New Studio and Exhibition Space Opens on Troost

Kansas City artist Travis Pratt sits in his studio at the Bunker Center for the Arts, where he is a resident artist and also serves as director and curator. (photo by Jim Barcus)

On the corner of 19th and Troost is a century-old, squat, concrete, fortress-like building, now called the Bunker Center for the Arts. Built in the 1800s as a blacksmith’s workshop, it has since housed an auto shop, a security company, a construction company and many other residents. As each owner expanded the building, it grew into a labyrinth of twisting hallways and rooms.

Today the bunker-like structure is yet again undergoing renovations, but it is also now filled with artwork. Sculptor Jim Adams purchased the building in 2014 to turn it into an exhibition space and artists’ studio space, adding to the growing density of cultural offerings between the Crossroads and 18th and Vine. Jokingly describing himself as the “shadowy figure behind the scenes,” he’s put painter Travis Pratt in charge as director, gallery curator and a resident studio artist.

Work by Mike Carney (photo by Jim Barcus)

Over the last year, Pratt, whose own work, which he has shown frequently at The Late Show, Leedy-Voulkos Art Center and Haw Contemporary, often explores ideas of home, has curated six exhibitions at Bunker. While Pratt is currently the only resident artist, he and Adams soon hope to have another 10 artists renting studio space.

In early May, the Bunker opened its latest show, “Mike Carney at the Bunker.” Perhaps best described as “inverted tromp l’oeil,” Carney’s paintings depict still-lifes of ceramic pots and flowers, but often the canvases are cut and altered, exposing the wood frames.

Work by John Byrd (photo by Jim Barcus)

Pratt hopes to show a wide variety of mediums and styles — what matters to him is effort. “I really respond to artists who put in a lot of time,” he says, explaining that he doesn’t like what he calls “fast” work.

Pratt’s emphasis on work ethic is plenty evident in his studio. There are abstract works with bright neon colors, while other paintings depict imaginary architecture. Despite the dozens of completed and uncompleted artworks, Pratt describes these rooms as just his “weekend studio.” He says has a lot more in his hometown of Joplin, Mo., where he spends most of the week.

Work by Scott Rosenberg (photo by Jim Barcus)

In stark contrast to his neon abstractions is Pratt’s series depicting the destruction of the 2011 tornado in Joplin. These photorealistic paintings show family properties churned into debris. The paintings are beautiful, despite their disturbing imagery. And beyond their aesthetic qualities, they should be seen as works of important photojournalism, or rather, “painted journalism.”

In yet more rooms, artworks from past exhibitions are still on display. The previous show, “Spine over Matter,” was set up for the recent National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts conference in KC. As part of the curatorial process, Pratt has decided to leave up past exhibitions, so he can fill the Bunker’s many rooms with art. Toward the back of the Bunker, a lounge space houses work from even earlier exhibits, along with objects from Adams and Pratt’s own collections.

Now that simple renovations like painting walls and installing lighting are complete, Adams and Pratt are making bigger plans for a communal woodshop and ceramics kilns. Though for a building that has grown so much in a century, perhaps it’s natural for the Bunker to be in a state of perpetual renovation. And while the Bunker is filled with artwork, it still feels a little empty, like a house where people are still moving in. But this atmosphere should change as the Bunker continues to come alive and as resident artists begin setting up studios.

Hours are noon to 6 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday. For more information 712.314.0478 or www.facebook.com/bunkca

Neil Thrun

Neil Thrun is a writer and artist living in Kansas City, Missouri. He is a 2010 graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute and was a resident artist with the Charlotte Street Urban Culture Project in 2011 and 2012. He has written for publications including the Kansas City Star, Huffington Post and other local arts journals.

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