Painter Justin Vining didn’t launch his gallery in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, but visitors are welcome on Sept. 25.


Success doesn’t resemble a straight line for popular Indianapolis painter Justin Vining. After teaching art to elementary school students for three years, he studied law at Valparaiso University and passed the bar.

Instead of working as an attorney, Vining made his name through fantastical acrylic paintings that reminded audiences of Tim Burton and Dr. Seuss. He then defied expectations by switching focus to traditional oil landscapes presented in gold frames.

Vining’s journey was set to reach a new milestone on March 13, when he became a first-time gallery owner and opened the spot with a solo show featuring 100 of his paintings.

The coronavirus pandemic, of course, delivered a roadblock. Vining called off the exhibition in the interest of public safety.

He remembers sitting in the gallery and letting tears flow when his wife, Halie, arrived back in Indianapolis following a trip to Minneapolis. Out-of-town friends and family members were already here to celebrate with Vining.

“It was super emotional, because of the year of hard work and all the risk,” he said. “At that point, it wasn’t mandatory to cancel events. It was still voluntary. But I felt like it was the right decision. It was, in hindsight, and I’m glad we canceled. But that was a sad moment, for sure.”

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Indianapolis artist Justin Vining paints at Vining Gallery, 2620 E. 10th St., in this March 4 photo. (Photo: Grace Hollars/IndyStar)

On the bright side, Vining’s network of local collectors purchased most of the paintings prepared for the show, titled “The Next Chapter,” that didn’t happen.

And the building will have its delayed grand opening Sept. 25 with the first Vining Gallery Invitational Group Exhibition.

Vining, 39, has devoted the pandemic months to painting at the site, 2620 E. 10th St., which isn’t a cookie-cutter commercial space.

He set up shop with his attorney brother, Nathan, to create an unusual combination art gallery and law office. Justin paints in the western third of the building, Nathan’s office occupies the eastern third, and the middle third is where Justin hangs paintings and Nathan meets clients.

For Justin, who worked as a law clerk after his teaching days, the professions don’t clash.

He visited court in February, when Nathan delivered closing arguments in the first murder trial of his career.

“Even just sitting in the back, I wished I was up there,” Vining said. “If I wasn’t doing this, I would love to be a litigator.”

Vining acknowledges the novel nature of an art gallery sharing space with a law office.

“Nate can look across his office when his door is open and I’m standing at my easel painting,” Vining said. “I don’t know if anything else like that exists.”

Nathan, owner of one-person company Vining Legal, said it’s enjoyable to have a “co-worker” nearby and exciting to watch Justin’s career progress.

“Every year there’s been different things,” Nathan said of his brother’s painting. “And that’s what’s fun about working side-by-side: He’s always doing something.

Justin received HGTV airtime Sept. 8, when “Good Bones” featured his creation of an indoor mural on the show’s season five finale. And IndyCar driver Simon Pagenaud wore a mask embellished with a Vining image when the 2019 Indy 500 champion visited Speedway residents the day before this year’s race.

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IndyCar driver Simon Pagenaud, right, is photographed with lifelong Indy 500 fan Susan Peverill in front of the Borg-Warner Trophy at her home next to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020. Pagenaud and Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles surprised fans Randy and Susan Peverill with a visit and swag bag after taking part in a surprise Indy 500 driver parade down Main Street in Speedway, Indiana. After the parade, drivers headed to the homes of a few lucky fans to present them with swag bags as a thank you for their support. (Photo: Michelle Pemberton/IndyStar)

The great outdoors

The major shift in Vining’s work arrived when he embraced plein air, or outdoor, painting.

It’s common to see him with easel, brushes and palette of oil paints in downtown Indianapolis. The cancellation of this year’s Indiana State Fair wiped out one of Vining’s favorite settings for capturing colorful scenes in real time.

He also feels the pull of Brown County, the rustic Southern Indiana woodland where T.C. Steele and other notable painters worked more than a century ago.

One of the paintings Vining will show during the invitational group exhibition is “View off Owl Creek Road,” a painting made Jan. 20 in Brown County.


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The show also will feature work by Brownsburg-based painter Stephanie Paige Thomson, who’s making a splash in the art world in her early 20s.

Vining said he’s taken a private lesson from Thomson, whose “Maine Man” painting was selected this year as a finalist in the Portrait Society of America’s international portrait competition.

“A lot of my success locally has been through networking and getting to know a zillion people,” Vining said. “In Indianapolis, you’re one degree from everyone. I love that about our city.”

National peers

The other 30 painters in the show, which Vining plans to host on an annual basis, are established artists in cities spanning Boston to San Diego.

Although none of the out-of-town artists are expected to attend the opening because of the pandemic, Vining said future visits to exhibit and teach can raise the profile of Indiana art. 

“As those people grow in their careers, I will continue to grow in my career,” he said. “Hopefully they don’t just pick up my call because I’m also established, it will be because they’ve been staying at our house for 10 years.”

Vining exhibited his paintings in Chicago twice in recent years, and he said neither attempt succeeded in cracking the Windy City market. Without a support network in place, the results didn’t surprise the painter.

“It’s really, really difficult to get any sort of legs underneath you where you don’t live,’ Vining said. “If I’m not going to put myself out in the world, I’m going to bring the world to us.”

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Neighborhood on the rise

When national artists make their way to personally visit Vining Gallery in a post-pandemic context, they will see a 10th Street corridor springing to life.

Beholder restaurant, 18th Street Brewery, Rabble Coffee, Cat Head Press and Mayfair Taproom are some of the east side businesses that opened in recent years along the street.

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Justin Vining shares a space for his art gallery with his brother, attorney Nathan Vining on 2600 block of E. 10th St., Indianapolis, Wednesday, March 4, 2020. (Photo: Grace Hollars/IndyStar)

Vining said he and his brother submitted an offer to buy their building – which had been home to union publication Labor News, a fence company and multiple liquor stores dating to the 1940s – in December 2018.

The 10 East Art & Design District was established the same month, and Lilly Endowment announced a $4.3 million grant to spark creativity in a mile-long segment of 10th Street that includes Vining Gallery. Last October, the city designated the area as a Lift Indy Neighborhood. The Lift Indy designation commits $3.5 million in federal funding to promote revitalization through affordable housing and economic development.

“We didn’t know any of that stuff was happening when we bought this,” Vining said of the improvement initiatives. “People asked, ‘How did you know?’ I hate to say it so directly, but we were in the market for a building and we wanted to be kind of close to downtown. This is what we could afford.”

Nathan has lived in the neighborhood for four years.

“It’s a cool spot where a lot of good people have been waiting for years for it to come back around,” the attorney said.

Vining Gallery Invitational Group Exhibition

Contact IndyStar reporter David Lindquist at [email protected] or 317-444-6404. Follow him on Twitter: @317Lindquist.

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