Trey Loomis, an artist who looks at life and paints what he sees (photo by Jim Barcus)

In the face of unspeakable adversity, local artist Trey Loomis is slowly weaving himself into Kansas City’s art narrative

I remember the first time I read Rene Ricard’s “Artforum” article “The Radiant Child.” I was an 18-year-old, acne-ravaged, skinny kid studying data processing at Kansas City Kansas Community College. Honestly, I would have rather studied art, but I was just too naive and lacked the resolve to not pursue the lucrative path of Cobol, Fortran, and the other delights of computer science. So, between classes I would devour the art journals and magazines in the college library.

I also remember the first time I met Trey Loomis. I still had hair, was trying to start my own art practice, and teaching computer science at Paseo Academy. Trey was a shy freshman that other students, who had known him for years, looked out for and protected.

Doing his best within the physical limitations placed upon him from a fire when he was two years old, Trey would place his face inches from the computer screen and, with his surgically constructed fingers, slowly press the keys until his computer task for the day was completed. If he needed help, he would cough and nod when I looked in his direction.

Trey Loomis with Paseo art teacher Sharon Mitchell, retired English teacher and librarian John Russell, and Harold Smith, artist, and retired computer/art teacher (courtesy of Harold Smith)

The real magic, however, was after Trey finished his work. He would pull out his drawing supplies and draw. Every other day (we were on a block schedule then), he would come in, complete his work without any fanfare, and then draw.

From animals to objects to his fellow students, Trey drew every single free moment in every single class period. He gave me two drawings which I still have today. As a visual arts major at Paseo, he also learned how to paint and sculpt. I remember an over-fired self-portrait bust that Trey created in ceramics class that was displayed outside the school library. It was quite stunning, both visually and emotionally.

Demonstrating a courage only seen under the most adverse of circumstances, Trey matriculated from Paseo. On graduation night, most graduates crossed the stage and received diplomas to raucous applause. When Trey crossed, it was near silence with a smattering of claps.

While all his classmates went on to college, military service or the job market, Trey went home and simply continued to paint.

So, what does this have to do with Rene Ricard’s essay from 40 years ago?

An Artist in the Purest Sense of the Word

“When you first see a new picture, you are very careful because you may be staring at Van Gogh’s ear.” — Rene Ricard

When we remove the veil and expose all the ego-inflating hype and pretentiousness that surrounds art — the fancy galas, the extravagant art openings, money laundering, and the shameless orgy of uninhibited capitalism and greed that many artists consider to be “the goal” — we are left with Trey Loomis.

He is an artist in the purest sense of the word.

Trey creates paintings that he likes.

He enjoys doing it.

And, as much as possible, he supports himself with his work.

He is just like those artists whose works hang in the Louvre, MOMA, Tate and other revered institutions.

You know, those individuals that have entire university courses, documentaries, and countless books dedicated to exploring their work.

When we strip away all the sensationalism placed upon their lives by art critics, historians, moviemakers and other people who make a living by doing it, they and Trey are one and the same.

He represents himself.

He has no website, only a Facebook page and an Instagram page.

He has no artist’s statement.

Trey doesn’t deliver PowerPoint lectures.

He is not pursuing residencies, art fairs, galleries and competitions.

He simply looks at life and paints what he sees.

By technical definition, an autodidactic artist, Trey invites us to see the world stripped of the pretentiousness and arrogance that have us all believing that we are something more than what we actually are, mortal beings who could meet our expiration date at any random moment.

Trey paints celebrities, cityscapes, foods, animals and portraits in a folk art/outsider style reminiscent of esteemed folk artists Mose Tolliver and Purvis Young. With his face just inches from his phone, he uses images from the internet as source material and begins with a simple charcoal or pencil sketch. From there, he meticulously constructs an image from flat fields of color.

The result is works that are stunning in their simplicity, engaging in their aesthetic presentation, and, of course, even more profoundly meaningful once you have become aware of Trey’s backstory.

Two portraits by Trey Loomis, meticulously constructed from flat fields of color (courtesy of Harold Smith)

Trey Loomis with Robert Gann, owner of Habitat Contemporary gallery in the Crossroads (courtesy of Harold Smith)

In 1995, at the age of two, Trey was in a house fire. A firefighter found him trapped in a closet. A soaked diaper was the only thing that kept his body from being completely burned. He was in a coma for months and hospitalized for more than a year, followed by years of surgeries. He is legally blind, one arm is shorter than the other, he struggles to hear, and his only fingers are actually transplanted toes.

Since graduating from Paseo in 2007, Trey has continued to create his work. Taking advantage of whatever opportunities he can find, Trey has shown his work at the InterUrban Arthouse, Troost Market, stores on the Plaza, and most recently in an open studio event I created at Studios Inc.

Yes, it was technically an Open House for my studio. But let’s not deceive ourselves, Anthony “Trey” Loomis was clearly the star that day.

Former teachers from his elementary days on up support his practice. When he exhibited at the Troost Market, two of his teachers from Paseo helped him set up his table. Last year, his work was part of an exhibition at the InterUrban ArtHouse. One of his teachers from elementary school brought him to the event and helped him navigate the large crowd. His former high school advisory teacher, and others, bring him art supplies from time to time.

Even the simple act of purchasing his work is a statement on the existence of an artist operating outside of the glam and self-worship. First, his works sell for $15 to $20, an unthinkably low sum by most artists. But it works for him.

There is no Venmo, PayPal, or Cash App in play here. Delicately, he places each bill given to him in a small wooden box he carries with him. He signs his work with a black sharpie and is more than willing to take a picture with patrons.

As old Black folks would say “He is good people.”

And, my friends, that is enough.

It is way more than enough.

To contact Trey about his work, email Tracey Sullwold Murray at

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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