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Sewickley artist takes to iPad to create own brand of art

| Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, 8:57 p.m.
'GPATCH1' by Gregg Liberi
'GPATCH1' by Gregg Liberi
'HES6' by Gregg Liberi
'HES6' by Gregg Liberi
'PLIN5' by Gregg Liberi
'PLIN5' by Gregg Liberi
'MTF1' by Gregg Liberi
'MTF1' by Gregg Liberi
Randy Rastetter and Nick Fejka check out Gregg Liberi's exhibit at 707 Penn Gallery, Downtown.
Credit: 707 Penn Gallery
Randy Rastetter and Nick Fejka check out Gregg Liberi's exhibit at 707 Penn Gallery, Downtown. Credit: 707 Penn Gallery

Ever since they were introduced a few short years ago, iPads and even iPhones have become a popular way for people to combine their real life with cyberspace while on the go. And, for artist Gregg Liberi of Sewickley, they have become virtual studios for creating art all unto itself.

Now, 642 drawings created by Liberi over the past three years are on display in the exhibit “Gregg Liberi: Digit(al) Art” at 707 Penn Gallery, Downtown. That's right, you read correctly — 642! Not all at once, mind you, but available to the touch, on two iPads arranged back to back in the center of the gallery, as well as in a slide show off to one corner.

The slideshow features 150 of Liberi's earliest iPad drawings, but does not include gene names in the images as it does on the rest of the drawings, which all contain gene names.

“After each drawing, I navigate to a gene database and do a word search based on free association of thoughts that I had during the drawing process,” Liberi says. “When I find one that feels right, I place the gene name in the image.”

The drawings are inspired by both the centuries-old tradition of detailed scientific botanical drawings and the elaborate cellular intricacies of contemporary biology and gene research.

“Formally, this is probably why much of my work has a vignette quality of something that is isolated, as if it is being studied as in botanical or scientific anatomical drawings or images of cells under a microscope,” Liberi says.

Beneath the two iPads, which are mounted chest-high on stands for easy access, the floor is covered in an oval-shaped image made from red river rock and lava stone. Liberi says the shape is loosely based on the dorsal view of the human brain, with the left and right hemispheres separated to make the path for viewers to approach the iPads.

Aside from the light glowing from the iPads, the gallery is dark with subtle light cast from spotlights arranged above that bathe the stone shape on the floor in soft light, visually creating a vignette that relates to the iPad drawings.

The drawings are accompanied by a soundtrack that includes audio vignettes of children playing at a beach, a distant thunderstorm, airplanes taking off and landing, a secluded brook, bird song, and the sound of glass shattering in flames. It climaxes with a portion of the aria “Ombra Mai Fu” from George Frideric Handel's opera “Xerxes,” performed by Germany's experimental musical group DigiEnsemble Berlin, entirely on smartphones and tablets.

“I wanted a classical piece for the soundtrack because I liked the idea of associating a newer technology artwork to a creative work that is firmly rooted in an historically classical tradition,” Liberi says. “I liked this particular piece because it expresses a simple and profound appreciation for the shade that a tree provides and that no harm should come to this tree. To me, it's a vignette of a person and an object and a study of their interaction.”

A creative director with U.S. Steel, Liberi says that, when he first got an iPhone in 2009, he wondered if I could draw on it.

“After a search on the app store, I found the apps Brushes and Sketchbook Pro,” he says. “The touchscreen made the difference in the process, and I began drawing daily on the iPhone and posting the drawings online.”

Since then he says, “I have not stopped.”

Liberi is prolific, producing at least one drawing per day, which uses the previous day's image as its starting point. In fact, this reviewer has watched the artist's continual development of these drawings through Facebook almost every day since he began drawing this way, making it possible to view the work on a computer, or even on a phone, in much the same way as you would see it here in the gallery.

When the iPad came out, Liberi says he switched to the larger format and his drawings became more detailed, resembling more closely the kind of drawings he created before going to a completely digital format.

“The portability and accessibility of drawing on digital devices has allowed me to continue to make art wherever I am and however busy, as long as I have my iPad — and that's pretty much all of the time.”

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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