Downtown Neon Galler

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Kansas City Artist's Neon Work

On Display At Kunstlerhaus

by Jessica Nelson

Saturday evening, the Kunstlerhaus Art Gallery in Hermann hosted a reception for “The Neon Warrior”, Thomas Cobian, a Kansas City, Missouri artist who is known for using neon tubing predominantly in his work.

In his self-described 'eclectic' gallery, located near the Power & Light District in Kansas City, Cobain promotes music, art, poetry and dance. He also showcases emerging and re-emerging artists, people who have had a career of some kind but had training in art which, according to him, is different than most galleries that only concentrate on young artists.

“They can be a housewife, an executive who retires and they start their art skills. They might have gone to art school and been passionate about art when they were younger,” said Cobian.

“Now they have no place to show but my gallery

gives them an opportunity to actually get in there and actually show their work.”

Cobian shows his work in three to six shows a year and has shown in New York and Wisconsin before. The annual “Art Inside The Park” show in Jefferson City is where Cobian met Kunstlerhaus artist and co-founder Joey Los, who invited him to have an exhibit at Kunstlerhaus.

Though he also produces commercial signs in addition to his neon artwork, Cobian worked several different jobs before opening his gallery 12 years ago. He completed an apprenticeship with the electrical workers union and owned a sand blasting company before he started creating his artwork and showing.

Also before getting back into artwork, he was a steel worker in Kansas City until the plant closed. With the plant closing, however, Cobian and other employees were offered a free education by the company; he saw this as an opportunity to get back into the arts.

“I was married with a family and I needed to find something to support me and my family and what I was doing,” said Cobian. “I could do neon signs and I could do art when I got good at it. That's how it evolved here, I love art and I love neon.”

With his artwork being created with porcelain enamel [glass fired over steel] and using different types of glasses, Cobian says his type of art is dying.

“It's really a lost art, a lost craft, especially the way I do it,” said Cobian. “I use a lot of exotic glasses and large tube glasses that not
many people in the country use. It's really a dying art.”

His moniker of “The Neon Warrior” is one that he gave himself, based on the type of artwork he produces.

“A warrior is somebody who goes out and really tries to energize anything he or she does. You can be a warrior in anything, I'm a neon warrior,” said Cobian. “I don't just do neon, I attack it.

During the early part of the reception Saturday night, Cobian said the response from people who had stopped by was very positive, with people really enjoying the work. He said that though keeping the bills paid by selling pieces is important, payment for being an artist isn't always in a monetary form.

“That makes me feel good as an artist that I'm able to captivate like that. Everybody needs to make a living but art is more than money to me,” said Cobian. “I've sold a lot of pieces but if I don't sell pieces and I see people enjoying my work, that's really payment to me. The money is a dividend but my commercial company keeps my doors open and gives me the opportunity to do my artwork and promote other artists.”

Cobian had six pieces of artwork on display at Kunstlerhaus, including “Prisoner” which was created by putting a tulip shaped neon flower behind a door from the old Kansas City Jail.

“It's almost like putting Jesus in jail, you can't find anything much more pure than a flower,” said Cobian.

Other pieces were “Splash”, “Blare”, “Light Thought”, “Light Phoenix” and “Light Head”.  “Light Phoenix” and “Light Thought” were created through the porcelain enamel process and were hand painted. “Light Head” was created from a piece of wood taken from an 1800s era building, Cobian said it was created with 18 millimeter large glass tubing, something that is very hard to craft with. The work will be on display at Kunstlerhaus through the end of March.

Cobian's gallery, the Downtown Neon Gallery, is located at 1921 Truman Road in Kansas City with viewing by appointment only; appointments can be made by calling (816) 472-1190. The gallery's website,, is still under construction but should be up within a month, according to Cobian.

Call (816) 472-1190

Downtown Neon Gallery

1921 East Truman Road
Kansas City, Missouri 64127

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