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Expressionist Tony Naponic’s passion on display at January’s First Friday

Updated: 2014-01-02T00:51:27Z


The Kansas City Star

Stave off the post-holiday blues with a visit to January’s First Friday.

First stop: the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, which is opening a raft of new shows, headlined by “Gorgeous & Outrageous: The Art of Tony Naponic,” a selected retrospective of large-scale paintings, drawings, mixed-media pieces and writings by the late expressionist painter.

Naponic (1954-2003), a 1974 Kansas City Art Institute alum, lived and showed in Kansas City for a decade before moving to New York in the mid-1980s.

“Tony early on seemed to have an amazing visual vocabulary,” said Sherry Cromwell-Lacy, a member of the Naponic exhibition project with Elisabeth Kirsch, Rebecca Ofiesh, Ray Starzman, Doug Drake, E.G. Schempf and Mark Drefs.

“A lot of the early works were abstract, but his forte was narrative works based on all kinds of social situations. He was a real observer of people, and his work had great irony. He was very fascinated with Max Beckmann and his work.”

Naponic worked as Cromwell-Lacy’s assistant when she was director of the Art Institute’s Charlotte Crosby Kemper Gallery.

“He was also the printmaking technician at the school,” she said. “The painting that I’m lending won one of the awards for the old ‘30 Miles of Art’ exhibition at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in the mid-1970s, a competition that people within a 30-mile radius could enter. It was a big deal.”

Naponic exhibited frequently in the Midwest, including a one-person show at the Zolla-Lieberman Gallery in Chicago in 1980. An emerging artist grant from the National Endowment for the Arts helped prompt his move to New York.

The son of a coal miner, Naponic grew up in Adamsburg, Penn., where his mother worked as a cook at a Howard Johnson restaurant. For much of his career, Naponic too worked in restaurants, including the former Athena Restaurant in Kansas City.

His love of cars and pool and his observations of his restaurant customers made their way into his work, which included cryptic commentary on human relationships.

“The characters are set within a tactile environment drawn from my experiences, the origins of which I may not totally understand,” he explained in 1980. “I hope the work opens another dimension which will include and prompt the viewer to be part of the communication.”

Many of the works in the exhibit were drawn from Kansas City collections.

“He was so supported by Kansas City and very well-known,” Cromwell-Lacy said. “The work is pretty phenomenal, and it will be so great to see it again.”

Naponic died in New York of congestive heart failure at 49. The current issue of New Letters (Vol. 80 No. 1) includes an essay about the artist’s life and work by Star contributing reviewer Elisabeth Kirsch, as well as a short story, “Whispering,” by Naponic. A catalog designed by KCAI alum Mark Drefs, a close friend of Naponic, is in the works.

Block Artspace Project Wall

Mid-December saw the installation of a new Block Artspace Project Wall at 43rd and Main streets.

Titled “Show Me the Money,” it’s a photograph by Kansas City artist Ahram Park, showing stacks of bills at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s Money Museum.

Park’s close-up transforms the bound and labeled bills into an alluring and rhythmic abstraction, with textile overtones.

“Naturally, I couldn’t help but photograph the $40 million they had on display,” Park wrote in his artist statement. “But I had a hard time imagining myself photographing any other stacks of paper in equal mass.

“The photographs I took at the Money Museum became the evidence of the value I perceived in this paper, the same paper that drives the largest undercurrents of our political atmosphere and the same medium of exchange that divides millions from education and good health.”

Red Star Studios at Belger Arts Center

Red Star Studios artists Paul Donnelly and Rain Harris’ “Confluence” exhibition, featuring works made individually as well as collaborative pieces merging their distinct aesthetics, closes Saturday. Don’t miss their artists’ presentations and exhibition walk-through from 6 to 7 p.m. Friday at the Belger Arts Center.

Belger Arts Center

“Contemporary Talavera Uriarte”

“French Connection: Haviland Pottery From the Belger Collection”

When: Friday 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; exhibits through Jan. 4.

Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Friday; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday

Where: 2100 Walnut St.

Info: 816-474-3250

City Ice Arts

“Miles Neidinger: The Anatomy of the Palace of Wisdom”

When: Friday reception 6-9 p.m.; exhibit through Jan. 25

Hours: Noon-5 p.m. Friday-Saturday and by appointment

Where: 2015 Campbell St.

Info: 816-820-4105

Leedy-Voulkos Art Center

“Gorgeous & Outrageous: The Art of Tony Naponic”

“P&M Artworks presents Divine: A Juried Exhibition”

“The Fishnets Experiment, Chapter 3: Jenifer Cady Rane Cross, Andrew Pritzker, Tom Styrkowitz, Megan Wyeth”

“Fiber-Glass: Debbie Barrett-Jones, Kim Eichler-Messmer, Dierk Van Keppel”

“Joe Gregory: All the Same”

When: Friday reception 6-9 p.m.; exhibits Gregory, Fiber-Glass through Feb. 1; exhibits Naponic, Divine and Fishnets through March 1

Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday

Where: 2012 Baltimore Ave.

Info: 816-474-1919

The Late Show

“John Ochs: Paintings”

“Michael Stack: Sculpture”

When: Friday reception 6-10 p.m.; exhibit through Jan. 25

Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and by appointment

Where: 1600 Cherry St.

Info: 816-474-1300

Red Star Studios at Belger Arts Center

“Paul Donnelly & Rain Harris: Confluence”

When: Friday 10 a.m.-9 p.m. (artists’ presentation 6-7 p.m.); exhibit through Jan. 4

Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Friday; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday

Where: 2100 Walnut St.

Info: 816-474-7316

Red Star Studios at Belger Crane Yard Studios

“Ceramic Top 40”

When: Friday 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; exhibit through Jan. 25

Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Friday; 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Saturday

Where: 2011 Tracy Ave.

Info: 816-474-7316

Todd Weiner Gallery

“Tom Sciacca: Sideshow Serenade”

When: Friday reception 5-10 p.m.; exhibit through Feb. 1

Hours: Noon-6 p.m. Wednesday-Friday; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday

Where: 115 W. 18th St.

Info: 816-984-8538

To reach Alice Thorson, call 816-234-4783 or send email to

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