Editor’s note: This story is part of a series from Startland News highlighting entrepreneurs, businesses, and creators leading revitalization and redevelopment efforts in and around the historic 18th and Vine Jazz District. Click here to read additional stories from this series.
The Warren Harvey Art Gallery is one of the founding occupants of 2000 Vine, the East Side revitalization project centering on a pair of 150-year-old stone buildings that previously housed the city’s water and street departments just south of the 18th and Vine Jazz District.
Harvey, whose late grandmother was also an artist, has been drawn to art for as long as he can remember.
He didn’t pursue art seriously until age 24 though, when he realized that having “a regular job” wasn’t his calling, but he still needed a way to financially support himself.
“And from there, I just started painting,” Harvey said. “Because I deal with mental illness — I’ve dealt with mental illness and have obsessive ways of thinking — I expressed that through my art.”
Despite the moniker “Stylez,” Harvey said his artwork — predominantly consisting of paintings and portraits using acrylic paint — is not influenced by any specific artist or style.
“I try to kind of follow my heart and my mind when creating art, because I think so much on a normal basis,” Harvey said. “It’s like art is my escape. I would rather not be filled up with thoughts, so I follow my heart.”
Still, Harvey does draw inspiration from one key source: his mother, Yvette.
“My mom’s been one of my biggest supporters — my biggest supporter — and is the reason why I’m able to do what I’m doing to the capacity that I’m doing it, because she inspires me,” he said. “She created a space for me, and she encouraged me, and always supported me.”
Most of Harvey’s recent work features portraits composed of geometric blocks of color and curved lines, and occasionally borders on abstract.
Paintings from his new “Texture” collection were inspired by a trip to New Orleans. Harvey described the collection, which will feature some works of art with pieces of fabric layered on canvas, as the “next chapter” in his journey.
Believing in the masterpiece
Harvey uses the word “journey” often when discussing his art, and his life — so much so that he might sound like a motivational speaker or spiritual guide to a stranger’s ear.
“That’s a big part of my art, and just me period, is my spiritual journey,” he said. “Just placing more and more of me in my art, and learning how to believe in myself more and more, as a creative.”
“The journey is everything, and the journey provides the answers — it provides all that you need,” he continued. “You have to learn to just be mindful and love yourself on the journey.”
He’s guided on his artistic journey by his heart and an inner voice, Harvey said, noting it’s something akin to his most authentic self — he calls authenticity his “superpower” — and compared the life cycle of a painting to life itself.
“The journey of a masterpiece isn’t always beautiful,” Harvey said. “And that’s just life. We all want our life to be a masterpiece, but we get discouraged on the journey because it doesn’t look beautiful.
“It can look uncomfortable, it can be painful, it can feel painful, it can look totally the opposite of a masterpiece,” he continued. “And we have the choice to figure out how to actually love ourselves in that moment, and figure out what would encourage us, or just not believe that our life is going to be a masterpiece. Do we lose faith, or do we go deeper?”
‘Not even the sky’s the limit for his talent’
This isn’t Harvey’s first art gallery — he previously partnered with Natasha Ria El-Scari in 2018 to open the El-Scari Harvey Art Gallery, which has since been renamed the Natasha Ria Art Gallery.
El-Scari founded the Black Space Black Art (BSBA) collective, of which Harvey was one of six founding members. BSBA partners with Black-owned businesses in Kansas City to display and sell African American art.
El-Scari described Harvey as having “an artist’s spirit,” and said any artist would do well to emulate his work ethic.
“He creates incessantly, and he does not limit how that creation comes out of him,” El-Scari said. “He works on his art every single day — he doesn’t let up, and that’s how he has grown.”
Vivian Wilson Bluett, another local artist and member of BSBA, said she was proud of Harvey for opening his own gallery, but not at all surprised.
“I’m over-the-moon proud of Warren and the direction he’s going with his career,” Bluett said. “This gallery is awesome, but it’s not the peak for him. Not even the sky’s the limit for his talent and where he has the ability to go.”
Both Bluett and Harvey spoke of the importance of saying “yes” to new opportunities as artists, even — and especially — when they push them outside of their comfort zones.
“Saying ‘yes’ is just painting, creating — just keep creating,” Harvey said. “I had to keep creating, I had to keep giving energy toward my expression. And the more I did that, that was me saying ‘yes.’ And the more I follow my heart, trust my heart, the more I was given, the more I received, the more I was being guided into, because I was saying ‘yes.’”
In addition to his gallery at 2000 Vine, Harvey was also asked to paint official portraits of the 10 inductees to the inaugural class of the Black Movie Hall of Fame this March.
Film critic and producer Shawn Edwards founded the Black Movie Hall of Fame, which will be located in the Boone Theater once that redevelopment project is complete.
Edawrds said that when he needed to commission an artist for the portraits, there was only one person on his mind.
“Warren definitely captured what I was looking for, and then took it to another level,” Edwards said. “What I love about Warren is that his style is the future. I don’t think Kansas City understands how dope this guy is — he deserves national attention.”
Edwards, who’s been pushing for a Black Movie Hall of Fame in the 18th and Vine District since 1997, said Harvey represents everything that the District should become.
“You cannot have a cultural hub without art,” he said. “Hopefully Warren’s gallery will be the spark to lead us into the future.”
‘Artist, not a businessman’
For his part, Harvey is still “adjusting to the blessing” of his own studio space, but hopes the gallery will be there “as long as it’s supposed to.”
Describing himself as “an artist, not a businessman,” Harvey said he’s glad to be working with others who can help him promote and sell his art. He’s also looking forward to continuing to inspire and support other artists, in Kansas City and beyond.
“The more I give of myself, the more I am able to receive, the more I’m able to make an impact,” he said.
Mostly, though, he’s just grateful to be on the journey.
“I feel like people are somewhat invested — emotionally, mentally, spiritually, artistically — they’re invested in my work and in my energy, and I really feel supported in my city, and I’m truly grateful for that.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.