Friday, February 29, 2008

Art of the Week

Kathleen Zimbicki's work is everywhere, but most of it is watercolor. This enigmatic piece is in "Through the Eyes of AAP" at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

Kathleen Zimbicki
"Pittsburgh Moon"

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Second Floor at PCA

The second floor of the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts offers several shows that are both whimsical and inspirational. While the works in each separate gallery are created within a narrow range, each piece offers a depth of interest and subtext. An exhibit of the works of Dorothy Williams and Doug Hill seems an unlikely combination at first glance. Curator Tom Sarver (of Tom’s Museum) has brought together two artists who use non-traditional, even amateurish, materials and techniques. The resultant exhibition could easily be mistaken for the science and craft display at a local grade school. But on closer scrutiny we find that these works embody the genius of simplicity. The machines of Doug Hill, fashioned from paper, cardboard and string, are masterpieces of engineering. Each machine performs a modest task and is modestly priced. One might also label the as “modest’ the embroidery paintings of Dorothy Williams. Here the yarn is glued to cardboard rather than sewn as one would expect in traditional needlework. The small scenes are largely innocent of sophisticated trapping such as perspective and, as with the best of na├»ve art, are based on memories of a rich lifetime. Ms Williams, who passed away in 2005, was a social worker and a cornerstone of the African-American community.

A second gallery displays the collaboration of Mark and Jeff Zets. Calling to mind the seminal work of Richard Hamilton, these large collages reflect the contemporary updating of Pop Art imagery. Here Britney Spears and Arnold Schwarzenegger take their place along side the Pop icons of Warhol—Elvis and Marilyn. The images have a the flavor of an earlier, innocent time. Marilyn Monroe is portrayed as the happy homemaker and Michael Jackson predates the tabloid feeding frenzy of recent years.
The centerpiece of the galleries is the Regional Student Juried Exhibition presented by the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts Conference. The show includes a wide variety of works ranging from traditional pottery to ceramic sculpture to installations. The familiar objects of “Garage Days” by Vijay Paniker are wonders of the “trompe l’oeil.” Installations vary from the quirky “PS 106” of Laura Thompson to the ecologically-inspired “Evolution” of Jo Watco. Perhaps the most poignant is a piece from Northern Illinois University student Scott Ziegler. “Interrogation” is an enigmatic, multi-eyed vessel that invites us to examine recent events in an entirely new context.

The closing dates on these (and a few other offerings at the PCA) vary from late March to mid-April. Details are available at

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ceramics in Sewickley

This is the “Year of Ceramics” in Pittsburgh so it is fitting that the Sweetwater Center for the Arts is hosting a Ceramics Open Studio this Sunday, February 24 from 1:30-3:30. Artists, children and adult, are invited to participate in this charitable event and create bowls for the Empty Bowls Dinner. A studio assistant will be there to help aspiring potters with a variety of methods and techniques; the bowls will be glazed and fired by the center’s staff.
Empty Bowls is a unique family-friendly event presented annually by Just Harvest and the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank to remind us of those whose bowls go empty. Enjoy a simple meal of soup and bread and every ticket holder chooses an original handmade ceramic bowl donated by schools, community arts, programs, and potters from across the community. The event also features music, kids' activities, and a silent auction of selected ceramic art. For more information and tickets visit

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What's "Hot" at Fein Art

It’s always a pleasure to discover new galleries in new neighborhoods—one recent addition to the Pittsburgh art scene can be found on the Northside’s East Ohio Street (two doors down from Bernies.) Here, a baker’s dozen of (mostly) young artists are featured at Fein Art Gallery’s “Hot.” Curator Kathleen Zimbicki has assembled a conglomeration of painters, sculptures and photographers. The works are skillfully grouped by artist and the mix is not unlike a fine banquet that permits you to savor each course to the fullest. Styles ranging from the traditional to the avant-garde represent some familiar faces as well as some newcomers.
Ron Gallagher works with dyed silk—his one-of-a-kind scarves and furnishing accessories are available the Ronnie G. Originals. His latest work, exhibited here, is created on suede, the typical dyes replaced with soft pastels. This combination of materials allows a deliberate rendering and the works tend to be more representational while retaining the abstract nature of the serendipitous dyes. By contrast, Peggi Habets’ watercolors are highly realistic and technically precise. The richly rendered portraits incorporate deep color and shadows with dry brush highlight to create a powerful sense of chiaroscuro. Douglas Wynn uses the palette of the Impressionists in his oils, but his method of working more closely parallels Cezanne. He carefully considers his subject before embarking on the painting process; and that process a permits the accumulation of necessary information over a span of seasons. Carolyn Wenning captures and records more transitory moments. Photography provides a reference to the real world and the moments, psychological and physical, are imprisoned viscerally in the raw materials of wax, tar and resin. Steven Douglas has been working with metal from an early age, but his interest in Medieval reenactments prompted the application of the armorer’s trade to his artwork. His fantasty creation. “ArchAngel Michael”, holds a dominate position at the center of the gallery, standing elegantly, as much the spectator as the exhibit.
I was favorably impressed with the reasonable pricing of the work at the Fein Art Gallery. This, along with the wide range of style and technique, allows for something for every taste and pocketbook. “Hot” continues through April 12.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Seven Shows at PCA

