Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Age of Aquarius in Butler

The Art Center in Butler is a full-service community facility. In addition to the galleries (at least three), the Center offers workshops and classes (both children’s and adult), a gift shop featuring member’s work and a reading nook stocked with art books, magazines and instructional guides. And on most Friday evenings the Center hosts the “Spirit Café”—an alternate coffeehouse—providing a venue for aspiring poets and songwriters to hone their craft. In the midst of this flurry of activity the Associated Artists of Butler have mounted the Age of Aquarius—their fifth (and most ambitious) celebration of the art and culture of the ’60s and early ’70s.
The broad themed show offers artists a great deal of latitude in both subject and style. As in past years inspiration has been provided by events ranging from music and television to politics and social upheaval. The leaders in popular culture is the Partridge Family; one entry features the musical aggregation on a tambourine-clock while another converted a hi-fi consol into the Mondrian bus, replete with a vinyl album casually placed on the “roof.” Bridging the gap between pop culture and politics are a pair of tie-dyed fiber pieces by David Garlick. The “Ghost of Garcia” appears on a tee-shirt while “Dead, White and Blue” uses the image of the flag in the best tradition of anti-war protest. Alan Byrne’s “Kennedy Triptych” (first place award) is a purely political painting that incorporates contemporary computer effects with black and white news photos. The three images bookend the triumph and tragedy of Dallas with an iconic portrait of JFK.
Just as the art of the Aquarius decade was influenced by a variety of artists, some pieces in the Butler show are reminiscent of past trends. “The Judgment of Paris” has been a favorite with artists and Andreas Grotewold’s delicate pen and ink drawing brings to mind the highly erotic work of Aubrey Beardsley. The Nineteenth Century English artist enjoyed a revival in the ’60s and Grotewold’s interpretation captures the spirit of the age. “Day of the Dead” by Jesse McKinnis is a brightly colored painting recalling the “dia de los muertos” found in Mexican folk art. This “Pop” version seems right off a soup can label. Ruth White-Wetzel’s “Peace” is an exuberant expressionistic acrylic that captures the excitement and eclecticism of the ’60s movement. Having very much the feeling of a college dorm room (right down to the candle in the chianti bottle) the collage-like images and striking red background take use on a journey through the counter-culture.
The exhibition continues through February 22 with many activities planned throughout its run. Check out their website at “”.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

PodCamp in Pittsburgh

What, you may ask is a PodCamp—or more specifically, PodCamp Pittsburgh3. It is an UnConference created by and for enthusiasts and professionals, anyone interested in new media. Whether it’s a blog or a video, live or pre-recorded, all the postings from to “The Evolution of Dance” started as an idea and used technology to reach their audience. All of these are the community of PodCamp.
The first PodCamp was held in Boston in 2006 and Pittsburgh followed shortly after. Since then PodCamps have been held around the world, from California to Sweden and Ireland to South Africa. Last year’s camp was attended by about two hundred, this year’s topped three hundred. Its spirit was summed up nicely by Chris Brogan, the founder of the original PodCamp—we can learn the tools and give our city a voice. Social media is, after all, the epitome of accessibility.
Everyone at PodCamp is a rock star and there are no stupid questions. So sessions are geared to all levels of experience and expertise. And with four or five sessions being held simultaneously, the greatest challenge of the weekend was deciding which to attend. In addition to the “formal” sessions, two additional venues—the Mentoring Lounge and the Wear Pittsburgh Loungy Lounge—allowed for continuing discussions and ad hoc sessions.
In the true spirit of accessibility, PodCamp is free and open to everyone. This is possible in no small part due to generosity of sponsors as diverse as Meakem Becker, VisitPittsburgh and the Art Institute.
Last year’s PodCamp gave me the inspiration and technical knowledge to start this blog. As a friend of mine advised, anything worth doing is worth doing badly. I hope that this year’s event provides the determination to a city of new bloggers and Pittsburgh can stay on the front line of social media.
Among the sessions that caught my attention were Cynthia Closkey and Mike Woycheck’s “Blogging Best Practices” and Justin Kownacki’s panel discussion on cyber-burnout and podfading. Kownacki treated those at this session with a preview of his cyber-sitcom, “Something to be Desired” (currently starting it’s sixth season.) It was there that I decided to expand my blog beyond the gallery scene. There are many art-related events that remain under-reported, starting with PodCamp itself. In the future I intend to cover events as diverse as lectures, festivals and small venue concerts. I hope others are inspired to join—there is plenty of room on the world-wide web.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Aqueous International in Carnegie

