The figures are made of recycled political signs. The artist is anonymous. The figures, planted in the dirt to decorate entrances to Wichita State's Innovation Campus, are otherwise open to the imagination and meant as an invitation.
“The idea is they can be anything,” said Wichita painter Charles Baughman, spokesman for the anonymous artist. “He wants to give something that could make people smile or laugh or pause.”
The anonymous artist uses the moniker “Kanbee” as a nod to Kansas and the open-ended possibilities for what the art can be. Some of the figures resemble the outline of humans. Some are shapes.
The figures, in multiple colors, appear on the Innovation Campus at the invitation of the university. Their appearance is one of several steps designed to make Wichita State a destination beyond its typical hours – perhaps for activities such as a scavenger hunt to record Kanbee's work.
“We want to encourage many activities on our campus to foster a place where the people of Wichita can recreate, enjoy art and performance, eat, drink and enjoy our public spaces,” said Andy Schlapp, chief of staff. “That begins with creating places people want to be. Kanbee's art is the first of many events we will hold to create this sense of place.”
Kanbee speaks through a statement, typed and printed in black ink on white paper, and delivered by Baughman.
“I draw humans, stripped of all distinctions, ready to be interpreted by a world of hearts. I use mystery and wonder to meet the challenge of exposing my work to every single heart I can. Art makes a difference in the world and although I am not established, changing the world is my quest.”
The figures began appearing around Wichita around seven years ago. Baughman met the artist in 2017 and serves as his – the artist is male, Baughman said – voice for media requests. The figures, roughly 100 around campus, will remain on display until Oct. 8.
“He is so thrilled to have permission to show his work,” Baughman said. “These get to stay out for a month and people can see them.”
Kanbee's work follows in a tradition of street art that started in New York City in the 1970s, according to Wichita State associate professor in the School of Art, Design, & and Creative Industries. Bubp sees influences of Keith Haring, a New York artist whose early work started with chalk drawings in the subways.
“It was always something where people who didn't feel like they had a voice or the money for a studio or access to the gallery art world . . . would use public spaces as a way to express their ideas, make themselves visible,” Bubp said.
Similar to murals on buildings or the Gallery Alley downtown or last year's floating DNA sculpture on the Arkansas River, the Kanbee figures help people interact with art in new ways.
“It does make people in the city a little more aware of the different forms that art can take,” Bubp said. “Artists feel that's terrific. As far as the general public goes, being surrounded by visual forms that enchant us and makes us think about them enhances the city's creativity and it also enhances our interest in our own place.”
People may donate unwanted political signs to Kanbee by bringing them to the Monart building at The Art Park, 7230 E. 29thSt. N.
“He likes the idea of taking something that's kind of divisive and making it not so,” Baughman said. “He just wants to give art and make people happy.”