Occasionally the schedule at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts align, like the stars in some astrological chart, and all the galleries celebrate an opening on the same day. Last week the heavenly bodies were in alignment and seven exhibits appeared at the PCA. The evening had much of the feeling of an indoor gallery crawl and the scope and depth of the art on display demand more than one blog entry.
“Pittsburgh Through the Eyes of AAP” is, perhaps, the preeminent offering and the first of many events highlighting the Pittsburgh 250 celebration. Curated by Barbara Jones of the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, the pieces have been selected with the discerning eye of an impartial, yet informed, outsider. There are the requisite steel mills and bridges for which the city is renowned, but one also finds the hidden treasures and inside jokes that are sure to delight the true Pittsburgher. Foremost in the latter category is Rita Lee Spalding’s “Pittsburgh Speaks” which may be indecipherable to the outsider, but will bring a smile to the face of a native. Some pieces work on several levels, as in the case of “Pierogi Lounge” by David Watts. This delightful ethnic cuisine is not only good enough to eat (or sleep on) but calls to mind the region’s strong connection to the Pop Art movement.

The Pittsburgh landscape is well represented in photo, collage and paint. None is more striking that Robert Qualters’ “Penn Station, January1, 1954.” The color and light in this tapestry-like acrylic collage lift the status of the railroad terminal to that of the Pantheon or Medieval cathedral. In a truly historical vein, Adrienne Heinrich’s “Follow the Drinking Gourd” celebrates Pittsburgh’s connection to the Underground Railroad. Still the cast silicone piece calls to mind the racism that survived Emancipation. Some pieces, steeped in history are also clouded by obscurity so the Pittsburgh connection is not as obvious. Joyce Werie-Perry’s encaustic painting “Uncommon Faces Familiar Souls” is based on an early photograph of the Carnegie Museum’s directors. Frank Flynn is represented by two works, both of which have a wicked sense of irony. “Art Heroes: Memorial to G. David Thompson” is a Brancusi-like sculpture to the memory of an important collector of art. And “Margaret Morrison’s Endowed Chair” encrusted with “jaggers” is a tribute to an educational institution that no longer exists.
Each piece in this show will have a special appeal for the local patron and is sure to conjure up a wealth of memories and dreams. “Through the Eyes…” continues to March 9.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Gallery Crawl (Part 2)

The second leg of the Gallery Crawl takes us to Liberty Avenue, the Three Rivers Arts Festival Gallery and SPACE. These venues offer group shows with a wider variety of works and noticeably larger crowds.
The Three Rivers Gallery is home to two exhibits this season both of which are fairly heavy on installation art. The second floor features “Deliciously Disposable Earth”, a critical look at the impact of mining through the eyes of artists. Curated by Carolina Loyola-Garcia, “DDE” is an international show with both figurative and literal connections. Clayton Merrell embodies this duality. Raised in Pittsburgh and Puerto Orday, Venezuela, Merrell’s studies have taken him around the country and eventually back to the Steel City. “Six Copper Mines” represents his experiences in Arizona and New Mexico. Each is painted on scrap copper and depicts a particular copper mine in that area; they are at once exquisitely beautiful and mindful of the environmental destruction of this industry. Much in the same vein are Janet Rainwater’s charm bracelets, “Miner’s Peril” and “Enslavement.” The beauty and value of these gold objects is obvious, but as we dig deeper we find the darker association of greed, enslavement, war and death. The delicate charms—coffins, slave ship, hangman’s noose—are suspended from shackle-like links and serve to remind us that we cannot escape the legacy of our precious objects. Itamar Jobami’s video/sculptural installation, “Blood, Men, Earth” depicts a young man opening a wound in his torso from which blood flows into a rocky pool. The stream is a video projection—a wonderful piece of “trompe l’oeil” which causes the viewer to momentarily wonder how the liquid drains and recycles. The figure and pool are constructed much like a topographical map and the underpinning implication is the destruction of both man and his environment.
The third floor of Three Rivers showcases works from the staff of the Mattress Factory. (Unfortunately, the Crawl was closing night.) Mixed media pieces by Katherine Young (Pandora’s Boxes) and Susan Sparks (Ink, Tape and Magic) were impressively arrayed as multi-piece series. And one end of the gallery was dominated by an untitled installation by Lindsay O’Leary. This cotton candy confection is something straight out of Aristophanes replete with Mylar balls and silver sharks.

The final stop on my crawl was SPACE, the large glass-front gallery on Liberty Avenue. Here “Hot Metal”, curated by Ed Parrish, Jr., offers a potpourri of sculpture and assemblages. Various metallic materials are welded, cast, filigreed and crumpled to create a myriad of interpretations. In the latter category Gary Smith’s “Aluminum Foil Warriors” could be called “kitchen kitsch”—cyborgs whose construction is a parody of both subject and material. Michael Dominick’s “104-39 116th Street, Queens” has the added dimension of the skills of a plumber. The functional boiler and radiator take the “hot metal” theme seriously, as several patrons discovered when they placed a hand on the artwork. At the opposite end of the gallery stand the richly detailed sculptures of Oleh Bonkovikyy. His “Eagle” with its wings spread and perched on a sphere has the folk art feeling of a Nineteenth Century weathervane. By contrast, the individually fashioned feathers and menacing talons proclaim the hand of a skilled artist. And by the window, against the backdrop of the nocturnal city, stands “Glass Sun.” The weight and symbolic majesty of the piece could easily cause one to mistake it for a shrine from some ancient mystic civilization.
There were many other events on the Crawl some with refreshments and entertainment. And an after hours party on Sixth Street. But the best part is there will be another one in a few months.