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John Atkins Has a Visual Art Style All His Own

Photographer / Michael Durr

For Indy resident John Atkins, creating art is about more than producing an image on a canvas. 

It’s a meditation of sorts.

“A big reason why I do art is that it calms everything down, like anxiety and those types of things, especially with colored pencil drawing,” Atkins says. “I can sit and draw, and everything else goes away, and I can be at one with the paper and pencil. I know if I can keep producing then I’m in a safe space, meditation-wise.”

Atkins gravitates toward oils, acrylics and watercolors in addition to colored pencils, and many of his works center on surreal human forms that break up the space of natural facial features into abstract images.

“I’ll usually do an acrylic underpainting where I block out things with acrylic, and then I do oil over that so I can get detail,” he says. “I like doing it that way because if you do oil washes you have to wait forever for every layer to dry. The colored pencil drawings are mainly what people know me for, and I mainly do 8”x10” or 9”x12” pieces in colored pencil. ”

This summer Atkins had his work, including several colored pencil pieces, shown at Gallery 6202 on North College Avenue, which opened in December of 2019 and is owned by Jeff and Jackie Evans. 

Gallery 6202, whose tagline is “Fine Art and Fun Stuff”, features artwork from around the world as well as Hoosier artists.

“Gallery 6202, I believe, is currently the only gallery to show at in Broad Ripple,” Atkins says. “It’s a really great space and something that locals should support and get behind.”

The gallery features a wide variety of artwork, from traditional Indiana landscapes to abstract and cubist works.

“There’s a little bit of everything,” Jeff Evans says. “We have metal sculptures as well, from a company out of Louisville.”

Evans was immediately struck by Atkins’ work upon viewing a few of his paintings and sculptures. 

“His work has a very strong impact on most people,” Evans says, “It’s very colorful and striking. His sculptures are as amazing as his painted work.”

Atkins points to the Chicago Imagists of the 1960s and 1970s as a source of inspiration in his artistic endeavors.

“I like Jim Nutt, Gladys Nilsson, Roger Brown, those kind of people and the whole imagist mindset,” Atkins says. “I’m interested in the approach where the image is the important thing and not really what it means – not where you’re standing in an ivory tower and saying you’re doing a piece of art to support all these different ideas. It’s more about the image.”

 Atkins cites abstract expressionism as his preferred artistic approach.

“I tend to get to a place where you’re mixing paint on the canvas and trying to make happy accidents in your images that flow into things that you wouldn’t have thought of, but that work,” he says.

Midtown residents can usually find Atkins’ work at cafes and restaurants, and he typically does an annual show at the Hubbard & Cravens Broad Ripple location.

“It’s hard with COVID because a lot of the cafes I would usually show at are closed,” Atkins says. “In the future, I’d like to do a show that has all my colored pencil work featured.”

Originally from Hobart, Indiana, Atkins drew early artistic inspiration while diligently assembling classic monster model kits from the 1960s and 1970s as a youngster.

“I think what started me out in creating were those monster models – I really liked those,” Atkins recalls. “I would make those, and then I would start to deviate from that and do drawings.” 

While Atkins didn’t take any art classes throughout his high school years, he began further exploring the visual arts while attending Ball State University on a full-ride scholarship with the school’s swim team.

“I was more on a college prep course track because I really didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Atkins recalls of his high school experience. “I went with the more advanced courses like advanced biology and physics, and stuff like that. When I got to college I thought about maybe coaching swimming and being an artist on the side.”

Atkins began his college journey as a physical education major, but soon felt compelled to develop his artistic skills and eventually switched to a major in fine arts with a concentration in drawing.

After a graduate assistantship at Ball State upon completion of his bachelor’s degree, Atkins began showcasing his artwork at shows around Muncie, and eventually set out with a few friends for Hollywood, California.

“I did some shows around there in California in a few galleries and had a job at an art supply store where a lot of celebrities would come in, which was kind of cool,” he says.

Atkins then moved to Chicago where he worked at a high-end picture-framing job, and displayed his artwork at several shows – including a show at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he unwittingly won a contest.   

“I had sent some slides of my work in to them, and they were having a contest at the time but I didn’t know that,” he recalls with a laugh. “I was just sending slides around, but I won that contest. Then I had a solo show there, which was probably my best show I’ve ever had.”

Atkins then relocated to Indy, eventually settling in Broad Ripple in 2005, and other than a brief stint in Arizona, he’s been part of the local art scene here in midtown and beyond since then.

“I started showing my stuff at most of the cafes that showed artwork, and at the Editions Limited gallery, which used to be at 62nd Street,” he says. “I was part of the Oranje event here as well, and I’ve had some pieces accepted into shows around New York and other places. I really like it here in Indy.”

Visit facebook.com/johnatkinsart for more info on the artwork of John Atkins.

For additional details on Gallery 6202, located at 6202 North College Avenue in Broad Ripple, call 317-602-2185 and visit gallery6202.com. Hours of operation are Thu. through Sat. 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.; Sun 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. 

From November 5 through January 10, Gallery 6202 will feature a special collection from CCA Gallery, which was original founded in Broad Ripple and is currently located in Carmel.

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