Steve Onicas Gaddis is one of 12 children. Growing up, he was shuffled between several group homes, along with three of his siblings, until he eventually aged-out of the system.
His time in foster care shaped him as a person and as an artist.
“The conditions were horrible,” he said while sitting on his couch sipping a cup of coffee. An apron hanging around his neck was made by his daughter.
To keep out of trouble as a teenager, Gaddis started spending more time with his art. From there, the search for his identity is what has fueled him and his paintings.
As a young adult, he studied at the Sarah Carlisle Towery Art Colony, in Kellyton, Ala. It was there, Gaddis said, that he learned how to not think about the finished piece, but to paint with feeling and to focus on the work in progress.
“I just have the brush in my hand and when I’m done, then I know what the painting is,” he said while looking at a large painting hanging on the wall of his home. “It’s dark, but it’s the journey of my life through art.”
At Ocean Books & Art
The story of Gaddis’ journey cannot be told through his art without including the spiritual aspects of his life. In fact, Gaddis has recently started referring to his work as spiritual expressionism.
“I am a vessel for a higher power to speak through,” he said. “I feel like if it wasn’t for God and my art, who knows where I would be.”
But Gaddis said he is done searching and ready to share his story. He will have the chance to do this in his first solo show, at Ocean Books & Art, thanks to owner Frank Gromling. (See box)
“I became interested in his story and how he used art and his faith to take him on a different path than his circumstances would have dictated otherwise,” Gromling said. “I was impressed by that.”
While Gaddis’ art is different from the realist pieces usually displayed in the Ocean Art gallery, Gromling said he saw a quality to it because Gaddis was expressing his life in art.
Since the work is different, Gromling said there is a risk in having this show, but he hopes people will come with an open mind and open heart, and consider what it takes for an individual to be willing to put himself out there in such a personal way.
Origins of Onicas
One piece, titled “Who am I?”, deals with a time in Gaddis’ life when he felt particularly lost. While searching for his identity, the artist, who goes by his middle name, got in contact with his birth mother to find out what “Onicas” meant. He was thrown into an even bigger sense of misplacement when she replied that she did not name him that, rather, at birth, his name was “Onassa,” after a talented artist she knew.
His name had been changed through misspellings within the foster care system.
And so, he signed this piece, and this piece only, “Onassa.” Other paintings he signed just “O” or “Oni,” until the confusion subsided and he went back to the self that he knew.
Gaddis said he feels like this show, and being able to share his story, is a reward for not quitting and giving up on this dream. As a result, he has found another passion: inspiring those who have a similar situation.
Thanks in part to the exploration through art, Gaddis is at a point where he can enjoy being an artist. He also has hopes to share his story with children and teens in group homes to encourage them to follow their dreams.
“From this point on, it will be happiness and bright colors,” he said. “The dark is over.”
If you go
What: Onicas Gaddis: Search For Identity
When: 5:30 p.m. Friday, April 5
Where: Ocean Books & Art, 200 S. Oceanshore Boulevard, Flagler Beach
Refreshments will be served, and the public is invited. The show will remain in place throughout April.