Throwback Thursday – KCAC Forum Jan 2001

KCAC Forum Magazine January 2001 Volume 25 No 1

by Tony Moton

Dick Lake was confused. And so was his wife, Patty. This was not a good situation for two small-town folk looking for a road back to Kansas (no Toto inferences, please).

For nearly a half hour on Sunday, October 8, Dick and Patty Lake drove aimlessly around the sprawling metropolis of Kansas City, Missouri. They were looking for a route back home to tiny Holton, Kansas, after a get-away weekend to celebrate Patty’s birthday. They had stayed at the Savoy Hotel and wined and dined and shopped in the Plaza. (Holton is about an hour and 45 minutes from Kansas City.)

“You think can find the interstate over there?” Dick Lake wondered aloud, pointing his car in the general direction of Second and Wyandotte Streets. For some silly reason, he completely bypassed several entrances to the interstate. Maybe this was some sort of sign the couple shouldn’t return to Holton. Not yet anyway.

“We took a wrong turn and we happened to spot a billboard,” Dick explained. “It said, ‘Art.'”

Maybe this was the right sign after all. It was about noon when Dick and Patty dropped the idea of finding their way home. They headed north along Wyandotte Street until they reached a dead end. There, they got a close-up glimpse of the billboard in question one advertising Mel’s Artspace, the renovated loft building that also serves as the home office and gallery of the Kansas City Artists Coalition. Just a stone’s throw from the river the Lakes discovered a place where they belonged.

“We had to see what (the billboard) was about. We love art,” Dick Lake said. “We do very few things the right way. We do most things by mistake.”

Dick and Patty consider themselves fans of the arts. After getting out of their car, the Lakes benefited from luck, instincts and a lack of direction – not necessarily in that order. They encountered one of the most ambitious art projects ever put on display in Kansas City. The Lakes found Open Studios.

For two consecutive weekends in October, some 200 artists from across the Kansas City metro area were showcased in a first-time event that played on the notion of connecting them with a mobile audience. Created by the Kansas City Artists Coalition (KCAC), Open Studios gave art lovers a chance to view – and buy – local works in an open house format. People such as the Lakes were invited into the home studios (or the living spaces doubling as studios) of the featured artists, all of whom had one appetizing piece on display at KCAC gallery. The opening weekend highlighted artists located in the downtown area, the second weekend gave the stage to those in the outer portions of the city.

Anne Garney, a painter and resident of Artspace, enjoyed a home-court advantage. The Lakes were impressed by the work they had seen in the KCAC gallery and decided to visit Garney’s home studio a couple of stories up from the main floor.

“Were so taken by the vibrancy, Patty Lake said of Garney’s oil work, bursting in reds, pinks, oranges and yellows. A relative newcomer to promoting her long-time hobby, Garney had hoped visitors would respond positively to her rather unusual vision of Kansas City.

“Influenced by Impressionism and Fauvism, I’m fascinated by the power of color,” Garney had explained in a guidebook for Open Studios. “My paintings are primarily city landscapes exploring the energy, optimism and emotion evoked by color relationships inspired by travel experiences and local Kansas City scenes.”

One look at Garney’s paintings and the Lakes were hooked. Quickly Dick realized a Garney would make the best birthday present for Patty. He was enamored with a bold and beautiful rendering of the city’s downtown skyline from a northern vantage point.

Dick pulled out his checkbook and penned in the
price: $2,000.

“The most expensive piece have,” Garney said. “I painted two skylines and both of them sold.”

At 12:29 p.m., the Lakes completed a transaction that might not have taken place without a little sublime intervention from the gods of Open Studios. They now were more concerned about where to hang the painting than where to hang the right turn onto the interstate.

Said Garney: “I’m going to miss that painting.” Garney had made a maximum effort to get it finished, she obtained permission to paint out-doors in a no trespassing zone on the levee near the downtown airport. After the Lakes took off with their new possession, Garney slid into a chair and lit a cigarette. She took several long satisfying drags. Life was good, thanks to Open Studios.

No matter how many pieces an artist was able to sell, Open Studios will be etched in memories as a brave collaborative effort seeking to become a Kansas City tradition. Rough spots aside, the event seemed to channel the cumulative energy of a community that prides itself onĀ  being on the cutting edge, not over the edge.

“It’s a great opportunity for the city,” artist Paula Hauser Leffel said on the first Saturday
“It’s different from an art fair.”

Different in a way most art fairs might have trouble duplicating. By inviting guests into the artists’ work and/or living spaces, a sense of intimacy was attached to 0pen Studios. In most cases, viewers seemed to feel the energy that went into the work from the very walls around them.

Colors and textures, shapes and materials . These are the elements that captivated and spurred the emotions of visitors as they arrived at Open Studios destinations. Barbara Rains whose self-actualized series of “torso images” hailed the female form, touched visitors with a sense of humor that jumped out of her 18 pieces.

“I love Barbara’s work,” Lynn Strubbe said. “It’s a little unusual and it has a deeper meaning. It says a lot about the artist and it’s very personal. And the humor plays on a serious theme.”

Rains, of Blue Springs, Missouri, said the inspiration for her work from photographs of strategically placed mannequins to handmade paper and mixed media wall hangings comes from the woman within. The only untitled piece in Rains’ collection was a wire form of a woman’s body connected on the outside of a more slender, culturally acceptable body shape.

