Kultured Chameleon opens the door to underground art - Kansas City, MO

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Kultured Chameleon opens the door to underground art - Kansas City, MO
Kultured Chameleon opens the door to underground art Graffiti, hip-hop inspire gallery’s art and attitude. Lee Burgess welcomes underground expression at the gallery, which features this chameleon on the front by artist Gear. “Yes, it’s street art, but we wanted to present it in a tasteful way,” Kultured Chameleon owner Lee Burgess says of the gallery's graffiti. Kultured Chameleon customers check out the spray paint and hand-blown glassware during a First Fridays event. TC of True Style Glass is dedicated to creating innovative glass art. Edwin Rivera (from left), Lee Burgess and Brian “Scenario” Frasier transformed a barren warehouse at 1739 Oak St. into an exemplar of graffiti culture. A graffiti battle pits Stormy (left) and Todd Bushatz against each other as a crowd gathers during First Fridays to catch the art spectacle. Todd Bushatz, also known as Hue, and Stormy engage in a five-hour graffiti battle at Kultured Chameleon's August First Friday opening. JT Daniels is one of the many street artists who display at the Kultured Chameleon. Rob Schamberger (center) talks to a couple during a First Friday opening about his painting series of wrestling world champions. Jason Guffey makes Batman and other superhero sculptures out of pipe cleaners as displayed at Kultured Chameleon's August First Friday opening. "We just want to create a home for anyone who wants to embrace this style of art,” says Lee Burgess, curator and founder of the Kultured Chameleon, a graffiti and glass gallery at 1739 Oak St. Beware All Style Biters art show and graffiti expo What: See what happens when artists at the Kultured Chameleon finish each other’s projects. When: 6 p.m. to midnight Friday Where: 1739 Oak St. kansascityartgallery.com You can’t miss it. The vibrant building at 1739 Oak St. is painted with bright reds and greens and blues. A blast of text, twisted and unreadable, appears on the front. A blue reptile in a top hat is perched near the door, grinning at passersby. Above it, multicolored letters spell out “Kultured Chameleon.” You won’t find still lifes of assorted fruit or busts of dead presidents at the Kultured Chameleon, a graffiti and glass gallery. But you will find statuettes of comic book superheroes made of pipe cleaners, frenetic portraits of WWE wrestlers and old vinyl records decorated with stencils and clay. Since opening in May, the gallery has featured urban-inspired works in several media from talented artists from around the area. This Friday, the gallery will feature its “Style Biters” exhibit, where artists complete each other’s projects in a collaborative exchange. “Honestly, we just want to create a home for anyone who wants to embrace this style of art,” says Lee Burgess, curator and founder of the gallery that gives patrons a taste of the underground world of graffiti and hip-hop culture. Burgess, 31, was inspired to start his own street art gallery more than a year ago while living in Las Vegas. After seeing alleyways around the city where graff was openly displayed in huge showcases, he wanted to foster an appreciation for dynamic street art in his hometown of Kansas City. When he saw a listing for an empty Oak Street warehouse, it sealed the deal. Burgess enlisted the help of Edwin Rivera and Brian “Scenario” Frasier, friends who are part of what they refer to as the Cosmic Mafia. Last September, the three set to work turning the barren, gray warehouse into an exemplar of graffiti culture. The vacant building was once alley space between its neighbors — the other buildings’ utility meters are still visible inside. For Scenario, 34, this is cosmic, harkening back to graffiti’s genesis on the brick and cement of the city. The gallery’s grand opening was in May during First Friday. “We put a lot of work into renovating this place and making it a place that people can feel comfortable coming into,” Burgess says. “Yes, it’s street art, but we wanted to present it in a tasteful way.” They created an atmosphere that not only appealed to the artists looking to contribute to the gallery, but also to people far removed from the street art scene. The decor takes its cue from the street — bare brick, dim lighting. But there are large stuffed chairs and couches and a big-screen TV where visitors can hang out. Scenario says pedestrians are drawn in by the mural outside and stick around for the unusual paintings and sculptures. “It’s bringing people from every walk of life, from broke art students to the more well-off Mission Hills people who just want to come and enjoy art and have a glass of wine.” On a recent First Friday, two middle-aged women stand in a lot behind the Kultured Chameleon, holding plastic cups filled with red wine. This is their first time