In mid-September, a provocative new mural joined Kansas City’s downtown streetscape.
“Angry Zebra,” a signature image of KC artist Phil “Sike Style” Shafer, rises 50 feet high on the south wall of the Bonfils building at 12th Street and Grand Boulevard.
The project, sponsored by the Art in the Loop Foundation, coincides with Friday’s opening of “State of Shock,” a one-person show by Shafer at the 19 Below gallery.
“The Angry Zebra is me,” Shafer explains on his website, “and every other biracial person who has ever struggled with personal identity and where he or she fits into the world.”
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The zebra in Shafer’s mural takes the form of a chess piece, boldly striped in black and white and surrounded by an explosion of blood-red shards that echo the dripping band of red across the zebra’s chest.
Shafer came up with the zebra chess-piece idea roughly a decade ago, four years after graduating from the Kansas City Art Institute. Since then, he has employed the image on T-shirts, posters and other items he markets through his online Sike Store, sikestyle.com, titled for his hip-hop name.
Shafer cast the zebra in the role of a chessboard knight to symbolize the way “mixed people move in unique ways through society,” he said.
“Sometimes we bridge the gap between the two races … or we move in and out of groups of people, never really fitting in completely but sharing our unique perspectives and continuing to move,” he says.
“The piece took about 15 hours and 25 cans (of spray paint) to complete over two sunny September days,” he reports. “The final touch will be adding a QR code with a link to more information about the mural and its meaning.”
A version of the “Angry Zebra” also appears on the poster for Shafer’s exhibit at 19 Below.
He is making 50 posters that are being printed on chipboard by Two Tone Press. Featuring different background designs, each poster is unique. They will be for sale at the show for $25 apiece.
In recent weeks Shafer has been finalizing the artworks for his show, adding stenciled overlays of transparent spray paint by hand to the inkjet prints on canvas that he designed on computer.
The works address social issues as well as world events, from Ferguson, Mo., to Ukraine and the Middle East. Shafer mines early 20th-century sources including Constructivism, Russian propaganda posters, graffiti and social movements to create a striking graphic vocabulary that conveys his own concerns.
Those exploding shards that appear in the “Angry Zebra” mural also crop up in many of the works in Shafer’s show. They add motion, he says, and are meant to convey a feeling of chaos.
Some works incorporate the Black Panther fist symbol. Depictions of handshakes symbolize deals, and Shafer occasionally features weapons in his works.
“The gun, the fist, the hand are power symbols in my work,” he says.
In one piece, a child soldier extends a hand to a masked and hooded adult, but it is not clear whether the gesture is spontaneous or coerced.
In earlier series, Shafer says, he depicted specific people, including Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat. Now the characters are anonymous.
“I want people to draw their own conclusions,” he says.
“State of Shock” is Shafer’s first major showing of his artworks since 2011, when he had a two-person show at the Charlotte Street Foundation’s Paragraph Gallery. But he maintains a high profile locally, mixing his commitment to art with a commitment to community.
Recent projects include painting his upbeat graphic designs on planter boxes along West 39th Street and on the boarded-up windows of abandoned houses in the urban core.
Research keeps him fresh. In June, Shafer made a trip to Los Angeles to experience and document the city’s wealth of graffiti, murals and street art.
Over the years, Shafer has frequently participated in exhibits and projects at the Kultured Chameleon Street Art Gallery. Right now he’s working with Kultured Chameleon as curator of a multipart mural project on a building at 17th and Oak streets. He has invited nine artists to showcase their work and will rotate them over time.
There are currently six artists’ works on view, including a “Big Money” mural of altered dollar bills by Shafer conceived in collaboration with toy designer Jeremy Madl.
Belger Crane Yard Gallery
“Asheer Akram: Sacred Spaces”
“Steven & William Ladd”
When: Friday 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Akram through Jan. 24; Ladd exhibit through Nov. 22
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday
Where: 2011 Tracy Ave.
