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After 25 years away, a Kansas City painter returns home to stretch out her canvas — and her ambitions

Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
Ky Anderson works in her studio at the Holsum Building in the Historic West Bottoms. Anderson says her move from New York to Kansas City stemmed from a desire to have a simpler, less expensive life.

Ky Anderson was a successful working artist in New York, with solo exhibitions of her large-scale, abstract paintings around the country. But after 25 years of painting in cramped studio spaces, she’s back home in Kansas City with a bigger studio — and she’s making new work.

On a chilly morning in the Historic West Bottoms' Holsum Building, Ky Anderson steps up to a table covered by jars of acrylic paint.

Her nearest neighbor in the converted, industrial food-processing warehouse is a woodworker, so there’s a near constant whir of metal on wood.

“I mix my paint out of medium and pigment so I can get just exactly the right color and thickness, but the paint settles throughout the night, gets thicker on the bottom, so I come in and mix it up,” Anderson says. “I use my cappuccino frother to mix up my paints.”

At 2,500 square feet, Anderson’s white-walled studio is massive. She has several large paintings in progress and work tables covered by smaller paintings. Throughout the day she moves from project to project, adding thin washes of blue, green, orange and yellow.

After 25 years in New York, Ky Anderson is back home in Kansas City with a bigger studio — and she’s making new work.

"I always have these stacks of works in progress that are just like endless — endless works in progress,” Anderson says with a laugh.

“Now I’ve painted enough on this, so it's all wet," she says about one of her many ongoing works. "So I usually put it aside and let it dry for a while, so that then I can put other transparent layers on top of it."

Anderson’s first marks are just the beginning of a long, thoughtful process. Anderson likes to let her ideas steep. Sometimes she’ll set a painting aside for a couple of months before she comes back to it.

“Sometimes it's hard to decide,” Anderson says. “Is it done, is it not done? It needs to sit. A painting needs to sit for a while and think about itself.”

Anderson is fussy about the paint brushes she uses, but not in the way you might expect. Over the years she’s accumulated a vast collection, and each brush creates a different mark. Her favorite brushes are cheap hardware store brushes because they hold a lot of paint, and she doesn’t feel guilty if she needs to trim them down.

“They just get better and better over time,” Anderson says. “Whenever I travel, I go to whatever hardware store they have and find weird, random brushes. You can get them to do just what you want them to do.”

Her recent show "Time Has Width: Ky Anderson" at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art. The inspiration for her new work emanates from a night time vision.

Sherry Leedy - Ky Anderson - Oct 2022-2516-photo-by-EG.jpg
E G Schempf
E G Schempf
Paintings from Anderson's most recent show, "Time Has Width: Ky Anderson," were on view this fall at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art.

"I never really thought I would be a painter who painted their visions because it just didn't seem like me — but here I am painting from my visions," Anderson says. "I had this vision of all these timelines with moments on the timelines and all the radiating energy, or lines, coming off of the time, off of the moment, and they all hit each other and collide."

Anderson grew up in a family of artists and studied at the Kansas City Art Institute. Shortly after graduating, she moved.

“A whole bunch of my friends had moved out to New York and so I drove out to visit, and I just totally fell in love,” Anderson says. “So I drove back (to Kansas City) and got my things and moved to New York in '96, and I stayed living there for 25 years.”

Anderson settled in Brooklyn, where she had access to a thriving arts community. She married Andy Ryan, a successful commercial photographer who also paints, and she had a studio within walking distance of her apartment.

Anderson says there was always a plan to come back to Kansas City eventually. But things changed in 2020.

Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
Anderson has a collection of inexpensive brushes she uses to create a variety of different marks.

“As soon as the pandemic hit, I feel like my mind was just completely erased of all things conceptual, and so it was a very weird feeling,” Anderson remembers. “It was the first time in my life as an artist where I was just wiped clean.”

For the first five months of the pandemic, she tried to make things work.

“I could still go to my studio,” Anderson says. “We all walked around with little spray bottles of bleach and bleaching everything and masking, and all the stuff. So people were still working in my building, but we were all avoiding each other.”

For Anderson and her husband, it seemed like the right time to make a move.

“It was just so expensive to live in New York and we realized that if we moved to Kansas City, we could just drastically downsize and have a much simpler, less expensive life,” Anderson says.

Once Anderson found her studio space in the West Bottoms, she walled off an area to store her large inventory of paintings. She says it helps her focus on her works in progress.

“I feel like in New York, everybody's essentially making art in their storage unit," Anderson says, "because their studio is about the size of a storage unit and you're in there with all of your stuff."

Anderson says she still misses her friends back in New York, but now she has the space she needs to create. She went from an expensive 400-square-foot studio to a 2,500-square-foot studio here in Kansas City.

"I just have space to develop new ideas and I don't have to constantly play Tetris in my studio. I can work on many big paintings at the same time," she says. "I didn't quite realize how much I needed it — how much my artwork was really ready for a big space.”

Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
Stacks of large works-in-progress await their final brush strokes in Anderson’s West Bottoms studio.

In between paintings, Anderson is back at a work table, mixing paint again.

“Sometimes when I mix up a new color it needs to sit for a while before it really, really acts right,” Anderson says.

Mostly she’s glad to belong to a community of artists again.

“Kansas City is great,” Anderson says. “It really feels good here. It's a great sized city. It's just so comfortable. And I really like it, you know? It's nice to be back.”

Julie Denesha is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Kansas City. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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