here. They are members of Hello Art, an organization dedicated to immersing members in Kansas City’s art culture. They’re loving the atmosphere — tattoos, aerosol cans, a mic and speakers. “This is something everyone should be exposed to,” one says as she moves to the beat of the Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic.” Other visitors — a young couple with a baby, a woman with a rose tattoo on her shaved scalp — weave around each other as they make their way through the lot. Several dozen are gathered around a large plywood wall. It’s white now; it won’t be for long. The words “GRAFF BATTLE TODAY” are spray-painted on one end. Scenario grabs the mic and introduces the artists. On one side of the wall is Stormy Jackson, tattoo artist and winner of the last four graff battles. On the other side is his challenger, newcomer Todd “Hue” Bushatz. Five hours, five colors, one word. Tonight’s word: style. The artists spend the evening expressing the word in their own ways, applying their choice of colors. At the end of the night, their work will be judged by panel of experts, including one of Kultured Chameleon’s resident artists who goes by his street name, Gear. An old-timer from the early days of the underground street art movement, Gear is a legend around the gallery. Burgess chose him to do the mural on the front of the building that lures so many pedestrians. Tonight he wanders the gallery and stops to chat with other artists who are showing off their work. He walks past a colorful display of obsolete floppy disks stenciled with zombie hands and jumping cats, courtesy of the gallery’s other resident artist, Phil “Sike” Shafer, 33. Then on to a collection of superhero statuettes — Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and more — made entirely from pipe cleaners. It’s the signature medium of 34-year-old Jason Guffey, craft supply sculptor extraordinaire. Burgess calls the Kultured Chameleon a starter gallery, where talented young artists have the chance to get visible. He wants it to be a home for all kinds of offbeat art, lending legitimacy to works that may be deemed too lowbrow for other galleries. Gear stops at a row of paintings of angry-looking men in psychedelic colors. They’re Rob Schamberger’s portraits of pro wrestlers: Rey Mysterio and the Shiek stare menacingly, exuding energy in vivid reds and blues. Gear chats with Schamberger about his technique and his choice of colors. Schamberger, 32, tells him about the time wrestler Adam Pearce smashed Schamberger’s painting of retired wrestler Michael Strider over Strider’s head in a theatrical rage. The damaged painting is part of Schamberger’s display. Further down the gallery near the TV and chairs where visitors rest their legs is a glass case. One shelf is full of big-headed figurines from designer toy retailer KidRobot, custom-painted and stenciled by Sike. Jewelry — necklaces, bracelets, rings, with big beads and pendants shaped like tribal masks — fills the other shelves. They were crafted by another of the gallery’s featured artists, Aaron Sutton, a talented painter who has been commissioned to produce several murals around Kansas City. Recently he collaborated on a mural at 31st and Holmes streets near children’s book author Shane Evans’ Dream Studio. Sutton, 32, calls his distinctive style Afro-cosmic, but his murals are full of symbols from Egyptian, Celtic, American Indian and Asian cultures. There are constellations, scarabs, ankhs, all filtered through a colorful, urban lens. “Murals are important because they’re art for everybody,” Sutton says. They bring art to the public, inspiring hope and imagination while beautifying blighted areas. Burgess and Scenario hope that after spending time at the gallery, more people will be able to see graffiti and street art from this perspective — and maybe remove some of the gritty stigma that often surrounds it. The Cosmic Mafia knows that some people see graffiti as vandalism, the shadow of its clandestine beginnings hanging too low. For some people, spray paint will never attain the same level of prestige as pallet knives and horsehair brushes. “Ultimately, our goal is to shine a positive light on street art and hip-hop culture and all the elements that come along with that,” Burgess says. Scenario says he wants people to see that at the heart of street art is the idea of renewal — a well-done piece can make an abandoned building worth looking at again. The theme is illustrated over and over in the gallery: Sike’s stencils find a use for obsolete computer hardware, and artists gave vinyl records a voice again when artists painted them for a Vinyl Killers exhibit in July. Graffiti, in one way or another, will be around as long as cities need an occasional breath of life. And in the meantime, the chameleon in the top hat will keep grinning, waiting for you to come inside.
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