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Dead Celebrity

Chuck Lamb clutched his mother’s hand as the steady stream of mourners approached his father’s casket. He recognized a few faces from the family’s infamous backyard poker parlor, attracting traveling card sharks eager to ante up with the local gambling legend and sometimes moonshiner. Even Chuck had his own side hustle since the age of [...]
J.R. McMillan

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Chuck Lamb clutched his mother’s hand as the steady stream of mourners approached his father’s casket. He recognized a few faces from the family’s infamous backyard poker parlor, attracting traveling card sharks eager to ante up with the local gambling legend and sometimes moonshiner. Even Chuck had his own side hustle since the age of six, running sandwiches and chips to the players for tips long into the night.

For someone as fabled as his father, the funeral still had way too many folks for just family and friends. Reverend Billy Graham himself was there to deliver the eulogy, but it was the guys in fitted suits and fedoras that stood out in rural North Carolina—each passing by the casket in suspicious silence. Chuck whispered into his mother’s ear wanting to know why they were there. Her reply was almost prophetic.

“They’re here to make sure he’s really dead.”

Columbus seems to inspire unlikely celebrities, from a long-shot boxer named Buster to a guy whose penchant for potato salad nearly broke the Internet. Lamb may not have the same name recognition or notoriety, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any actor more committed to character. He’d moved here to his mother’s hometown as a wide-eyed kid from the foothills of Appalachia, but always dreamed of something a bit bigger. Without the looks or chops expected by an industry built on image and experience, this everyman turned a singular skill into a career as a corpse.

Chuck Lamb is the “Dead Body Guy.”

“It was always on my bucket list to see my name in the credits for a movie or television show,” he explained. “I loved the beginning of Law & Order. Every episode opened with Jerry Orbach standing over a dead body making some smart-ass remark.”

Chuck and his wife Tonya hatched a plan. Posed in creative states of comical demise, she photographed her husband for the newly registered deadbodyguy.com website, which he’d whipped together on a whim. (Television crime dramas must always be looking for victims, right?)

“She came up with several clever ways to kill me and we posted the pictures. Tonya made up the blood and everything,” Lamb quipped. “Within six weeks, we were on the front page of the New York Times.”

That’s when macabre soon became surreal. Eager to land the first morning television interview, the major networks each angled for Lamb’s exclusive attention.

“I was on the phone at home with both the Today Show and CBS, clicking between the two, and Good Morning America on my cell phone—at he same time,” Lamb recalled. “They all wanted me to do their show first.”

NBC ultimately came back with the best offer, a promised appearance on one of their series, and CBS was still ready to send a limo to pick him up at Rockefeller Center to immediately do their show the same day. ABC wasn’t interested in third place and passed altogether, or so it seemed. 

“I was at Port Columbus getting ready to catch my flight to New York and a camera crew from ABC tried to ambush me for an interview to air on Good Morning America before I could get to the Today Show,” he revealed. Lamb was having none of it. “When I got there, NBC actually booked my hotel room under an assumed name to keep the other networks from finding me.”

Forget slasher movies—network television is cut-throat.

Numerous notable and also-ran roles followed, but never quite ignited demand for a well-seasoned stiff. Expectations were high for an appearance on an episode of the sitcom What I Like About You, but most of Lamb’s cameo was left on the cutting room floor.

I went out there for two days, sat for hours and hours, and all you see is me slumped over and my bald head. They never showed my face,” Lamb lamented. “That was supposed to be my breakout performance. But if you blinked, you missed it.”

There was also that time the Dead Body Guy bumped into the Terminator.

Schwarzenegger happened to be walking into Hollywood Casino at the same moment as Lamb. It turns out Chuck had worked on a TV pilot with Arnold’s old acting coach and introduced himself. The two shared memories of working with their mutual friend while someone from Schwarzenegger’s entourage ran out to the parking lot to grab a copy of his autobiography, Total Recall, which Arnold personally inscribed.

Lamb’s most recent television work was his most animated to date, an upcoming appearance on the game show reboot of To Tell The Truth, featuring Denise Richards, Kal Penn, Ken Marino, and Theresa the Long Island Medium. Celebrity contestants ask a panel of three guests questions and try to guess who are the imposters, and who is telling the truth. Chuck’s delivery was, of course, deadpan.

“The producers contacted me about doing the show. We shot it months ago, but it hasn’t aired yet,” he noted. “Theresa came over and asked to see all of our hands and immediately said she knew who it was. I fooled two of the four.”

Celebrity, living or otherwise, was at best a stunt that seemed to outlast its original intent, and Law & Order. Following a few unfortunate injuries, and multiple back surgeries, Lamb realized retirement was in his cards. (Save maybe a casting call from The Walking Dead; a dying wish, if you will.)

“After more opportunities and laughs than I ever expected or deserved, I need to stop before it actually kills me.” he explained, suggesting he’d like to pass on the legacy and namesake of the Dead Body Guy to the right person, like Zorro or Batman handing the mask to the next anonymous hero. “I don’t want this dream to die with me.”