“Maura Cluthe: Play: Part One”
“Bernal Koehrsen: The Map Is Not the Territory”
When: Preview and artists’ talk 6-8 p.m. Thursday; reception 6-9 p.m. Friday through Nov. 3
Hours: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and by appointment
Where: 118 Southwest Blvd.
Carter Art Center Gallery at MCC-Penn Valley
“Four Assorted Chocolates: Lon Powell, Henry W. Dixon, Shane W. Evans, Kahlil Irving”
When: Friday (reception 6-9 p.m. with artists’ talk 6 p.m.) through Nov. 8
Hours: 1-5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; noon-3 p.m. Saturday; 1-9 p.m. First Fridays
Where: 3201 Southwest Trafficway
Gallery 504: Crossroads KC
“The Sizzle Factor — Unveiled”
When: Friday (reception 5:30-9 p.m.) through Oct. 31
Hours: 6-8 p.m. Third Thursdays and final Fridays and by appointment
Where: 504 E. 18th St., Suite 103
The Gallery @19 Below
“State of Shock: New Artwork by Phil ‘Sike Style’ Shafer”
When: Friday (reception 6-10 p.m.) through Oct. 31
Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday
Where: 5 W. 19th St. (below Michael Smith)
Garcia Squared Contemporary
“Mi Amigo José: Works by Israel Alejandro García”
When: Friday (reception 6-10 p.m.) through Dec. 31
Hours: Noon-3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and by appointment
Where: 115 W. 18th St., second floor
“Celebrating Irish American Artists”: A benefit for the Kansas City Irish Center, featuring works by Ian and Kian Byrne of Off the Floor Woodwork and pieces from the Kansas City Woodturners with a special piece from Liam O’Neill.
When: Friday (reception 6-9 p.m., with live Irish music and dancing by Ceili at the Crossroads). Open one night only.
Where: 1800 Locust St.
The Late Show
“Marci Aylward: River Transport”
“John Davis Carroll: Over Land and Water”
When: Friday (reception 6-10 p.m.) through Nov. 1
Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and by appointment
Where: 1600 Cherry St.
Leedy-Voulkos Art Center
“Travis Pratt: The Joplin Paintings”
“International Friendship Art Exhibition for Edgar Snow Symposium, featuring Tang Mingsong and Nie Chengxing”
“David Slone: Aberrations”
“KCAI: Undergrads Underground: He Was as Tough and Romantic as the City He Loved”
“Pele Prints: Structure, Story & Flow”
When: Friday (reception 6-9 p.m.) through Nov. 1; David Slone through Nov. 29
Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday
Where: 2012 Baltimore Ave.
Main Street Gallery
“Hacked Perception: New and Renewed Paintings by Murph”
When: Friday (reception 6-9 p.m.) through Sept. 27. Informal artist chat: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Oct. 26
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Sunday
Where: 1610 Main St. (upstairs at Anton’s Tap Room & Restaurant)
Mattie Rhodes Art Gallery
“Dia de los Muertos/ Day of the Dead”
When: Friday (reception 6-10 p.m.; street festival 1-10 p.m. Saturday through Nov. 15
Hours: Noon-5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday
Where: 915 W. 17th St.
Mid-America Arts Alliance
“A Cast of Blues”
When: Friday (open 6-8 p.m. for First Friday) through Oct. 24
Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday and Friday
Where: 2018 Baltimore Ave.
“Deconstructivist Vortography by Shane Blindt”
When: Friday (open 10 a.m.-9 p.m. for First Friday) through Oct. 31
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday
Where: 2020 Baltimore Ave., Suite 105
“Kailas Series: Paintings by Evelyn Haaheim and Soundscape by Kip Haaheim”
When: Friday (open 5-9 p.m. for First Friday) through Oct. 31
Hours: 5-9 p.m. First Friday and by appointment
Where: 1741 McGee St.
Todd Weiner Gallery
“David Gant: Absolutely No Nothing Is Be Permitted at Any Time in This Premises For Ever — I. King Boss”
When: Friday (reception 5-10 p.m.) through Oct. 31
Hours: 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and by appointment
Where: 115 W. 18th St.