ross Eaker. Starring Shelby Armstrong, Alfred Eaker, Nate Saylor, Steve Stephens, and Jordan Wheatley. Make-up Jen Ring, Shelby Armstrong, and Steve Stephens. Music: Peer Gynt by E. Grieg courtesy of Tahra Records © Eaker productions, llc.

A homage to Raymond Thunder-Sky, a dear friend and fellow artist

(by Alfred Eaker, part of an interview originally published at 366 Weird Movies)

I met Raymond in 1999 through Keith Banner and Bill Ross.  We had an art showing together in Cincinnati.  Raymond had some kind of developmental disability and Bill had been his case worker.  Raymond  dressed up like a clown construction worker and repeatedly depicted images of a wrecking ball tearing down the world in front of him. 

In place of what was being destroyed, Raymond imagined, through his third dimensional text, what would go in its place.  Usually, that was a clown suit factory, a circus, or a highway named after his father. 

Raymond Thunder-Sky

Raymond’s work is deceptively simplistic.  He was working out his own vision of Shangri-La, not unlike the way Gauguin envisioned his own Eden, but Gauguin never found that Eden, even if he repeatedly tried to depict it in the form of Tahiti.  Of course, Gauguin moved there and discovered the reality did not match the ideal.  Raymond was smarter still.  He knew he could not depict what that Eden really was,  so all he could touch, in his work and performance, was the act of destruction before him, which seemingly promised to make way for the new. 

That is something I so identify with, his stubborn, restless, yearning, reaching spirit.  Raymond had a sort of blue collar approach to art that I admire and identify with, which is why I abhor and respond to that much bandied about label of “pretentiousness” from non-artists.  That label is a lame excuse to justify one’s dumbing-down.  No, I have quite an earnest passion and there is no pretense at all in that.  I bond with Raymond’s tool box and the blue collar world that permeates his life and work.  I want to say to critics “take your dissonance and weirdness like a man.”

Years ago, I discovered the late music of Luigi Nono and his struggle was similar to Raymond’s.  Of course, on the surface this is a case of apples and oranges, but underneath it’s  a natural linking of things things that seem totally disparate.  Nono read an inscription on a monastery wall in Toledo which read “Traveler, there may be no destination, but you must travel the road anyway.” 

The brief exposure to that inscription changed Nono’s music and life for the next ten years, until he died.  Nono became obsessed and obsession in art is usually a good thing.  Raymond had that obsession.  So, again I find identification, which is possibly why I am oh so fitfully working towards an MTS (“Masters of Theological Studies”) at seminary.  I don’t even know if there is a destination from this endeavor, but for now it is informing my art.  That is certainly not how my professors want me to approach studies there.  They want something academic from me, but it is not flowing, so …

Alfred Eaker as BlueMahler

Then there is the performance part of Raymond.  Raymond was Native American, passionately loved the circus, construction sites, and White Castles.  These seemingly disparate qualities in Raymond made him the misfit to many but the combination of all these made perfect sense to him, just like operas, western movies, silent film clowns, Tod Browning and the Virgin Mary all make sense coming together for me.  Naturally, I filter all that through my own sensibilities.  In performance, I become BlueMahler who is normally an esoteric, western clown.

A few years after Raymond passed away, Keith, Bill, and myself did a couple of gallery shows with artists inspired by Raymond.  James Mannan , who I have worked with before, accompanied me to one of those showings and we filmed part of it.  I started desperately wanting to do something more with it and it sat with me for a couple of years, brewing. Finally, I got the footage, looked at it, grabbed Ross and James and we filmed more of what Keith and Bill were doing with Raymond’s legacy…