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Indianapolis artist's painting inspires Conference design

Walker Theatre, by Jerome Neal

The cover art of this year’s Arts Midwest Conference program book features a painting of the CJ Walker Theatre in Indianapolis by Jerome Neal. Learn more about the project and stay tuned for more stories in the coming weeks.

To say that Indianapolis-based artist Jerome Neal is prolific would be a gross understatement. He is an avid painter, largely self-taught, who is unafraid to turn his eye towards any subject—be it a sweeping cityscape or his latest interest: micro-paintings.

Neal’s career kicked off in 1959, when he was given three tubes of paint and invited to submit work to a community art show. He created a series of 5 paintings of volcanoes erupting in front of a vivid yellow skyscape. He sold all five paintings in the first afternoon of the show. “I was hooked,” Neal said while recounting the story, “but there were two more days in the show, so I went home and made a series of drawings on paper bags and, you know, I sold all of those, too.”

For nearly 60 years since, he has been developing his colorful style using thick layers of paint to create expressionistic, textural canvases. In 2015, at the age of 74, Neal had his first solo show at Gallery 924—run by The Arts Council of Indianapolis—where he exhibited a broad range of paintings from Thomas the Tank Engine to jazz performers to the Indy skyline.

Neal says he has seen a lot of changes to Indianapolis reflected in his work, including the completion of the canals, the rise of condos, and the proliferation of city bikes, but he’s happy that a few gems like the Madame Walker Theatre remain. “I remember going to a music show there. But, really it was like a fashion show. It was full, and people were lined up against the walls and we were, well, we were waltzing. I’ll never forget that.”