Unbridled expression

At “The Grand Salon 2” at the Crossroads art studio Imagine That!, a vibrant array of a little something of everything could be found—a worthwhile show, celebrating each of its fifty artists’ creativity with kaleidoscopic intensity.

Friday night, the Crossroads art studio Imagine That! opened its doors to offer viewers the experience of a salon-style exhibition, showcasing a vibrant array of work in different mediums including painting, drawing, mixed media, textiles, and ceramic work. Highly sophisticated and often equally playful, it is a show that celebrates each artist’s creativity with kaleidoscopic intensity. Imagine That! and it’s The Grand Salon 2 underscores the intrinsic inclination to express oneself, and its unbridled vivacity regardless of any personal limitations outside the scope of creativity.

This art studio, a non-profit which caters to creative individuals with developmental disabilities, practices a “hands-off approach” teaching and implementing “new concepts…but letting each artist work according to their own desires,” so providing space for each artist to “to share what is truly important to them, and express themselves without interference.” Supporting fifty artists at this point since its inception in 2012, its roster has shown widely throughout Kansas City and across the United States. Its staff of thirteen consists of practicing artists and creative individuals, who with the artists, put together a show that felt refreshingly more like being at the fair for its variation, pace, and vibrancy.

Several notable examples across each genre stood out for their inventiveness, formal components, sophisticated playfulness, and use of humor. Just as you entered the gallery, hanging alone on a wide column are four gel transfers of equal dimension. The work is titled Pieces of a Record Player and is by the artist Philip V. Suspended in four parts within their shadow box-like frames, each transfer illustrates fragments of a record player from different vantage points. Being captured at different moments, these four illustrations are a quartet of drawings, potentially insinuating their being rendered while listening to music over the duration of an album, in a way, subsuming into its format a kind of musical/visual harmony. To an art historian, it is reminiscent of the oscillation of the dishes found within Cézanne’s apple paintings, as well as the capturing of time and motion, as in Cubism. While stylistically very different from these examples, it feels rooted in this historically formal means of illustrating what we see in a glance or over a duration, and so in fragments, therefore not a rendering of the static object. This is a particularly insightful approach with regard to its subject matter being a record on a turntable. In their fragmentation, each player remains highly individual unto itself, and so the whole is wittily not a broken record, so to speak.

As you climbed the stairs to the second floor, suspended above one’s head, was a kind of hanging cascade of tear drop-shaped, stuffed fabrics by the artist Johnny B. Each component of this micro-environment, like a hanging garden or chandelier perhaps, has its volume cloaked in a wide variety of colors and patterns of what seem to be leftover fabric scraps. It has the appearance of being soft to the touch, and so exudes the quality of a being welcoming, feeling connected to the tradition of crazy quilting except here in a volumetric incarnation. It acts to delineate the divide from the upper and lower level of Imagine That!, not unlike a trellis of vines and leaves that sometimes divide the open more sunlit portions of a garden from the shaded ones. It instills in the viewer the image of a tree laden with many heavy fruits, and so seems to reference the fecundity of nature, or can even be seen as an installation having to do with fertility.

The artist Johnny B. draws upon his “personal ideas and opinions, touching on his feelings about religion, geography, and politics.” With references to pop culture, his cartographic paintings, drawings, and collages are brimming with pithy and often hilarious observations about true and invented locations throughout his works. With mysterious lines like “The birth of Jesus Stem” and locations like “A hot dog chili,” his work blurs the delineation between what we might find in a specific location culturally, or abstractly, and its actual geographical location, on what is often an already very abstract map of the United States. These works tend to be rendered in bright watercolor washes of blues, pinks, purple, and ink. In searching for a logic within the map, we might speculate that Johnny B. is painting the world as he experiences it, simultaneously drawing upon his memories, observations, and specific cultural moments, and substituting those for actual locations. For example, to the west of what is labeled “The Great Continental Divide,” there are several squares within patches of color labeled “Spaghetti,” a site called “Hot Lips,” and just below this, in the southwest corner, is South Carolina. To the east of the range, you will discover the places of Russia, “Hot Pepper,” Kansas City, and “Lake Kanye.” Then you realize that basing your orientation on the recognizable sites is too literal a way of seeing his United States, as instead of a legend in the lower right, two smiley faces denote Dolly Parton and Richard Dawson with an arrow pointing to where they live—an empty circle called Texas. Its beautiful confusion is a byproduct of our not seeing the world as fluidly as Johnny B. leads us to believe he does. His brilliant perceptions in many cases are more substantive in regard to their locations and titles with these connections to memory, experience, and the absorption of cultural events. He has taken the functional paper map, morphed it into an artistic visual aid about perception, and seems to straddle that gap between artifice and reality, with the added layer of an adept lashing together of language and comedy. Johnny B.’s work will tickle you while you search for its logic.

Also upstairs was a large quantity of ceramics spread out over a table. Some were tiles, others were figurative objects. In observing them, some merit being seen eye to eye, some pieces might better live on the wall than on the table, in order that they not be overlooked. But regardless of placement, the dynamic range in coloring and content creates a microcosm of delicate and often humorous objects.

The Grand Salon 2 had plenty more in its offering, including illustrated zines selling for five dollars with titles like JohnPunk not Dead, in repeated columns running down the cover; and Fashion Cat. If you are in the market for a new piece for your collection, the artists at Imagine That! are certain to liven it up for you. Each work is for sale, and there is a little something of everything there—a charming and worthwhile show.

Imagine That!
The Grand Salon 2
Friday, March 2, 2018
Imagine That! Kansas City
2010 McGee St., Kansas City, MO
For more information, visit www.imaginethatkc.org

Cover photo by Johnny B., complements of Imagine That!