Thony Aiuppy Depicts Southern Life in Oil and Wood


Modern-day Renaissance man Thony Aiuppy thinks and speaks in rapid strokes that reveal a depth of character and intellect that's reflected in his art. His work is as complex and multidimensional — literally and figuratively — as the man himself. Much of Aiuppy's work in his upcoming solo exhibit at CoRK, "The Darkness Beyond Tomorrow," traipses the narrow plane between the two and three dimensional, drawing the viewer in for a closer look.

Aiuppy, a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design with a master of fine arts in painting, depicts iconic and everyday figures in "thickly manipulated oil paintings" on wood in the exhibit. Aiuppy says the work offers his view on living in the racially divided South with socio-economic and socio-political themes. Through this exhibit, the artist asks, "What does it look like to live in the American South today?" In one painting, "Prostrate," a white man lies face down in a position of complete resignation. Other paintings are portraits of early Civil Rights activists James Weldon Johnson and A. Philip Randolph and writer and activist William Stetson Kennedy, which hang alongside people in Aiuppy's life. He says the use of common, familiar figures "touches on the idea of the sublime."

Aiuppy explains that the extremely thick layers of paint — one of the paintings weighs roughly 40 pounds — he used in "The Darkness Beyond Tomorrow" allow him to explore the tension between movement and stillness. It gives the paintings their own topography, which challenges us to view from different angles and elevate the experience.

Aiuppy can scarcely recall a time before his world included art. "Like most kids, I drew all the time. … It's like another way to learn language," he says. But the images he copied from Marvel comics, like "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and "The Avengers," as a child did not elicit encouragement so much as well-intentioned but often unhelpful suggestions. "I was given bad advice as a kid," he says. "People would say things like, ‘That's good, but make something out of your head.'" He let his art languish for several years after high school until, unfulfilled by working at Starbucks at age 25, Aiuppy returned to college with an idea of becoming a graphic designer. A painting class he took at Florida State College at Jacksonville inspired him to change his major to fine arts; he went on to receive a bachelor of fine arts in painting and drawing at the University of North Florida before attending SCAD. After years of neglecting his art, the return was welcome but also difficult. "If you don't use your art muscles, you lose them," he says.

In "The Darkness Beyond Tomorrow," 33-year-old Aiuppy is flexing the muscles he's been beefing up for the better part of a decade. Aiuppy, who would like to become a college- or graduate-level art professor, also imparts his knowledge of the language of figure, image and form on the younger generation; he teaches elementary school art.

Residents of Springfield, he and his wife are expecting their third child in July. Aiuppy looks around his historic neighborhood and finds oscillation and dichotomy among walks of life and theories of existence all around. He sees families on state assistance struggling to make ends meet alongside gentrified homes where DINCs (dual-income, no children) collect fine wines and drive gleaming sports cars down streets shared by musicians, teachers, drug dealers, entrepreneurs and the homeless. It is inspiring; it's enlightening, frightening and intriguing; it's the world Aiuppy absorbs and digests and recreates with oil and clay and love and skill and sweat. It is reflected on him and he, in turn, reflects it back.

Paintings and sculptures in "The Darkness Beyond Tomorrow" at CoRK North are available for acquisition. Aiuppy, who will celebrate his second year with space at CoRK Arts District in February, also has a piece in the "Our Shared Past" exhibit showing at The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens through May 2014. 

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