Artist Pages: Black Art in Kansas City

This is, quite possibly, the most critical time for Black art since the 1960s.

As the Black community endures a seemingly racist executive administration seemingly obsessed with dismantling the legacy of America’s first Black President, artisans of Kansas City’s Black community have been making their presence felt and voices heard in both traditional and innovative spaces.

The eloquent yet forceful collage work of Glyneisha Johnson, a recent graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute and current Charlotte Street Foundation studio resident, profoundly reflects the feeling of shattered hopes that many Black Americans are experiencing at this time.

“Stoop Love” by Glyneisha Johnson (from the artist / photo by Silvia Abisaab )

In Johnson’s words, her insightful collages are metaphors that “describe the dislocated, collaged nature of Black history due to colonialism.” This metaphor could very well apply to the shattered relationship that many Black Americans endure with the “American Dream.”

The Nerman Museum most recently acquired “The Help,” one of Ms. Johnson’s collages.

On the other side of the metro area, Warren “Stylez” Harvey, a deep thinking, self-taught artist (and two-step dance expert), has been steadily attracting attention in Kansas City’s Black community for his deeply introspective expressionist paintings that simultaneously capture the sometimes caustic mix of diversity, angst, exuberance and agony in the Black experience.

Warren “Stylez” Harvey with his painting, “Black Man’s Anguish” (from the artist)

Juanita Maxine Harris Gibson, 96, with her artwork at the El-Scari/Harvey Art Gallery in the Center for Spiritual Living, 1014 W. 39th St. (from the artist)

What makes Harvey’s work even more noteworthy is that he is a true full-time artist, sustaining himself solely on his art, in an economy that is still recovering from the Great Recession of 2008-2009.

Working alone in the painting-stacked basement of his Grandview residence, Warren has produced hundreds of artworks. With noted poet Natasha Ria El-Scari, he is currently a co-founder of the El-Scari/Harvey Gallery located in the Center for Spiritual Living in the Midtown area and an exhibitor with Black Spaces/Black Art (See page 111).

In between the traditionally trained Johnson and self-taught Harvey, the work of Juanita Maxine Harris Gibson stands out in its profound subtlety. The 96-year-old grandmother of Natasha Ria El-Scari, Gibson was initially trained to be a carpenter by her father (who built the first post office in Rome, Georgia). Her art training came after she became a wife and mother. Always the oldest artist at the residencies that she has attended, she works with fabrics, watercolor and oils.

“Twerk Tricks” by Stefan Jones (from the artist)

Gibson recently exhibited at the El-Scari/Harvey Gallery.

On the Kansas side, Stefan Jones, a Master of Fine Arts graduate of Boston University and current teacher/coach in the Kansas City, Kansas Public School System, has been creating surrealist/expressionist works that capture the complexities of the Black male experience.

Jones states, “In my work I seek to highlight duality, fatherlessness, conflict with self and conflict with society.” He adds, “When people encounter my work I would like for them to come with their preconceived notions and baggage and leave with their own revelations as well.”

Stefan is currently exhibiting with the African American Artists Collective and KC Black Arts Network.

Clarissa Knighten with her handmade wearable art (from the artist)
“Don’t Touch Me” by Nikita Graves (from the artist)
“Shoop” by Vivian Wilson Bluett (from the artist)
“A Mother’s Plight” by Adrianne Clayton-Edwards (from the artist)
“Sun Sister” by Lynell Diggs (from the artist)
Harold Smith

Harold Smith is an educator and multimedia artist who lives and works in the Kansas City area. Most of his work is focused on his experience within the American black experience.

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