Kevin Deen paints in a unique style that a friend named “pop constructivism,” a term that Deen likes and now uses himself. His work is linear and done painstakingly in layers, with masking tape separating the intricate lines of a structure, whether it’s a barn, house, museum, church, or anything else with architectural appeal.
After many years of working in his home studio in his free time, Deen was selected this year to be “artist in residence” at the Hotel Phillips, a one-year position. In his day job, he is the manager at the Wild About Harry men’s store in Independence, Mo.
Deen is the second artist in residence, and his appointment began in February. The previous artist, Trey Bryan, took the position in 2012. Marcus Hotels & Resorts, the parent company of the Hotel Phillips, first launched the artist-in-residence program in 2009 at the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee.
In a press release, hotel general manager Dan Bergmann said, “This year, we have added a working art studio and gallery in the hotel where guests and visitors can view Kevin’s architectural portraits and watch him as he paints. The expansion of the artist-in-residence program demonstrates our commitment to the Kansas City arts community, and we look forward to introducing Kevin and his work to our guests.”
Blaine Proctor, director of sales and marketing for the hotel, said, “It seems like with all that is happening in the arts community downtown and our proximity to the Crossroads District, it just made a lot of sense to me that we became involved with that group.”
“We were really lucky, because the two arts partners that we worked with on the selection really understood our goal,” Proctor said. “But Kevin — he just shone above everybody else. He came to us in his first interview with ideas on what he was going to do to talk to the guests and what he saw as ways to communicate and engage the guests. He’s also involved in the community — he knows things that are going on. He knows about Kansas City, the history, the culture, the community, so he’s sort of an extension of our sales and marketing team or our guest services department. A lot of people have said that he gave them an idea of something to do while they were here that they hadn’t thought of.”
Proctor said the rules for the artist in residence were “pretty loose” in terms of the hours they keep. “People are not feeling it every day,” Proctor said, explaining that he realized artists can’t do their work on a fixed schedule. So the hotel allows them to set their own hours.
Deen’s paintings hang in the hotel’s lobby, restaurant and bar areas. All are for sale, and Deen said he gets to set the prices and the hotel takes no commission. “There’s no stipulation on my creativity, which is really beautiful,” he said. “They basically want an artist’s presence here.”
Deen said he puts out signs in the lobby when he’s in his studio so that guests can come in and chat with him. “They want me to be an artistic liaison. They want me to greet guests, or hang out in the lounge and talk not just about my work, but also discuss things like ‘Have you been to the Nelson? Do you know there is a ballet going on that you could go to on Saturday night? Have you been to the Kauffman Center?’”
Deen described a bit of the selection process: “Because I had been in a show at the incubator, my name was thrown in the pot. It’s open to every artist in Kansas City. Anyone can apply, anyone can send in your portfolio.”
When he was first notified, he said, there were 16 or so artists that they had looked at. They asked those artists to send in their portfolios and to write something.
“They wanted to know things like, for example, ‘What do you think the Phillips will do for you? How will this help you as an artist to be here, and what will you do for the Phillips? Why would we pick you, what do you have to offer us — things like that.” Deen said the field was narrowed down to five artists before he was chosen.
A native of Iowa, Deen lives in Kansas City with his partner, Bill Pallucca.
Deen has a small artist studio in their home. People who visit, he said, are often surprised that his art is not on display in the rooms of their home. Much of his work, though, is commissioned. People give him photos of a barn or other structure and he does sketches first, and shows them to the client before embarking on the paintings.
One of his best clients was a couple in Whitefish, Mont., whom he met when they were visiting friends in Kansas City. They liked his work so much that they invited him, his partner and their friends to visit and stay at their home and commissioned what has now become 13 paintings. The connection led to him exhibiting his art at a festival in Montana, which led to the Hockaday Museum of Art in Kalispell, Mont., commissioning him to paint a portrait of the museum, and it now hangs in the museum entrance.
“What I’m not trying to do is an exact photo-realistic representation,” he said. Pointing out one painting in his studio, he said, “That barn, that house might have had some carving under the eaves, and I just took it off. And then I added the stripes. It was just a white house. I painted it solid orange, and afterward I thought, ‘This would be really cool with stripes.’ And I added in the fence.”
Deen also has many paintings that are abstract and not at all developed from any architectural building. “The paintings in the end for me really are about the color. And the buildings are just a vehicle to make the color happen,” he said with a laugh. “It’s definitely an extension of me, who I am.”
Deen’s art can be seen throughout the lobby, stairwell and restaurant at the Hotel Phillips, 106 W. 12th St., Kansas City, Mo. Visitors can talk with him at his studio in the hotel most Sundays and Mondays.
Deen’s commitment will end in early 2014, and Proctor said they would begin looking for a new artist in residence in December or sooner. Those interested in applying should contact BlaineProctor@hotelphillips.com.