It’s about being a wife and a mom,” Rains explained. “This piece speaks to body image…the love-hate, the contrast. The wire has a masculine quality, but it’s feminine the way the wire is strung through.”

Humor and how it relates to the body of a woman also dominated the work of Betsy O’Hara. She recreated nude works of the old masters and covered them with various materials, leaving one’s imagination to figure out what might lie beneath. O’Hara said her inspiation came years ago when she was teaching art at Blue Valley High School and ran across an anthology of poetry with a nude Venus and Cupid on the cover. Someone apparently took offense to the display of skin and painted a yellow dress on Venus.

“School officials did it,” O’Hara said. “I chuckled at first and then I was so offended that I had to laugh.”

And she had to develop her own nude niche for others to see.

“It snowballed about 10 years ago,” O’Hara said, “just before I quit (teaching) to do art full-time.”

O’Hara’s most whimsical work was a “do-it-yourself censorship” copy of William Bouguerau’s 1879 painting “The Birth of Venus” complete with removable jigsaw pieces covering the naughty bits.

Said O’Hara of its focal point: “It’s a classic theme corrupted by Christian morals.”

Brenda K. Drake needed room – and plenty of it.

“A number of people said my work was too big,” said Drake, who occupied the KCAC gallery’s basement with four other 0pen Studios artists. “If I could only work tiny.”

But the contrast of Drake’s larger pieces and the smaller ones of her basement mates, including Deborah Beroset, worked to perfection. Size really doesn’t matter when quality is involved.

“It has been really cool,” Drake said of her Open Studios experience. “We’ve had a lot of people come through and I know a lot of people came out who never would have.” Among Drake’s sizable contributions to the exhibit were acrylic triptychs inspired by her foreign travels. Drake summed up her style as an integration of Asian influences; among her favorite techniques are screens covered with gold or silver leaf.

Speaking of favorite techniques, Beroset’s mixed media colleges in triptych form cleverly meshed written words, photographs and wood in a manner all her own.

“I like the mixture of different media,” said Ellen Henry, an 0pen Studios visitor. “She finds these objects and puts them together to create a theme. (And) she’s got this wry sense of humor.”

A writer and journalist who lives in Prairie Village, Kansas, Beroset titled her works with an eye on the wry. Those checking out Beroset’s “I Grant She Doesn’t Belong to the Sewing Society” couldn’t avoid a chuckle or two.

“I’m really excited for her and I’m really being inspired,” said Henry, an artist who wants to be a part of the next 0pen Studios. “I just joined the Artists Coalition. I’m a mom with three kids and I’m starting to venture out and sell my work.”

Henry certainly ventured to the right place for inspiration. But if she wanted some perspiration to go along with it, the place to be was the home studio of Eric J. Persson, a painter and fitness trainer rolled into one.

Persson’s River Market-area digs allow him the freedom to combine his two true loves. His studio/training facility is called Body Sculpture. Free weights and paints literally dominate his space. For his 0pen Studios exhibit, Persson put the spotlight on his series called “Women in Motion,” a celebration of the female athletic form.

In his artist’s statement, Persson discussed his passion for the women of sport.

“I am a long-time sports fan and have always because been drawn to women’s sports (they) are so different from men’s. It tends to be more about finesse than pure brute strength. Women interact differently on the playing field, and in general are more about teamwork and bonding than gaining the individual spotlight.”

While working on paintings for 0pen Studious, Persson kept one eye on the Summer Olympics in Australia. Among Team USA competitors that Persson captured on canvas were pole vaulter Stacy Dragila and swimmer Dara Torres.

Persson, however, doesn’t always use canvas alone. A few years ago, while struggling to make ends meet, Persson got the idea to use shipping pallets – the slatted wooden kind – as a painting surface. He stretched scraps of canvas to the pallets and created a one-of-a-kind format to display his skills.

And then there is his other vocation being a Persson-al trainer. After a herniated disc and arthritis in his back cut short his dreams of becoming a professional athlete, Persson became more aware of proper fitness an began instructing others on ways to improve their bodies. Interestingly, some of his business clients pass along shipping pallets to Persson so that he can always have a fresh supply for his art.

“We’ve passed a couple his way,” said Gary Kloth, a floor covering installer who happens to be one of Persson’s training clients. “But it’s got to be right. He’s turned his nose up at some before.”

Maggie McDaniel, a native of Orlando, Florida was tuned more into spiritual health for her showing. Her mixed media work incorporated Chinese mysticism and a feeling of inner peace. McDaniel’s personal journey speaks volumes about the idea of locating the right place for creativity. For McDaniel, that place is Kansas City, where being a participant in the first Open Studios reaffirmed her belief in the city’s open-arms policy.

“I’ve lived in Kansas City a year and the people here in the art community are strong and friendly to newcomers,” McDaniel said. “The people here are more helpful than those in New York and they are more interested in getting something started.”

The work put into 0pen Studios isn’t finished. Artists and their guests alike said they are anticipating the next edition of the fledgling event. Whether that happens in the year 2001, 2002 or beyond doesn’t seem to matter as long as it happens and continues to happen well into the future.

Said one Open Studios observer: “When you buy a piece of art in their studio, you are picking up the vibe, you are infusing the artist into you. People think they are buying a part of the person. It’s more than signing a check with the name on the bottom.”

Rather, the inaugural Open Studios was all about finding one’s way to the place an artist calls home.