Kansas City Artists Coalition


Dreamy drawings and video open portals to reverie

By Tanya Hartman
Special to The Star

In a recent interview in the Atlantic, writer Andre Dubus III says that “the desire to step into another person’s dream world, is a universal impulse that’s shared by us all.”

Christopher Troutman and Michael Lasater open portals to allow for such glimpses in concurrent solo shows at the Kansas City Artists Coalition. While Troutman creates monumental drawings to express fragments of observed life across cultures, Lasater constructs single-channel compositions that act as undulant imaginings, addressing memory and the construction of narrative identity over time.

The challenge of such endeavors is to elevate the investigation of self through formal and poetic means to address the universal experience of being human. Both artists succeed in different, yet complementary, ways, creating spaces that allow viewers to step into visual reverie.

Through drawing, Troutman, an assistant professor of art at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, translates the unconscious outward into marks that weave a narrative. The works in the exhibition are created in charcoal and ink on paper, with the occasional addition of gesso washes.

In a recent interview, the artist observed that “drawing is the most natural material. Every child draws, and I use drawing materials because of the intimate relationships that I can have with them.”

Troutman’s work is technically beautiful and loose, with stippling, dripping, crosshatching and a dazzling array of tonalities articulated across monumental drawings of urban environments that seem to exist in a realm somewhere between the American Midwest and Japan, where the artist lived after college.

“My wife and son and I go back to Japan every summer,” he said, “and it is a strange experience to fly from the Midwest to another world. I try to splice the two worlds together in my work.”

The resulting images are arresting and unique, enormous inner-city warrens of tiled roofs, dilapidated stairwells, alleyways and vaguely anonymous city dwellers who observe passing fragments of each other’s lives.
In “Hillside Activity” (2012), a 96-inch by 150-inch ink on paper triptych, two boys on one roof watch an elderly couple having a barbecue on another roof. A steep and narrow stairwell separates them. Troutman invents ambiguous narratives and hybrid environments, building them from his imagination and imbuing them with the aesthetic of a graphic novel (most drawings are composed in panels).

If you have ever doubted that drawing still has resonance and relevance, this show will renew your faith in the profundity of marks on paper.

In trying to express his own work’s intentions, Michael Lasater quotes from William Faulkner, who writes in his novel “Absalom Absalom,” “living is one constant and perpetual instant.”

Walking into Lasater’s exhibition, one is gently immersed into a realm of sound and luminous image. Lasater, a professor of mass communications at University of Indiana, South Bend, holds degrees from Oberlin College in Ohio and Julliard in New York City and has worked as a musician, painter and documentary filmmaker.

“I try to deconstruct video through painting and photography,” he said in a recent interview. “All my stuff is collage and computer compositions”

In “Maquette” (2012), a single-channel high-definition video with stereo; digitized, archived film; and sampled sound, two images hang on the luminous screen, one vibrant with color and contained motion, the other eerily motionless and gray.

“The left panel is layered upon itself in a tight loop, constantly in motion, and yet it goes nowhere. The right image is still. I try to get as much texture into my pieces as I possibly can,” he said.

The juxtaposition of kinetic and static, sound and silence, colorful and monochromatic is evocative of all dualities that human beings must warily balance, such as health and illness, hope and despair.

The artist doesn’t intentionally begin with an idea in mind but rather lets the creative process dictate how a piece evolves. “At some point the piece wants to organize itself, and you become more an enabler than a creator,” he said. “You follow the piece.”

On exhibit
“Christopher Troutman” and “Michael Lasater” continue at the Kansas City Artists Coalition, 201 Wyandotte St., through Jan. 17. Hours are 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. For more information, call 816-421-5222 or go to KansasCityArtistsCoalition.org.

Copyright 2014 The Kansas City Star


Nothing in the KCAC’s latest show stands still 

By Liz Cook

December Exhibition

Through January 17 at Kansas City Artists Coalition, 201 Wyandotte, 816-421-5222, kansascityartistscoalition.org

The Kansas City Artists Coalition’s December exhibition tugs visitors through its three galleries in colliding currents of sensory appeal. Each of the four artists on display plays with different kinetic possibilities, moving us through scenes, swirls and symphonies.

Christopher Troutman’s charcoal and ink drawings stage active figures in urban environments. The paper panels loom large in the Mallin Gallery, where street scenes of neighbors grilling meat and hoisting bicycles up stone steps play out as buildings converge claustrophobically in the distance.

In many of these drawings, Troutman directs our gaze with a cinematographer’s eye for movement and mise-en-scène. “Watching Neighbors” captures an apartment staircase from a tenant’s perspective, placing us in the drawing as an observer: We peer down, hands curled over the railing, as neighbors descend.