Lamb has appeared in such films as Horrorween, ThanksKILLING, and Stiffs. For more, see deadbodyguy.com.

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Thinking Big: The Amazing Giants bring circus arts to events across town

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If you have been to a local festival, parade, or corporate event where you’ve seen stilt walkers, fire-eaters, hula-hoopers or lyra artists, there’s a good chance you’ve been in the presence of an Amazing Giant. Founded in 2011 by Jessica Minshall, The Amazing Giants was born out of one woman’s love of stilt walking and her friends’ desire to learn the skill. Now a new challenge is looming for the group—a business expansion to Hawaii.

Working in the service industry, Minshall saw a need in Columbus for a different type of entertainment. She taught herself how to walk on stilts for a festival gig out of state. This new hobby intrigued a group of her friends, and they decided to learn, too. From there, The Amazing Giants were born. “My partner and I bought a lot of stilts and just taught people how to do it,” she said. “We all found each other.”

What began as a few friends learning a new skill and having fun together practicing it evolved into a booming business with 40 employees and contract workers, including magicians, face painters and more. They are hired for events to do everything from wearing full bodysuits covered in tiny mirrors and dancing to wearing and serving champagne from large metal skirts to dazzle a crowd.

“We have evolved with different equipment, too,” Minshall said. The Amazing Giants owns the only sway pole in the Midwest. It allows performers to create a large- scale spectacle with an extreme cirque-style pole acrobatic act without the need for a permanent installation. With hundreds of costumes, 20 pairs of stilts, and entertainment offerings of just about every circus art imaginable, The Amazing Giants truly seek to astound.

Having had great success in the Columbus market, Minshall decided to grow her business, and recently brought The Amazing Giants to Honolulu. “I had family out here that I would visit and realized they don’t have anyone doing what we do. There’s not really a group or team of stilt walkers working together,” she said. So Minshall bought six pairs of stilts, and hosts open gyms where interested performers can show off their skills and possibly train on stilts. “They don’t need to send me a resume, necessarily,” she said. “It’s about personality and talent.”

Importantly, Amazing Giants must have an abundance of confidence without an overabundance of ego. “I tell people we have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. As an entertainer you have to get over your shyness and put yourself out there.” The ability to work as a collaborative team player is also key, she said. “Our team often works in tight quarters, and whether or not it is well-received, you have to put on the show as best you can.”

Although Minshall is keeping the headquarters in Columbus, now headed by Chief of Operations Olivia Ranier, she says she is excited about the expansion and her recent move to Honolulu. “It reminds me a lot of Columbus because it has that small-town, big-city feel with a similar {\(metropolitan area) population of around one million people,” Minshall said. And the environment is ripe for her type of business. “In Honolulu, we have events year-round; in Columbus our business slows down after New Year’s Eve,” she said. “There is also a lot more tourism and a convention center that brings in a ton of people.”

Although her business has expanded, don’t for a second go thinking that Minshall is going to forget where she comes from. “A lot of times people ask me where I am from and they say, ‘Wow, I’ve been hearing a lot about Ohio lately.’ I have nothing but good things to say about Columbus and what kind of platform it’s given me. It’s a massive city with a thriving arts and entertainment culture—and it’s extremely underrated. I will be Columbus-promoting forever.”

For more information visit theamazinggiants.com.

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Maker’s Space: Kato Mitchell

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Following an initial disastrous experience with attempting to refurbish a personal pair of sneakers with acrylic paint years ago, a friend noticed Mitchell’s persistence, aiding him to perfect his craft. Though he began with primarily focusing on restoring his friends’ worn-down sneakers, Mitchell’s business, Work The Custom, has expanded to designing apparel in any range.

Just months after being highlighted as cleat designer for Braxton Miller’s Charg1ng summer football camp in Dayton, Mitchell’s clientele has accrued some big names in the sports world, and he has no intention of stopping. (614) caught up with Mitchell to learn more about Work The Custom, and his hope for reconstructing apparel in Columbus and beyond.

(614): When did you decide to transition from football to design?
KM: I’ve always had a passion for drawing and art, [but] I just lost my vision when I took actual art classes and didn’t like what we were doing. After college, I didn’t get any NFL calls, [and] I was trying to figure out what else I would love to do every day, and fell back in love with art.

What was your leap from “this thing I do” to the thing to do? How do you promote your work? After I realized how many people wanted to show who they really are with art, and I was someone who could help do that, that was my ironing point. I promote my work through Instagram and Facebook for the most part, but I do go to sneaker events from time-to-time to pass out business cards.

Is this your primary gig, side gig or hobby? How did it come to be?
It’s my side gig for the moment, but trying to grow and learn to make it my full-time career. I had a pair of shoes that were beat up and didn’t want to buy more so I painted them, but one of my friends taught me the game and how to prosper from it.

What life changes do you feel have propelled your work? How have your customizations evolved? Playing football for a place like Ohio State and doing work for Buckeyes in the NFL and for the OSU football team has helped grow my work faster and further. My customs have evolved just by me growing up and seeing different things, learning different things, practicing everyday, and being able to adapt.