The Pittsburgh Watercolor Annual, one of my favorite exhibits, opened recently at the Third Street Gallery, one of my favorite venues. Openings ay the Carnegie gallery are always a treat with live jazz provided by gallery owner Phil Salvato and his trio. The show, which was jurored by Linda A. Doll, has a wide range of works chosen from the vast variety of styles submitted. The juror was responsive to design and subject matter without overlooking content and concept.
The Annual is an international exhibit in which Pittsburgh area artists are well-represented. The wide range of work nicely shows off the versatility of watercolor in terms of both subject and style. Many think of watercolor in terms of the soft-focus spontaneous works of masters like Winslow Homer. This wet-in-wet technique is included but at Aqueous Open we also find the less-common dry brush painting and even impasto, a technique usually reserved for oil. And while watercolorists are predominately realists, I was delighted by the number of non-representational works, especially among the award winners. But pieces stand out in the full spectrum of objective approach.
At the close focus end of the realism scale is Marlin Rotach’s “Land of Plenty” This photo-realist piece, with its rich color and deep tones could easily be taken for oil at a casual glance. It is a good example of the precision of which watercolor is capable in the hand of a master. Leo Goode’s “Welcome Home” is representational of the more traditional handling of watercolor with its layered washes and delicate highlights and shadows. Roc Prologo takes even greater advantage of the transparent nature of the aqueous medium in his “Invisible.” The amorphous monochrome shapes deftly suggest a cityscape background and the shadowy figure of a homeless woman makes a strong social comment. In a similar vein, Terri Perpich captures the plight of society’s disenfranchised with “ Breakfast 7:15, Lunch 12:00, Dinner 5:00.” The title is drawn from a notice posted on the wall of a nursing home and the ethereal figure of a woman in a wheel chair is over-painted in white impasto as if there were an attempt to eradicate her existence.
The figures in Jeanne McGuire’s “The Occasion” are simplified low-chroma silhouettes which take on a compositional life of their own. Although still more objective in its approach, it bridges the gap between the representational and abstract portions of the show. Eileen McConomy’s “Sun-Rising” is a geometric explosion of color and light. The circles and prismatic shafts capture the lens flare one would expect to see in a photograph taken into direct sunlight. Barry Winsand’s “Planetarium” is a catalog of watercolor technique combining washes and spatters to created a fantasy of extra-terrestrial proportions.
The 62nd Annual Aqueous Open continues through October 24. And the full-color exhibition booklet is a lovely keepsake of delightful show.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Me, Myself and I in Carnegie

Self-portraits present a special challenge to artists: for, if as they say, the eyes are the window of the soul, then the artist must gaze into these portals and oft time reveal much more than the superficial likeness. This has been the case of the truly great artists who have answered this challenge—Rembrandt, van Gogh and Frida Kahlo have given us a glimpse of their joys and sorrows exposing their very character therein. It is, perhaps, why Picasso painted so few self-portraits.

Often embedded in the artist’s portrait is the artist’s statement—the philosophy that permeates his or her career. The color, the form, the medium, and the style take on greater importance when they are applied to the likeness of the creator. The dominate style of the Pittsburgh Society of Artists is realism and the genre is well-suited to this show at the Third Street Gallery. Artists who hold a mirror to nature are a natural choice to hold a mirror to themselves. Even within the narrow range of representationalism, the artists have chosen many paths. Some works depict the artist at work or with the tools of their trade. Some use photographs to show us how they were; such are the case in Sandra Ward’s Photorealistc “Then and Now” and the masterly-rendered still life, “Artist’s Reflections” by Diane White. Some artists place themselves in a montage of their interests. Ruth Richardson does this beautifully in watercolor while Martha E. Ressler is “Unabashedly Me” in an assemblage collage.
Sometimes artists go beyond the artist’s world to include universal truths. James Rettinger’s sculpture, “You Look Like You Father” reminds us that we all eventually become our parents. And sometimes the work becomes the very embodiment of the artist. Lila Hirsch Brody’s exuberant construction is Lila Hirsch Brody. But the piece that most impressed me was Amy Dimichele’s “Self –Portrait.” Simple, yet sophisticated, this delicate painting brought to mind the work of Tamara de Lempicka (although Ms Dimichele is more Cubist than Art Deco.) The artist’s intense concentration represents and effort not to simply get it right, but to get it me.

“Me, Myself and I” continues at the Third Street Gallery through June 28.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

See How It Was, See How It Is

Fein Gallery, on East Ohio Street, is currently running an interesting contribution to the Pittsburgh250 celebration. “See How It Was, See How It Is” is a then and now juxtaposition of vintage photographs (curated by Bruce Klein) and contemporary pieces selected by Kathleen Zimbicki. The photographs hang in identical frames and are arranged in a grid giving a formality one might associate with the late Victorian era. On the opposite side of the gallery pairs of artists’ work are presented in a less formal exhibit complimenting the flexibility of styles and mediums.

The first works one encounters upon entering the gallery (other than Frank Flynn’s “jagger chair” reprised under a new name) are the acrylic paintings of Anna Marie Sninsky. “Pittsburgh on a Summer Night” is an achromatic view of the city from the vantage point of the Southside. The moody earth tones reflect the working class values of the Steel City and bring to mind the “glory days” of the mills. Fittingly, Ms Sninsky has worked with Steel Valley Arts Council and the Carnegie Library of Homestead so here work has a direct connection to the socio-environmental issues facing our region. These themes are also embodied in the work of Connie Merriman who has maintained a concern for disenfranchised people who are adversely affected by economic, environmental, and political issues beyond their control. “Mt. Washington, North Side” is an aerial view of the Point rendered as a bas relief of painted Styrofoam. The resultant piece resembles a topographical map and is more aesthetically driven and less political than the other works often done in collaboration with her husband, Tom.

