I realized, on my trek all over the city, that the Pittsburgh art community is actually thriving. By thriving I mean we have an art community and it’s pretty killer. I’m not actually going to pretend like I know how the art world works. I wouldn’t know a $2,000 piece from a $50 one. I just know what I like, and I liked a lot of what I saw. From the brightly colored Buddha story paintings of Jim Kupecz to the beautiful blend of street art, anime and social commentary in the art of Shawn Waters, there was plenty of talent splayed on the walls. Each of the galleries were pretty amped to check out Iron City’s new addition to their beer list, a mango flavored light beer, refreshing and colorful, just like the art.
I entered Assemble, a gallery on Penn Ave in Garfield, to see a small group of people sitting at a table in a generally empty room. I thought, how quaint, the art is….oh…it’s painted directly on the walls. The wall to the right was a cityscape of greens, blues and yellows with a lines that formed buildings peeking through the top of the abstract painting. The project is called “Colorize Urban Landscapes,” it explores the positive impact of adding vibrant color to urban landscapes. Assemble’s M.O. is to combine arts and technology and while the “Colorize Urban Landscapes” project seems to be simply made by eager hands filled with paintbrushes, the paint itself is the technology, vibrant chemical technology used to recreate urban areas that need some beauty. Art for a cause we can dig.
The Rocking Horse Artspace, owned by artist Casey Hallas, is even less of a traditional gallery than Assemble. The space is a wide open room peppered with a couple couches, some hand-drums and art hung on the walls. It’s a transitional space, as opposed to having set shows that feature just these artists who work with just that style, Hallas is kind of letting the space become what it wants. Music and video art, two of Hallas’ passions and slightly atypical gallery fillers are Hallas’ bread and butter. He accompanies the space with an online magazine that fleshes out his artistic visions.
Boxheart Gallery, situated on Liberty Ave in the heart of Bloomfield, has all the charm of my grandma’s living room but boasts artwork from some esteemed art-stars from in and around our region. The current exhibit features artwork by Louisiana native Sarah Wiseman and her collection is called ‘Contemplations on the State of Being.’ The walls of the inner room are lined with square foot watercolor abstractions, line experiments fore-grounded by muted pastels. Her work resonates as being overtly feminine in color but invites the viewer to enter into the unknown with the dramatic and mysterious line designs. The show runs until July 16th and will be followed by work by New York native Isabelle Garbani who will show her collection ’24 ours in the Subway.’ Garbani’s show will open July 19th. Check the website for opening deets Boxheart.com
The Pittsburgh Glass Center always seems to be bustling. Their ongoing classes and artists who rent space within make it a lively place for creative fire play. Watching the actual blowing of the glass is a fiery phenomena that rivals the poi fire spinning I’ve seen at raves and burn fests, it’s performative creation and it’s remarkable. The Glass Center will be celebrating their 10th Birthday celebration at the end of the month by inviting the Burnt Asphalt Family to come and perform. They are a troop of NY and Philly native glass blowers who combine the art of food, fire and glass.
I walked into Gallery 4 on S. Highland Ave, put down the case of IC Light Mango and was instantly struck by the very first image one sees upon entering. A dripping white skull with Mickey Mouse ears. The two components, Mickey ears and skulls were a theme throughout the featured artist, Shawn Roberts’ work. The collection is called ‘Consumed’ and while it’s got a foreboding element represented by skulls with Mickey ears, a lot of the illustrations are so whimsical and fun that the warning of consumerism becomes almost laughable. I wondered what his point or stance on consumerism was, but then I proceeded not to worry too much. All I wanted to do was drop my rent money on a picture of a robot with bunny ears holding a skull Hamlet style. Roberts made me want to consume, oh the irony. His work will be up until July 30th and will culminate with a killer party, no doubt.
Often throughout my travels to galleries I would enter a space to a confused gallery sitter. At Silver Eye Center for Photography, the attendant was welcoming and sweet. She got the director who was brusque and business-like and made me feel like I was somewhere in Manhattan, all strictness and no cameras. Silver Eye, though it is for all intents and purposes a gallery for photography and other tangential media forms, felt more like a museum. The works hanging on the walls, all by regional or Pennsylvania artists, were stunning images but the work felt so distant, a distance created, I think, by the atmosphere. The current slew of work is called the Pennsylvania Photography Biennial and it ends on August 27th.
Fireborn Studios is a homey little storefront tucked away on Sarah St. on the Southside. The first room is packed with brightly colored ceramics, vases, bowls, plates and jewelry, a mish-mash of practical containers with artistic flair. One of the owners and artists, Daniel Vito took me back into the studio and showed me the towering kilns and the array of student work set on tables waiting to be glazed. The space operates as a storefront to sell his and Donna Hetrick’s (resident artist) work but it he also teaches classes.
With the art market being what it is, which, as I mentioned before, is a totally foreign economy to me. Considering how much I make writing I’m going to make an educated guess and say that artists have it just as hard (if not harder). They need places to live and work, preferably in communities where they can be surrounded by like-minded teamwork. Blackbird Artist Studios is one of those places. The top floors contain gorgeous loft space for living while the bottom is studio rooms.
Jim Kupecz graciously showed me around his loft, made me some coffee, and told me stories about his work. His paintings were elementally zen, with strands of Buddhism threaded throughout the brightly colored, cartoon-cum-realism characters. Much like Shawn Roberts’ work, I just wanted to drop moola to have one of the pieces hang on my bedroom wall.
Future Tenant is situated on Penn Ave in the cultural district wedged between a parking garage and a pizza shop. I carried the case of IC Light Mango on the busy downtown street and entered into Future Tenant’s open doorway which was quiet and vacant except for the Director, Katy Peace. The current installation is artwork by Baltimore-based R.L. Tillman. It’s very much inspired by Warhol; stacks of boxes with repetitive labels sit strategically in stacks throughout the space. The exhibit runs until the Gallery Crawl on July 15th.
709 Gallery, also a part of the Cultural District was in some shambles when I entered, case of beer in tow. They are currently transitioning to a new solo exhibit which will feature the work of Stephanie Armbruster.
Her show is called “In Search of Something More,” and features a vibrant array of urban landscape inspired paintings that incorporate visual textures and a soft color palette. Stephanie’s eye for the beauty in urban decay is obvious throughout her 2D mixed media work. I’m most often at parties that involve big soundsystems and dancefloors, soirees that go til 5am and stuff, but I’m pretty stoked about Stephanie’s opening which will be the night of the Gallery Crawl on July 15.