For the past 35 years, Deatherage has been searching for fresh local work to display and sell at the Late Show. He prides himself on giving artists their first walls.
By all accounts, Deatherage was one of the first gallery owners in town to scout and display exclusively local art. Some of those artists have stood by him since the beginning. Yet Deatherage, who occasionally wears an "Art Pimp" T-shirt to openings, admits that his harsh demeanor has driven others away.
"People either like me or they don't," he says in a gravelly voice. "I can't help it. It's my personality. Tough shit. I like me.
Philomene Bennett, who, with her husband, Lou Marak, helped establish the Kansas City Artists Coalition 30 years ago, met Deatherage in the mid-1980s while Deatherage was working as a framer and displaying work at Union Hill Arts. She says Deatherage set out to find artists who were creating something fresh, long before recent national acclaim shined a spotlight on the Kansas City art scene. When she walks into the Late Show, Bennett says, she still gets the feeling that she's seeing something new.
Though national art magazines have recently noted Kansas City's growing art scene, Deatherage is never mentioned as one of the leaders who helped to shape it. Yet Sylvie Fortin, editor in chief of the Atlanta-based Art Papers, says a dealer like Deatherage keeps a city's art scene vital. "I think it's important that you retain some artists locally," she says. "Otherwise they are all going to go to New York or Los Angeles," Fortin says. "You need to have some kind of structure that will foster creation and retain it in some way. I don't want to imagine a world where artists are only in New York and L.A. You need someone, a gallery, some kind of local platform to kind of propel you and sustain your work locally."
Watne says Deatherage gets mixed reviews for his role in the Kansas City art scene. "I think he gets respect by artists, but I don't think he gets respect by the art community," Watne says. "I think they all think he's crazy. But he is important in this town. He fills that niche."
He says he gets a rush selling art and that it's especially exciting to sell work to new clients who aren't sure exactly what they're looking for. "I would rather sell a piece of art to someone who is struggling to buy it, because I really know they love this to death. And they're getting into it. It makes me feel real good. And it's sharing something that I think is beautiful."
He has no formula for finding good art. It just grabs him. He is drawn to a painting with a strong background that takes his eye away from the obvious object.
Deatherage says he's a realist, and the reality he often considers is whether the Late Show is just his fantasy. "Day-to-day existence is just kind of nothing," he says. "There's really nothing, not a big deal with it. And some days are great. Sometimes it's just enough to have sunshine, and that makes it nice, but that's really not very fucking much."
Lou Marak wonders whether Deatherage would have made it bigger in New York City during the Andy Warhol years. "He's always kind of gone on his own, and it's a rough way to go," Marak says.
"I'm really proud I'm part of the art scene," he says. "And I really am part of it. I realize it, and it makes me feel good. I thought I was just kind of edgy, but I'm part of the scene. I can still see through the bullshit. I'm happy I can see through the shit, and I think I did. But I understand how little time I have left and am trying to make the most of it. Because I'm 72, but I'm pushing hard.”
*Excerpts from 2005 Article orignally published in the Pitch by By Bryan Noonan
The LateShow Art Gallery
Hot Art Cool Frames brought to you by your in house resident art guy, the incomparable Tom Deatherage
Regular gallery hours:
Wednesday thru Saturday
11 am - 6 pm
1600 Cherry St
Kansas City Missouri