Also included in the show, and deviating from her more conventional style, are the works by Gloria Goldsmith Hersch. Known for her Photorealist acrylics, Ms Hersch has given us a far less literal symbolic abstraction, “Carnegie Museum.” Constructed of cut paper and watercolor, the simple repeating shapes are arranged in a line suggesting the façade of a building or a salon of paintings.

Considering the range and talent on display, the curators could have filled the gallery several times over. Among the other almost two dozen artists exhibiting are Ron Donoughe (oil), Rick Byerly (photography), Alan Byrne (digital painting) and Sherrie Plonski (watercolor.) “See How It Was…” continues through June 6.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Celebrate Sewickley at Sweetwater

“Celebrate Sewickley!” partners the Sweetwater Center for the Arts, the Sewickley Valley Historical Society and the Old Sewickley Post Office Corporation for and exhibit and auction of works of art. All of the artists represented in the exhibition either reside in Sewickley or create work that is depictive of the area. Artists range from well-known established professionals to students who take classes at Sweetwater and the instructors who teach them.
Among the instructors represented are Deborah McLaren, Joyce Werie Perry and Lisa Rasmussen. It is always encouraging to see instructors exhibiting—it’s a inspiration to their students and may even lead to future enrollment. Sweetwater offers a wide variety of classes (including cooking and yoga!) for all ages.

“Celebrate!” reflects the diversity of Sweetwater’s academic schedule and includes traditional arts, crafts and state-of-the-art computerized work. Will C. White’s “Broad and Beaver Streets” falls into the traditional category. This colorful watercolor captures the hustle and bustle of a crowded street and it’s energy reminds one of such urban painters as Isabel Bishop and Paul Cadmus. The inclusion of a famous “Pittsburgher” in the multitude adds a touch of local whimsy. Many of the pieces on display will be included in a silent auction; Proceeds from this event will benefit the Sewickley Valley Cultural Center. Some works have been donated by the artists others by local businesses. The latter is the case with the hand-knit sweater created by Sasha Kagen for Yarns Unlimited.

Richard Thompson’s “Allegheny Country Club” is a panoramic “giclee” print on canvas. This form of digital photography has become increasingly popular in recent years.

Another form of computer art is to be seen in the work of Elizabeth Douglas. Her digital paintings are done without the benefit of a photographic image and the resulting pieces more closely resemble traditional painting (and stained glass.)
The Auction will be held on Saturday, April 26 (5:00-8:00pm) and will feature delicious food, drink and live piano jazz by Howie Alexander.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Graphica at the Butler Art Center

We’ve all heard—a picture is worth a thousand words—but for truly effective graphics the reciprocal can also be true. If the words and the images are mutually dependent then the combined effect will be greater than the sum of the individual parts. This is the case and the underlying theme at “Graphica”, the current show at the Art Center in Butler. Several years ago one of the guilds at the PCA hosted a similar exhibit—words and images—the Butler holds up very well in comparison.
The exhibitors in Butler range from high school students to seasoned professionals, the works from photographs and paintings to computer graphic design. Since the message and the media are so completely integrated in this type of show, I took special notice of those pieces that had an important and relevant theme and conveyed it in bold manner.
Louise Pappageorge’s “Flawed Logic” is a collage piece and makes a statement on many levels. The subtext--that society sets unrealistic goals for young girls in the standard that it sets for physical appearance. The use of glossy fashion magazines as a source for visual material only tends to reinforce this premise. The woman’s face, composed in a jigsaw puzzle effect is sadly reminiscent of the work of the plastic surgeon. And the captions further reveal the tragically unattainable ideal. “Think Before You Drink” is an advocacy poster by Joanie Wilson. The psychedelic imagery has the aura of the impaired perception brought on by alcohol. This is carried through in the style of type and even the bottle brings to mind the Absolut campaign.
Bill Perry is an accomplished watercolorist and a regular exhibitor at the Art Center. His Operation Iraqi Freedom trilogy grewout of his habit of working while watching news reports. The images he saw on the small screen gradually worked their way into his paintings. “The Combatants” is a multicultural montage

that takes us back several years and helps us reflect on the aftermath of those events. David (Bowman X) Wintermute has several pieces in the show that blend ideas of ethics and aesthetics with modern technology. His portrait of Ludwig Wittgenstein includes the quote: “The facts that the elements of a picture are related to one another in a determinate way represents that things are related to one another in the same way.” I hadn’t been to the Art Center for almost a year and I was impressed by the changes they’ve made. The physical changes—remodeling and improvements to the exhibition space were immediately recognizable. More importantly, the quality of the art and the professionalism of the organization represent great strides forward. As artists we all contribute and support our culture and society. I believe “Graphica” is an important step for the Butler Arts Center in acknowledging a creative art climate through education, exhibition and promotion of freedom of expression.