Life in KC

Artery: Zach Arlan does ‘whatever it takes’ to focus on painting

In 2015, Zach Arlan moved home to Kansas City in search of a creative lifestyle that revolves around painting.
In 2015, Zach Arlan moved home to Kansas City in search of a creative lifestyle that revolves around painting.

The hard truth about spinning creativity into a career is that, sometimes, you have to sell out. We all know someone who has had to go corporate, to harness creativity to promote a brand.

Zach Arlan, however, is doing the exact opposite.

A couple of years ago Arlan, 31, had an impressive resume going strong in New York City. He moved there from Leawood in 2004 to study industrial design at Pratt Institute. After school, he held graphic design positions with Clinique and Estee Lauder, where he worked for five years. He then served as the creative director for Chelsea Hotels for two years.

But about two years ago, he got more serious with his paintbrush.

“I started painting with more intent and focus,” Arlan says. “I wanted to get into galleries and stuff like that, coffee shops.”

In December 2015, he decided to move back to Kansas City with no full-time job, determined to give himself the chance to pursue his art in a city that’s not so pricey.

“I wanted to become what I thought was an artist,” Arlan says. “I wanted to paint all day long and really get good at it. … So I didn’t focus my time trying to find a job, really. I wanted to pour myself into art.”

He seems to be on the path to accomplishing that goal. While he works two part-time jobs, one as a substitute teacher and one at a T-shirt shop in Waldo T-Shirts, 8009 Wornall Road, he’s working his way up the rungs of the local art scene.

“When I came home, I told myself, ‘I’m going to get into a café. I’m going to get my art in a gallery,’ ” Arlan says.

He has done both. His art has been displayed in the Roasterie Cafe, 4511 W. 119th St. in Leawood and will be going up in Leawood Fine Art, 11709 Roe Ave. starting Oct. 28. In January, his work will be displayed in Mildred’s Coffeehouse, 1821 Wyandotte in the Crossroads Arts District.

“I’m trying to one-up myself every time,” he says.

His paintings, multicolored and geometric, are meant to play with perception and what humans consider normal.

“I remember when I was younger, I used to paint on walls,” Arlan says. “And then it just slowly evolved into geometry and objects and abstract objects. Then I got into, instead of just putting an object on a canvas or a piece of wood, just filling it up and seeing what would happen if I messed with color gradient and stuff like that.”

It’s an evolved style. “Every time I do something, I try to make it weirder than the last thing I did,” he says.

Each piece inspires four or five others.

“I don’t have any trouble feeling inspired or thinking of what I’m going to do next,” Arlan says.

He estimates that he spends around 30 to 40 hours a week painting. When he’s not teaching, working in the T-shirt shop or working on his art, he’s drumming with his band, Whales.

He’s dedicated to a creative lifestyle.

“I’m going to do it as hard as I can until something happens — or absolutely nothing happens, and I’m just exhausted from it,” he says. “But I don’t see it going that way. I see it going the positive way. You have to be a little aggressive with it, but whatever it takes.”

Follow Arlan on Instagram at @zacharlanart, or on his website,

Artery is a regular feature that showcases Kansas City-area artists. Know someone we should feature? Email