“Three Times” plays with narrative, capturing the same setting at three different moments. The progression is linear, pulling our eye down the paper to watch the scene change. Here, too, we’re invited into the drawing as an observer, but the effect is much more unsettling. We view the scene from the perspective of a voyeur taking a cellphone pic of a woman in a coffee shop. In a later iteration, we leer down at her as she bends to retrieve a cup from the floor. In this frame, she stares back, challenging us.

“Three Times” is one of the more representational drawings on display, layering soft strokes of charcoal to craft detail in both content and texture. Troutman’s work is varied, however, and hazier panels, such as “Night Walk,” are no less affecting; black ink pools romantically on the paper, contrasting solid swaths of shadow with scratchy charcoal marks.

Down the hall, in the Charno Gallery, Michael Lasater’s single-channel high-definition videos appeal to different senses. Though each composition uses an individual audio track, the cumulative effect is mesmerizing. Standing in front of one screen at a time allows you to temporarily isolate a solo voice, but what emerges is an atmospheric choral soundscape.

Lasater’s “Tryst” unites modern figures and mythology. A sailor from a Walter Ruttmann film dances on the screen, his high leg kicks casting shadows on a brick wall behind him. Nearby, a traced nude — Iphigenia, Lasater suggests — blooms from the wall like neoclassical graffiti. On the audio track, a muffled drum sounds an ominous, martial tone over the drone of film ripping through a projector.

“Crossing, Berlin 1927” conducts images as if from a musical score. The screen features a tiled display, each broadcasting the same footage of a woman walking across a street. In each new iteration, however, Lasater toys with time — slowing the footage, skipping forward and excising parts of the movement, freezing her at different points in her journey. As you watch seconds tick by (a counter underlines each tile) and track the woman’s pace, it’s hard not to lose your own temporal footing. Identifying the virgin footage from Lasater’s orchestra of alterations is harder still. The variations appear as real as the original theme.

Like much of Lasater’s work in this exhibition, “Crossing” seems more attuned to sound and rhythm than to image. The varying tempos and repeating patterns of the woman’s progress become a concerto of spatial arrangement that you want to conduct in the air.

In the Underground Gallery, Sarah Krawcheck’s  “Getting Fit With S&M” details her and her husband’s journey through healthy eating and exercise. By way of introduction, three photos spell out “S&M” with dots of baked goods, a kind of muffin pointillism.

Krawcheck’s “Dessert Substitutions” series offers food porn for hungry gallerygoers. In one photo, a supple, dewy hunk of cornbread rests near a crumb-flecked knife. She best captures the sensual allure of food with the dimpled, cream-swirled peak of ice cream in “Mountains of Insecurity.” At odds with that interpretation, however, is her near-clinical lighting: Despite the photo’s oceanic backgrounds and sensuous subjects, the colors often appear bleak here, washed out in a chilly glare.

Across the gallery, Cynthia Bjorn’s oil paintings drip with abstract eddies of calligraphy. Rogue droplets and comets of color mar Bjorn’s canvases, and the bubbles and imperfections within the paint create a sense of movement and play. Though the calligraphic flourishes can seem more like an overlay than a fully integrated element in some pieces, “Coming Home” coils Bjorn’s colors effectively, sparkling on the canvas in effervescent swirls. “Job’s Test” is among the most dramatic of Bjorn’s works: Wet-look scarlet oils gleam like blood on the edges of the painting, and the emphasis on the center draws us in like a vortex.

The works on display in the December exhibition share little in subject or medium, but the artists’ collective energy generates a natural sense of movement through the galleries. The Artists Coalition offers a variety show centered on motion, pushing us downstream on gentle waves of charcoal, calligraphy and chocolate cake.

Click on the link for The Pitch article and images.

Copyright 2013 The Pitch


Bringing the world to Kansas City, one artist at a time

By Elisabeth Kirsch
Special to the Star

“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other cultures,” Aldous Huxley once wrote.

Photos by SHANE KEYSER | The Kansas City Star Artist Carmen Riu, who visited Kansas City from Spain, created a study of soybeans, including photos of plants, products and local farmers.

When Spanish artists Merce Tiana and Carmen Riu arrived in Kansas City six weeks ago for a residency at the Kansas City Artists Coalition, Tiana noted: “I couldn’t work the first week here because I was too shocked. I expected to find the Ponderosa” — yes, she meant the homestead in the 1960s television show “Bonanza.”

Riu added: “In Barcelona, everybody walks and it’s always crowded. Here there are no people on the streets. And there’s so much space. We were also surprised by how nice everybody is.”

Their time in Kansas City was funded in part by the Kansas City Artists Coalition through its Kansas City International Residency, which receives grants from agencies and foundations.

