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Associated Artists of Pittsburgh's annual exhibit shows off wide range of works

| Saturday, June 4, 2016, 8:45 p.m.
Gregory Smith's 'Double Arch'
Ivette Spradlin's 'Alisha'
Andrew W. Allison's 'Pool'
Corey Escoto's 'Big Break'
Carolyn Frischling's 'Appstraction'
Bob Ziller's 'William Blake'
Carole Stremple's 'I Got All My Sisters in Me'
Susan Kemenyffy's 'Wai Ting'
Travis Mitzel's 'Near a Deer Trail in Southwestern PA'
Kathleen Zimbicki's 'Pool Party'
Katie Murken's 'Continua'
Chuck Johnson's 'Rooster Stela'
Ryder Henry's 'Fairground #8' is part of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh’s 105th Annual Exhibition.

The Associated Artists of Pittsburgh's 105th Annual Exhibition, on display at the Carnegie Museum of Art, features work of the quality that locals have come to expect from this venerable arts organization that over the years has boasted such prominent members as Malcolm Parcell, Balcomb Greene, Andy Warhol and Philip Pearlstein.

Founded by a loose-knit group of artists in 1910 to foster a love of the fine arts, the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh is still an artist-run membership organization. In 1911, after its first exhibition in the lobby of the Grand Opera House, the group began to show annually at the Carnegie Museum of Art.

Each year, the organization invites artists living within 150 miles of the city to submit work for this survey exhibition. This year was no different in that regard, with 56 pieces by as many artists on display. The exhibit showcases the best art being made in the region at the moment.

You can't get much more cutting-edge than the work of Carolyn Frischling of Sewickley, who took her two-dimensional digital art into three dimensions, thanks to the help of Isaac Budmen of Syracuse, N.Y.

Her piece, “Appstraction,” was birthed in a drawing app on her smartphone. Budmen, who worked at the Digital Media Lab at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and wrote “The Book on 3-D Printing” (2013, Amazon Digital Services LLC), made it a three-dimensional reality.

“I wanted to make something enigmatic with 3-D printing,” Frischling says. “I was thinking about the physical, nonphysical, the spiritual and gender. If we could express our inner selves abstractly and concretely ... what would that look like?

“My collaborator, Isaac Budmen, ... is focused on post-digital, which, as he describes it, is ‘making the digital real,' and that's what we did here. We took a form that was born in the digital world and made it exist in ours.”

Another artist whose work vacillates between two and three dimensions is Ryder Henry of Lawrenceville. His painting, “Fairground #8,” is part of a panorama consisting of nine canvases.

“I was motivated to make the series after putting my model city in the Mattress Factory museum a couple years ago,” Henry says. “I had painted the city center many times, but since I no longer had my model at home to look at and paint pictures of, I thought I'd paint what lies beyond.”

In this painting, Henry's homogenous neighborhood expands out to the horizon.

“Everyone lives in the same 13-story brick building,” Henry says of his imaginary world. “Each building is surrounded by its own reservoir and cultivated greenspace. The streets are all one-way, alternating. No labels, so everyone keeps count to remember the way home.”

Though the exhibit is filled with paintings, drawings and other two-dimensional works, it's the sculptural works that are the real standouts.

“My sculpture is a host figure based on ancient ‘host figures' found in the Mexican city of Teotihuacan and believed to be Aztec,” says Carole Stremple, who keeps a studio in Middlesex Township in Butler County.

Those ancient host figures contain a varying number of small sculptures. “No one knows exactly what they mean,” Stremple says.

“My figure signifies fertility, nurturing and growth,” Stremple says. “Prehistoric art depicting women has represented fertility. The figures at the bottom of my piece are replicas of fertility figures. We have grown, however, and control our fertility, which the modern figure holding the fused-glass moon in her lap represents.”

More importantly, says Stremple, her work represents the notion that “all women are connected back through time to all the women who have gone before us.

“We stand on each (other's) shoulders and indeed have all our sisters in us, hence the title, ‘I Got All My Sisters in Me,' ” Stremple says.

The sculptural installation “Continua,” by Katie Murken of Economy Borough, got a lot of attention during the opening reception for the exhibit. Originally created in 2011 when Murken lived and worked in Philadelphia, it is made entirely of Philadelphia phone books, which the artist has stacked into columns and painted a rainbow of colors.

“Continua is a process-driven piece that started with an interest in books and their relationship to time,” Murken says. “I love how the individual pages are like moments in time that layer and accumulate when the book is bound and placed on a bookshelf.

“I noticed a similar phenomenon with the color spectrum, which consists of individual colors that merge together to create a continuum,' Murken says. “Phone books became an accessible material to explore this relationship between pages, color and time. Using the basics of color theory combined with chance operations, I created an algorithm to systematically dye and organize 900 phone books into stacks.”

The effect is sensory, yet conceptual; it snaps you into the present moment while evoking deeper ideas about time, infinity and collective memory.

Among the few photographic works on display, “Big Break” by Shadyside artist Corey Escoto is by far the most unusual.

Escoto says the piece is from a series of multiple-exposure 8-inch by 10-inch Polaroid photographs that take common Hollywood film tropes as their subject matter and simultaneously refer to recent political events, which, he says, “sort of highlights the cyclical nature of how cinema and media influence culture and current events and vice versa.”

In this specific work, the text brings to mind the idea of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, while the image of a skyscraper tilted horizontally conjures the falling of the World Trade Center towers.

Of course, there are many more works to investigate further, more than could possibly be covered here, making this exhibit all the more worth seeing.

Kurt Shaw is the Tribune-Review art critic. Reach him at

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