Do you have a specific audience that you want to appeal to?
I want my work to be for everyone. My work can range from baby shoes to youth high school players of all sports, to walls of homeowners and businesses, to shoes for pro athletes.

What ingredients come together to make Columbus a fertile ground for makers, designers and creatives? Columbus is a growing market and very friendly. It has new businesses starting every week and everyone is trying to help everyone else.

What’s your six-word creative story?

Work The Custom is coming fast!

To get in contact with Mitchell, or to see more designs, follow him on Instagram at @katowork19.

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Gallery Space: Feeling emotion through Craig Carlisle’s newly-opened exhibit

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When approaching the canvas, the first thing that expressionist painters attempt to draw from their audience is emotion. Whether it stems from Disappointed Love by Francis Darby, where a forlorn lover is cast off into a forest to wallow in grief, or anxiety-riddled painting The Scream by Edvard Munch, painter Craig Carlisle has challenged his work for years to portray similar elements. After 30 years of creating thousands of paintings through the study of expressionism, Carlisle’s focus is generally based upon meditative habits as observed through his signature Big Head series.

“Evoking emotions from the viewer is one of the more important components of what I feel is an effective work of art. Is the artwork immediately drawing me closer or pushing me away and why? Possibly, [when] the colors chosen by the artist stir up my emotions, even in a minimalist painting, I feel that is possible,” says Carlisle, noting Agnes Martin as a ‘master colorist’ with a subtle tug at his viewers’ emotions. “Upon signing the painting and releasing it into the world, I truly believe [that] whatever emotional message the painting is meant to serve will be captured by those who need it. However, as the artist, I deserve to express what I am feeling without limitation. Every painting has its soulmate and eventually it will rest in the perfect hands.”

In his prime, Carlisle was deliberately fixated on creating optimistic paintings, with subjects depicting happiness, but later found that his audience gravitated towards honest interpretations. This also broke Carlisle out of the routine of being bound to artistic recurrence, having the ability to grow beyond his previous limitations. Intentionally leaving his Big Head subjects as genderless, as his subjects usually have oval-shaped heads and doe-like expressions, Carlisle uses the background of the painting to construct where the subject’s real emotion may be analyzed. These paintings often have neutral expressions, but the framework for each one is ever-changing.

“My personal relationship to removing gender in my artwork today is the same as it was with my first Big Head painting in 1992. If I choose to show gender, then the viewer immediately begins down the road of judgement,” Carlisle says. “Everyone deserves a stage to express their freedom, mine happens to be a canvas. For those defining their gender today, I hope they say let me choose, let me learn, let me grow, let me fall, for then I will succeed.”

Raised in Oklahoma in his formative years, Carlisle repetitively drew superheroes and made red clay sculptures, as his mother, also a painter, ensured that her son was always creating. Carlisle also observed his grandfather building furniture and even creating artwork with stones and gems. Building an aptitude for art, especially painting, Carlisle relocated to Columbus at 12 to further his art studies.

After graduating from CCAD in 1989, his original Big Head paintings in 1992 to 1995 were painted above subliminal messages on the canvas, regularly created at the former Buggyworks Studio warehouse. Steadily transitioning to different studios in New York, San Francisco and later, Los Angeles in the early 2000s, where he painted the Pink Monsters series as a response to the 9/11 attacks, Carlisle’s work became redefined as he adapted to each environment. With Nashville, Tennessee as the home for his 19th century farm and studio in the countryside, this month, Carlisle will be returning to Columbus for his first city-based solo exhibition in five years, this time, at the Sarah Gormley Gallery.

“I not only wanted a chance to reconnect with my many collectors in the city, but I knew Sarah’s gallery would give the opportunity for me to showcase my new larger paintings.

These works include hands overlapping the faces of the Big Heads,” Carlisle says. “In the early 2000s, I did a series of red gloves and began to understand more in depth that for me they symbolized protection. The hands, or gloves, were always placed in my paintings during times when I personally needed to feel a stronger sense of protection, especially from God. The paintings in this exhibition are not documented as “the hand of God” but it’s what I tell people when they ask. Think of it also as a guardian angel; maybe it’s there to stop something negative from entering, or it’s protecting me from myself.”

Choosing bright reds and oranges in a majority of paintings showcased at Sarah Gormley Gallery, Carlisle is challenging himself to push the extremes, considering all his work to be self-portraits. As a portrait technician, Carlisle also assumes responsibility as a provision for Columbus art, celebrating the city’s constant growth in tandem with an understanding of his own work.

“I was part of the art scene in Columbus in the 80s and early 90s, so I have seen many changes. One thing that has never changed is the incredible support the city provides for the arts community. Having lived all over the country I can easily say that Columbus is one of the most supportive cities in the country for artists, especially young artists,” Carlisle says. “For people who are just witnessing my work for the first time I wish for them to be able to experience emotions. I don’t need them to analyze what they think I was feeling at the time I created the artwork; rather I ask the viewer to listen to their own reactions or feelings and know that is why I made the painting.”

The Sarah Gormley Gallery is located on 988 N High St. Carlisle’s exhibit opened Nov. 1.

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