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Daniel Ackley learns about local artists with his Central Illinois arts publication Art Review

WCBU Peoria Public Radio

Daniel Ackley is the creator and editor of Central Illinois’ newest art publication, Art Review. He overcame an unusual obstacle for a visual artist - visual impairment.

WCBU’s Daniel Musisi recently spoke with him about Art Review, and why he chose to start it here in Peoria.

Daniel Musisi: So, Daniel, you have this new art newsletter called Art Review. What made you decide to start this here in Peoria?

Daniel Ackley: I've always been interested in talking to fellow artists. And I've always had a keen fascination for what happens, both inside the artist’s studio, and what happens inside the creative mind of the artist. And the pandemic came along, and we were all just staying home so much and not doing anything, and just so bored and not knowing what to do next.

And I just sat there for so many weeks and months during 2020. And just designed this concept for whenever I knew that it was going to be safe to do so. So I guess in the back of my mind, I've always had this affinity for, or love affair for, talking with fellow artists and finding out what it is that makes them tick creatively, what it is that makes them get to the point, through the process to that creative end product. And so it just seemed natural to start interviewing people. I started very, very slowly and it's gained momentum, and in 2022 sky's the limit in terms of the number of artists that exist.

So, I guess with this curiosity of yours it's enabled you to share these artists voices with the community as well.

Daniel Ackley: That's right. I was born with an eyesight disability. Originally, whenever I first started this arts newsletter concept, I only wanted to interview blind artists or artists with visual impairments and get to know what their creative process was. And so that's what led me to interviewing the world's most well-known blind artist, John Bramblett. And so, I was able to interview him. And that was wonderful, a great experience. He and I talked on the phone for about an hour. And I learned so much from him about creativity and art and expression. And I knew that I still want to talk to a variety of artists with visual impairment.

But there are so many other artists in central Illinois that are doing wonderful things. Holly B. Green, Nattali Jo Bell, Eric Scott, there are just so many different artists around - Sarah and the Underground, just any type of art form that you can think of the artist that is part of that concept, I really, really would love to talk to them and find out what it is that makes them tick.

So about the content, I believe it mainly consists of artists interviews, how do you choose your subjects?

Daniel Ackley: It truly is an organic type of process. I do a lot of immersion into all the different social media concepts. And I'm always reading and I'm always looking for what artists are doing and listening to videos about art. And it just seems like I immerse myself in this art thing. And then whatever artists pops up to the top, that I know viscerally is going to be the one that I want to choose next.

So there's really no rhyme or reason to it. It's mainly just an intuitive feeling. It's that artist’s sensibility in me that wants to wants to understand all the different types of art forms, you know, whether it be visual arts, or dance, or theater, or anything that just cries out to me for some type of conversation. And then to tell that person’s story is really, really compelling to me. I would really enjoy it if somebody came to me and wanted to be in my studio, and talk to me about art. So I thought, why don't I just flip that around? Not only would it be wonderful for me to be an artist that creates on a regular basis, but to have the best of both worlds and talk to fellow artists.

So as you mentioned, Daniel, you're an artist as well, you're a photographer, and for a living, you're a political or editorial cartoonist, and your work appears in publications nationwide. Do you showcase your work in Art Review as well?

Daniel Ackley: Whenever the first issue came out, there was a little bit of alluding to my political cartoons and my artwork and paintings and those types of things. But I tend to shy away in Art Review from my own artwork and head towards actually just commenting on various works of art at the end of the process or the issue.

As a youth, you had cataracts and were legally blind, up until the age of 18 when you had corrective surgery that repaired or restored your vision. What was it like to be visually impaired for the first 18 years of your life and then suddenly be given the ability to see?

Daniel Ackley: Having a visual impairment was actually a blessing. It was something that I never thought of. Most of the time, 99% of the time, I didn't even think of myself as having an eyesight, disability. But that other 1% definitely entered in whenever others could do certain types of sports or other types of events that I was unable to do.

So, most of the time, the structure of my family life was so wonderful and all the people that I had in my life were so good to me, that it never really dawned on me for a long, long time that I had this eyesight disability. Until, when I was mainstreaming through public schools, I would have to walk up to the chalkboard and scribble down notes being only just a couple of inches away from the chalkboard. Whenever I had to read and put the notebook or paper right up to my nose to be able to see, I had to look around that central cataract in order to see any type of low vision type of images.

It dawned on me at some point in time that I had this eyesight situation. But I never thought that I would be able to correct it or overcome it. But in 1986, a local surgeon, he's awesome - Dr. Thomas Wyman at Illinois Eye Center, he performed dual intra ocular lens implant surgery on both eyes. And so I essentially went from 2200, legal blindness to nearly 2020. And I always told people growing up that the old adage at that point then was true. I once was blind, but now I could see.

And it was wonderful. I was able to see for the first time, all things clearly. I still vividly remember, the first image that still vividly comes to mind was University Street in Peoria and all the marquee signs. So, you’ve seen the Shakey’s Pizza and the Wendy’s, and all those kinds of signs and marquees that most people just assume and take for granted and they always see it, but I never did. And that was the first memory that I can recall. Being able to see those marquee signs and read the letters. And what a wonderful, almost like a York Peppermint Patty type of moment, right? Where it like, wow! It blows your hair back and you’re just so thrilled. And then the rest was history. I was always able to see well after that.

Wow, can you talk about your journey or your experience becoming an artist amidst all that?

Daniel Ackley: I would say my very first editorial cartoon happened in sixth grade when I drew an unflattering drawing and caricature of my sixth-grade health teacher. And I'm very sorry for doing that. I apologized to him profusely. It was at the encouragement of all of my sixth-grade classmates who knew that I could draw. So, I could draw, they knew I could draw, and they asked me to draw. So, I did. And that was just peer pressure, and I succumbed to the peer pressure.

But even though the drawing itself was inappropriate, it was a really good caricature. And he was my first editorial cartoon. Then as I transitioned into high school, I remember having a high school art class to where everybody in class set in a big, long table, and they pass their finished artwork down the table, to the very end to the teacher. And as the artwork was passed down, all of the students would look at each other's artwork and kind of critique it just to give each person a simple little art critique. And there was a really, really talented, the most talented and the best-looking guy in the class. His name was Tony. He was the best artist, and all the girls liked him. And everybody looked up to him because he was awesome. As my artwork went down the table, Tony stopped and looked at it and it was a caricature of Ronald Reagan. That's what I drew back then. And he kind of looked over at me and gave me the thumbs-up signal and kind of, you know, just made that nonverbal face to where he kind of gave me that was really good stuff there.

And so that encouraged me for some reason that I really, really young age that caricature is something that I am good at. I guess I’ve always been cartooning. From a very early age, my brother and his friends were five years older. They would doodle, and I would try and imitate their doodles. So, I’ve always been doodling, and I’ve always been doing these editorial cartoons for some reason. I think it’s just in me.

Daniel Ackley Art Review on Facebook

Daniel Ackley artist website

Daniel Ackley blog

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Daniel Musisi is WCBU's Assistant Audio Director. He's also the host of our daily newsmagazine All Things Peoria.