“This is the first full year of programming for the International Residency at the Artists Coalition,” said executive director Janet Simpson. “Our residency is a way for us to bring the world to Kansas City.”

Carmen Riu, who is a critic, ceramist, sculptor, photographer and videographer in Barcelona, knew what she wanted to explore before she arrived in Kansas City.

“Soybeans,” she said in a recent interview at the Artists Coalition studio space. “We don’t have soybeans in my country and I wanted to find out all about them.”

Riu walked to the farmer’s market, just a few blocks from the coalition in the River Market, and convinced soybean farmers to talk to her and let her record and photograph them. She then traveled to stores in the city and took pictures of every possible soy-related food.

She kept a handwritten diary with all her notes about soy, and drew renderings of the beans and pods. She crafted oversized and elegant ceramic sculptures of soybeans, glazed in black and gold, one color representing the U.S. and the other China, the biggest exporters and importers of the commodity.

Riu also arranged real soybeans in various mandala-like formations that Busby Berkeley would have envied, and then photographed them. Installed together at KCAC’s project room, Riu’s conceptual, political and aesthetic investigations of a Midwestern crop, taken for granted here, ended up as a revelation.

Back in Barcelona, she planned to expand her presentation to include videos.

Her colleague, Merce Tiana, eventually found her way to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and made drawings of buffaloes she saw depicted there.

Tiana, also a writer, teacher, ceramist and sculptor, had made sculptures of tapirs several years ago for a traveling exhibit in Europe. She realized that bison and tapirs were endangered species, and began creating fetish figures that were part tapir and part buffalo.

She also made ceramic dishes and plates that depicted various images of bison, in a witty emulation of the famous plates that Picasso created using images of Spanish bulls.

The visit by Riu and Tiana was mostly funded by generous grants from the Lighton International Artist Exchange Program, founded more than 10 years ago by artist and philanthropist Linda Lighton. The Lighton Fund, which provides the money needed, is managed by the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation.

From the start of the LIAEP grants, Lighton collaborated with Simpson and the coalition to send artists from the United States abroad and bring artists from around the globe to Kansas City.

“It quickly became clear,” Simpson said, “how meaningful these exchanges were … they were changing artists’ lives. Artists could meet their peers, and they were given the gift of time to work and think.”

The success of the Lighton grants was also significant for Kansas City, as KCAC members and followers were exposed to art and artists unknown in the U.S.

Several years ago, in addition to working with Lighton to administer the exchange grants, Simpson began to write and receive grants from institutions such as the National Endowment for the Arts, the Warhol Foundation and the Doris Duke Foundation, to develop and grow more international programming for the coalition.

In 2009, when a large space became available in the coalition building, Simpson jumped on the chance to turn it into a viable studio and living quarters to accommodate residencies, and launched the Kansas City International Residency in fall 2010.

Over time, Simpson has partnered with Red Star Studios, the Belger Arts Center, the Kansas City Art Institute, the Nelson and other regional organizations for lectures, studio space and shows.

KCAC’s most recent exhibit, “Islamic Exchange,” which took Simpson two years to organize, opened in collaboration with the Nelson’s current show, “Echoes: Islamic Art and Contemporary Artists.”

Fatima Abu Rumi, a Palestinian artist who had never been to the United States, was a visiting artist at KCAC in July. Her paintings and videos, which revolve around her “incisive stance against the deprivation of women and against men’s ownership over them,” according to Simpson, were included in “Islamic Exchange.”

Abu Rumi also gave a moving talk at the Nelson about her life and work. Because she did not speak English, an interpreter was provided. Nothing on the news channels could match hearing this woman talk about her life in the Middle East.

In October, the coalition’s Kansas City International Residency will bring in Michel Delacroix from France and Zehra Cobanli from Turkey.

Jefferson Blair, the vice president of the coalition’s board of directors, says that “KCAC and the KCAC International Residency are incredible undiscovered gems in our region.”

“I have been fascinated in various ways,” he says, “by each visiting artist; sometimes by the unexpected or things we take for granted in the U.S.”

On display

Works created by visiting artists Carmen Riu and Merce Tiana are on display through Oct. 12 in the Project Room of the Kansas City Artists Coalition, 201 Wyandotte.

Copyright 2013 The Kansas City Star


A River Market State of Mind

By Dana Self

New York Critic ‘thrilled’ by works of four women in regional exhibit

Jerry Saltz seemed impressed. This art-hardened senior critic for New York Magazine who has just about seen it all, found things that intrigued him in the submissions for this year’s River Market Regional.

And yet a dismissive, backhanded compliment diminished his juror’s statement.

