193 Kansas City, MO: Peregrine

Kansas City, Missouri: Light Battery at Gettysburg

I went to Kansas City in search of the past, and I found the future. I went there to study Edward Hopper's painting Light Battery at Gettysburg, but I learned that KCMO (as it calls itself) is home to many stars of the upcoming generation of artists. Even author and NPR commentator Andrei Codrescu called it, "a pretty hip hangout."

The woman who worked at my neighborhood café in Chicago had moved from there and said Kansas City was a great arts town and recommended the Broadway Café. I figured she was just being hometown proud about the arts but that she knew her cafés. The Broadway was in the artsy Westport neighborhood. A sign informed me that the Civil War Battle of Westport came to be known as "the Gettysburg of the West."

I ordered coffee and mentioned my project to the young man behind the counter, who sported a military-green T-shirt and a soul patch. He shrugged and pointed over my shoulder. "You need to talk to that woman."

"That woman" was a petite, porcelain-skinned, twenty-something who sported a colorful clingy dress and propped a cowboy hat atop her short black hair. Her tiny stubby fingers clutched bags from art supply stores. When I mentioned Hopper, her bright green eyes lit up and she introduced herself as Peregrine, "like the bird." She bid adieu to a striking young blonde beside her, and we sat down to talk. Her sentences glided upward like questions, and she spoke with an airy lisp, maybe because she had a metal tongue stud.

"In Hopper's work, people are isolated because of the light. I don't think Kansas City is like that visually. It's kind of haphazardly planned. When you find a place, it's usually secluded. It makes sense Hopper wouldn't say anything. His work is almost oppressively silent. Everything is so immaculate, so kept, so beautiful and square, but fucked-up. Hopper's lines are so period; his work ages beautifully. There's such beauty in decay. We're so obsessed with renovating. I had to go through a couple contractors before I finally found one who didn't want to turn my gallery space into like an office space. I don't think my painting is like Hopper's," she noted. "But the characters in his works might know or hang out with those in my work. My work looks like 1940s kids' books? But it deals with contemporary issues. Most of my work is based on early female sexuality, when girls are like half woman and half child. Art about that is usually stuff like rape and horribleness, and that's not really the way it is. My work is for young girls, and they relate to it. My girls don't exist. You can't hurt 'em. The blond-haired girl I was with just now? She's my sister. She embodies what I was talking about. She's fifteen. She doesn't look fifteen; she doesn't act fifteen."

"I would never have guessed she was fifteen," I confessed.

"No, no. Me either."

"What's the art scene like here?" I asked.

"It's exquisite. It's like the best-kept secret. We're not supposed to talk about it, to keep people from coming here. People are really nice here, if you haven't noticed already. (Although we're one of the most violent cities in America.) We were rated like one of the top three cities for an arts community. I don't like the arts scene very much in San Francisco, where I grew up. I love New York, but the artists who move to New York don't make art. And they don't get to do the things you do when you visit New York. I guess they get isolated. You can feel isolated in New York on a busy day, or in the middle of nowhere in the prairie."

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