News Column

Jane Pronko celebrates the city in new paintings at Main Street Gallery

April 30, 2014

By Alice Thorson, The Kansas City Star

April 30--No one captures a Kansas City street scene -- the cars, the buildings, the lights and reflections -- like Jane Pronko. And it's no wonder. She has been doing it for more than 40 years.

Pronko's views of the city render it luminous and slightly mysterious. What sets her apart from so many who tackle the topic is her avoidance of tidying and editing. She resists the pull to prettify that would turn the works picturesque.

Pronko has recently placed paintings in prominent collections, including St. Luke's Hospital's, and is part of the Modern Arts Midtown gallery in Omaha. Yet it has been awhile since she has had a one-person show in Kansas City.

Pronko fans will be pleased to learn they can get their fill Friday, when she opens "Going to Kansas City: New Oil Paintings by Jane Pronko" at the Main Street Gallery.

The show is all scenes of greater Kansas City, from Southwest Boulevard to Lackman Road.

The signature image, "Crossroads," offers a view of Anton's Taproom (where the Main Street Gallery occupies the second floor), looking south down Main Street at night. The piece is classic Pronko, capturing the restaurant's glowing sign, reflections bouncing off parked cars and the blurry glow of headlights.

Streetlamps descend down the hill, leading the eye to the lighted windows of highrises and the Crown Center elevated crosswalk in the background. With no people on the street, the viewer takes ownership.

The view is actually a composite, worked and reworked from dozens of photographs Pronko took over multiple visits. After sketching the scene on canvas, she paints over the drawing in white, so that only the faintest cues remain.

"I know where I'm going. I have a map. I'll do three layers in oil paint -- I block it in and go in two more times," she said during a recent studio visit at her Prairie Village home.

In recent years, the city's renewal and development boom have turned her paintings into unofficial documents.

"Downtown is changing a lot," she said. "A lot of what I'm painting is gone."

The area portrayed in "Making It Through the Night," a view of Southwest Boulevard under the overpass, "has changed totally," Pronko said. So has the view recorded in "Vanishing," of an old film industry building on 18th Street, later torn down to make a parking lot.

Pronko grew up in Dupo, Ill., a Missouri-Pacific railroad town just across the river from St. Louis.

"There was no art in the whole town, and art classes weren't offered at the high school," she said. "I just started doing it. I was raised Southern Baptist, and I'd sit there and draw people in church."

Pronko's earliest works were what she calls "train paintings," inspired by her everyday experience.

"My father was a switchman," she said. "He used to ride behind the house and wave."

But the works confounded her mother, who thought "nice ladies paint flowers and landscapes."

At the University of Kansas, Pronko majored in physical therapy, but she also took classes in sculpture and ceramics. Although she earned her degree in PT, the lure of art eventually prevailed.

"After I got married and was home with the kids, I studied with Philomene Bennett," she said. "She was really important to me because she encouraged me so much. I also took classes at Johnson County Community College and KU."

Pronko also studied for a while with Stanley Lewis, an important influence, at the Kansas City Art Institute.

Her turn to street scenes was sparked by her son-in-law's Dutch father, who asked her to paint him a scene of New York. After that, she produced dozens of New York paintings, made while visiting a close friend in the city.

Pronko made her first local street scene at the request of The Kansas City Star.

"The Star wanted a street scene of Johnson County," she said, "so I went to Metcalf and 75th Street. I took pictures and made the painting."

Working for years in a studio in the River Market, Pronko then began capturing her urban surroundings.

"I dearly love our skyline," she said.

Her exhibit at Main Street Gallery shows that love has endured.


Beco Gallery

"Katie Weatherly : Mirari"

When: Friday (reception 6-9 p.m.) through June 26

Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday

Where: 1922 Baltimore Ave.

Info: 816-472-4242 

Belger Arts Center

"William Christenberry"

"Velocity of Change"

When: Friday (closing reception 6-9 p.m. Friday) through May 3

Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday (10 a.m.-9 p.m. First Fridays), noon-4 p.m. Saturday and by appointment

Where: 2100 Walnut St.

Info: 816-474-3250

Belger Crane Yard Gallery

"John Balistreri: By and Large"

When: Friday (reception 6-9 p.m.) through Aug. 16

Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday (10 a.m.-9 p.m. First Fridays), 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and by appointment

Where: 2011 Tracy Ave.

Info: 816-474-7316

Blue Gallery

"Hyunmee Lee: Native Mumbling" and "Ruth Shively: Drawings"

When: Friday (reception 6-9 p.m.) through June 2

Hours: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday

Where: 118 Southwest Blvd.

Info: 816-527-0823

City Ice Arts

"Cory Imig: Room Size"

When: Friday (reception 6-9 p.m.) through May 24

Hours: Noon-5 p.m. Friday and Saturday and by appointment

Where: 2015 Campbell St.

Info: 816-820-4105

Kemper at the Crossroads

"The Center Is a Moving Target"

When: Friday through Aug. 1

Hours: 5-10 p.m. Friday; noon-5 p.m. Saturday

Where: 33 W. 19th St.

Info: 816-753-5784

The Late Show

"Three x 4: Carrie Riehl, Emma Jennings and Brantly Sheffield"

When: Friday (reception 6-9 p.m.) through May 23

Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and by appointment

Where: 1600 Cherry St.

Info: 816-474-1300

Leedy-Voulkos Art Center

"Dominator: New Work by Skyler Bieberly"

"KC Connect: Event Series by KC Studio Magazine"

"Travis Porter: Syncretized Patterns"

"Krystal Jolicoeur: TÈ ak San"

"Debbie Barrett-Jones: One Thread at a Time"

When: Friday (reception 6-9 p.m.). Barrett-Jones, KC Connect and Jolicoeur through May 31; Bieberly and Porter through June 28

Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday

Where: 2012 Baltimore Ave.

Info: 816-474-1919

Locust Factory

Locust Factory First Friday Art Fair: KCAI Senior Thesis Exhibitions

When: 6-9 p.m. Friday; noon-4 p.m. Saturday

Where: 504 E. 18th St. (east end of the building)

Info: 816-716-5940

Main Street Gallery

"Going to Kansas City: New Oil Paintings by Jane Pronko"

When: Friday (reception 6-9 p.m.) through May 30

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Sunday

Where: 1610 Main St. (upstairs at Anton's Tap Room & Restaurant)

Info: 816-210-6534


Arts Alliance

"Spirited: Prohibition in America"

When: Friday (reception 6-8 p.m.) through May 23; Kelley Hunt performs a live outdoor show from 8-10 p.m.

Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday and Friday

Where: 2018 Baltimore Ave.

Info: 816-421-1388

Red Star Studios at Belger Arts Center

"Taming Nature"

When: Friday (reception 6-9 p.m.) through June 28

Where: 2100 Walnut St.

Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday (10 a.m.-9 p.m. First Fridays), noon-4 p.m. Saturday and by appointment.

Info: 816-474-7316

Vine Street Studio

"Lauren McGill: Insights From a Supposed Art Teacher"

When: Friday (reception 6-9 p.m.) One-night event.

Where: 2033 Vine St.

Info: 816-645-1052

Todd Weiner Gallery

"Ghosts: Mentors and Students"

When: Friday (reception 5-10 p.m.) through April 26

Hours: 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and by appointment

Where: 115 W. 18th St.

Info: 816-984-8538


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Source: Kansas City Star (MO)

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