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Burn, Baby, Burn

The Late Show opens a fiery Valentine's exhibit.

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Heartburn is the last thing most of us want on Valentine's Day. It's a little better than heartbreak, heartworms or heart attacks, but seasonal ad campaigns certainly aren't out to appeal to the public's love of gripping chest pain. Then again, Tom Deatherage, who runs The Late Show gallery out of his Hyde Park home, doesn't cater to mainstream promotional tactics.

Deatherage, whose previous Valentine's shows have been called Stupid Cupid and Your Lyin' Cheatin' Heart, says he's running out of "anti-Valentine's" names -- but Heartburn works pretty well.

His flair for nomenclature is not the only thing that sets him apart. "I was a custom framer for years, and I just finally got fed up and walked out," he says. That was ten years ago. Having cultivated strong relationships with artists whose work he framed, he decided to open his home for shows.

The Charlotte Street house hasn't been decorated to look like a gallery; it is, first and foremost, where Deatherage lives, and he has painted the display rooms yellow and orange -- because he likes those colors. "I live here, and I don't want white or gray walls. It was pretty controversial right at first, but I don't give a shit. It suits me." The loud color scheme works surprisingly well with the artwork.

While Deatherage is always looking for new, emerging artists, there's a cast of characters he likes to call "the usual suspects," whose work he always keeps on hand and who regularly participate in his exhibits. Reeder Fahienstock, for example, paints screws. Heartburn displays two Fahienstock pieces: a finely crafted Jack of Hearts with light gray screws in the background, and a large upside-down screw in fluorescent pink. "I'll always have a few screws lying around," Deatherage says fondly. And Lori Raye Erickson's multimedia works, which incorporate bunnies and monkeys, may look like fluff, but they deal with the heavy topic of child abuse. However, as Deatherage notes, the works are still "endearing as hell."

Deatherage's neighborhood, where he feels safe and believes that visitors are safe as well, carries the stigma of an inner-city location, and the atmosphere isn't as refined as what gallery crawlers are used to. Furthermore, the newly sprouted Crossroads District, overall a positive development for Kansas City's art scene, has hurt galleries that lie on the periphery. "Kansas City audiences are lazy," Deatherage explains. "If people can go to five galleries in one stop, they're gonna do that. They're not gonna go out of their way to see something else."

Still, he wouldn't think about moving. His gallery has the advantage of showing what the art looks like on somebody's walls, because most people don't live in "a white rectangle." He sells to a select crowd that ranges from struggling young couples to dealers for bigger shows in town, and he works with buyers to settle on a price. "I just want the art to go to a happy home," he says.

In the meantime, he wants everyone to have fun at the openings. "There's lots of beer and vodka. No wine at my house. No Boulevard beer either. Just cheap beer and cheap vodka." Anything to keep the overhead low.

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