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Painter, artist, teacher: Crystal Latimer wears many hats

| Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Artist Crystal Latimer works on smaller pieces in her collection.
Submitted
Artist Crystal Latimer works on smaller pieces in her collection.
'They Crave Gold Like Hungry Swine' by Crystal Latimer
Submitted
'They Crave Gold Like Hungry Swine' by Crystal Latimer
'Jaco' by Crystal Latimer
Submitted
'Jaco' by Crystal Latimer

Crystal Latimer is an artist who is decidedly grateful.

“I'm mostly proud that I'm actually doing it, living the life and career that I set out to. I think there is a lot to be said about that,” says Latimer, 28, who teaches an introduction to drawing course at Penn State, New Kensington, and painting classes at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. She appreciates that pursuing art as a career is difficult, and only for the most tenacious in their practice.

As she launches a month-long exhibit of her abstract art Oct. 2-29 at Penn State, New Kensington, she says she feels “so thankful and encouraged” that her work has been so well received by the Pittsburgh community.

“It is through their support that I am able to keep doing what I love,” she adds. “There's no job guarantees in the art field, so I'm proud of every opportunity that comes my way.”

The Ellwood city resident's opportunities have been impressive, including being part of an exhibit through the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust at Pittsburgh International Airport that also showcased her in a brochure with the late Andy Warhol and other artists.

Her international experience includes a group exhibit in Hong Kong and an artist residency and show in Costa Rica.

She was selected for an Emerging Artist Award at Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Arts Festival in 2016, where she received a Juror's Choice Award. Her work is included in private collections in addition to the public collections of Indiana University of Pennsylvania and PNC Bank. Next summer she will exhibit in Chautauqua, N.Y.

“I am very surprised to see where art has taken me. Not only have I achieved things that I didn't think possible 10 years ago, but my artistic journey has completely transformed and helped shape my everyday life,” Latimer says. “One of the most rewarding things about my artistic journey is how close I've become with my family and culture in Costa Rica. It is because of my art practice that I have been able to re-discover and reconnect to this part of my heritage. Among everything else, this has been most gratifying.”

She is excited about her Penn State show, which offers a collection of pieces created from 2015 to as recently as September of this year.

The work is centered on her exploration of and commentary on the Westernization of Latin America. “This concept is informed by my Costa Rican-American background and the time that I've spent in Costa Rica as a child and an adult,” she explains. “This comes out in the paintings in both formal and more conceptual ways.”

Chris McGinnis, founding director and chief curator at Rivers of Steel Arts, Pittsburgh, and her former mentor when he taught at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is impressed with Latimer's authenticity and clear passion to tell this story.

“Crystal is an artist who draws a great deal of inspiration from her personal experience as both Latina and American, subject matter that is no doubt forefront in the minds of many people these days,” he says. “But her work is not preachy, as it easily could be given the content. Instead she uses the beauty of pastel colors, intricate patterns and abstract design to cast an illusion of superficiality over the viewer, drawing them in to discover the rich content and layered historical influences behind her work. “

As a teacher, McGinnis adds, he was able to recognize her passion and dedication early on.

“One of Crystal's greatest strengths lies in the ability to successfully embed complex socio-cultural subject matter within strikingly beautiful designs and otherwise attractive imagery,” he says. In this way her work operates successfully both in terms of its salability and its dedication to the content and ideas that drive her as an artist. This is something I admire a great deal and is not an easy balance for artists to strike.”

Latimer says in no way does she expect a viewer to grasp everything that she has put into a painting. “People will insert their own beliefs and experiences into an art piece, and I am thankful enough to just give them a template to do that,” she says. “I only hope that it fascinates them enough to give them a pause in their day and think more abstractly for a moment.”

She is a great artist who informs her work with a rich, visual dialogue, says Tina Sluss, coordinator of the Penn State gallery.

“Crystal has been an important part of our campus and I am excited that she is sharing with the campus and community her story, in her words, of a vibrant and almost mystical culture,” she adds.

Latimer also wants to celebrate her students in this exhibit, and is devoting a wall of the gallery to some of the works created by her drawing class. “I am constantly inspired when seeing what my students create,” she says.

Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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