“I looked for artists who seemed drive(n) to provide some sort of unknown algorithmic reaction to their topic, their medium, material, process, and desires,” he wrote.  “Artists who were somehow trying to make things that haven’t been seen before, provide a taxonomy into their inner-lives, fashion encyclopedic palaces in single works, were interested in the representation of the invisible, the unseen, the unseeable.  What shocked me; what thrilled me is that I saw a lot of these kinds of art coming out of the Kansas City area.”

Jerry, please. How provincial of you to be shocked thrilled at your discovery of interesting art here. Tsk.

Award winners Kristy Aitkens, Jennifer Boe, Kristin Nowlin, and Carol Zastoupil represented a victory for the women in this expansive showing.  Zatoupil’s light-saturated landscape paintings suggest a buoyant yet otherworldly natural world.  Her brushy, pastel-hued scenes painted in simplified shapes are a sharp contrast to Aitkens’ thick oil paint in the dark and lugubrious “Thrown to the Weeds.”

Boe’s two textile works highlight her continuing examination of domesticity. Her “Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pie” embroidery and her felt bacon-slab floor sculpture suggest women’s work as well as the sugars and fatty savories of the American diet.

Nowlin’s woodblock prints offered some of the most exciting imagery.  Woodblock technique and graphic nature always stand out as exciting and difficult.  Nowlin’s mise en scene dramas from “The Land of Romance” series borrow idealized Virginia tourism imagery from the 1930’s, yet subvert those to suggest the realities and history of race and genealogy in America.

Sculptural works are the highlight of Saltz’s picks from young Kansas City artists.  Cory Imig’s “Sqeezing Information for Materials Under Extreme Pressure” is tautly minimal.  Three long wood planks lean against one another, ultimately resting against an inflated yellow balloon affixed to the wall.  The tension between the planks and the impression of the last plank pressed into the balloon are unnerving.

Kate Clements’ “Blue Bridesmaid” tempers Imig’s muscular work with its delicacy.  A glass facial veil is suspended from the wall and topped with a dried flower crown, continuing her exploration of the feminine as a social construction.  Her kiln-fired glass is delicate, yet fiercely resolute.

Maegan Stracy’s “Bundle #2” composed of wood, vinyl, webbing, and other humble materials, bolsters Imig’s sculpture.  Craig Ropers similarly modest and abject materials in his two-dimensional works resonate beyond their embedded meanings and text.

Both Stracy and Roper offer contrast to Fayetteville, Ark., artist Bethany Springer’s high and low “Edible Arangements 2.0,” which incorporates an antique silver platter and components of an edible fruit display.

Weston’s Patrick Larsen’s “The Cruiser” is an absurdist, ready-made bicycle, reconfigured into low-riding, tough-looking cruiser.

Only two drawing appear: Lawrence artist Michael Krueger’s colored pencil, “Earthly No. 1” and Lee’s Summit artist Kwanza Humphrey’s delicate graphite on paper, “On the Verge.”  Despite its title, Krueger’s objects floating in a sea of black space have a peaceful otherworldly affect.  In “Verge,” a dreadlocked DJ works a board in a minimally articulated outdoor setting.  The sketchy drawing style conveys a wealth of information in only a few lines. 

Paintings range from Don Kottman’s sweeping and mature gestural abstracions to Nina Irwin’s diminutive fantasy watercolor, with some realist portraiture punctuating the flow, including the quotidian, yet familiar mother and child scene in Rachel Foster’s “The Bathroom.”

Ricky Allman’s chaotic, futuristic “annunciate/Repudiate” is one of the exhibition’s most dynamic paintings, not only because of its monumental 13-foot wingspan. We float unanchored in this prismatic scene, between the artifice of cubes and architectural fragments.  Space and time collapse as we navigate the sometimes recognizable signposts of modernist dwellings and snippets of the natural world.

By contrast, and yet similarly conceptually abstract, tiny photographic images like Ron Anderson’s “Brownie-Lifeguards, KC” suggest a real, yet strangely similar experience of the world.  A graffiti-covered, unsteady lifeguard chair overlooks a pond in this hazy, dreamlike scene in which we may or may not imagine ourselves.  Its implied serenity juxtaposes Allman’s freneticism. 

Many of the photographs suggest pain and loss.  In Don house’s “Woman, Near Ponca, Arkansas,” a woman hitches down her jeans to unveil a mammoth scar, while Angie Jenning presents two images of mastectomy scars and a raw burn pattern covering one scar.  Fred Trease’s “Toyland #1” reveals a flattened, filthy and maltreated teddy bear. 

There is no common thread stitching together a juried exhibition like this one.  It is a sum of its individual parts, demonstrating how a juror’s personal tastes, mood and expectations intersect with a group of artists’ aesthetic moments. 

Copyright 2013 The Kansas City Star