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Exhibits take visitors to extremes at 707 and 709 Penn Galleries

| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
'Punk' by artist Mr. Glaubitz is part of the Cast of Characters show at 709 Gallery, Downtown.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Argyleman, Rawhide Kid, Bobbleman and Fantastic Four hand knit acrylic and buttons by Mark Newport is part of the Cast of Characters show at 709 Gallery, Downtown.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
'Jeff Ramone' by artist Jeff Schwarz is part of the Cast of Characters show at 709 Gallery, Downtown.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
'Plasma Bright' by artist FriendsWithYou is part of the Cast of Characters show at 709 Gallery, Downtown.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Adult Arcade New Works By: Marc Burgess at 707 Penn Avenue, Downtown.

Two very different art exhibits, side by side in two Pittsburgh Cultural Trust galleries Downtown, offer moments of contemplation and comic relief.

“Adult Arcade,” on display at 707 Penn Gallery, is an installation by Marc Burgess, an artist and art installer for the Trust's Wood Street Galleries. In it, visitors are submerged in a darkened gallery that is filled with Burgess' paintings, which are lit only by the glow of red lasers that are focused on a tower of white box-like constructions in the center of the gallery.

Burgess says the installation, which is accompanied by a futuristic soundscape, developed in his mind and on sketches for about a year before he was able to put all the pieces together.

“My installation is basically another three-dimensional extension of my paintings and or drawings,” says Burgess, whose goal was to combine the mediums he was interested in.

“I'm an electrician, so my pursuit of imaginative lighting has been a staple in my art for years, based on a background from my father, William Burgess, and his 30-plus-year company as Burgess Electric,” Burgess says. “This is one factor that has allowed me to learn about the electrical field and start experimenting with my own artistic ideas.”

That explains the lasers.

“I use them all the time in my work,” he says. “Initially, I had an interest in how the laser crosses a white surface and reveals the shape of any object, almost (like) being scanned by a robot in our ongoing futuristic world.”

The piece does take on an entirely futuristic feel, even in the paintings, which look like aerial views of abstracted lunar landscapes.

“Painting is always a must,” Burgess says. “I feel like it was the most relaxing part of my installation and is a way for me to manage a large-scale scene, mixing organic and geometric environments.”

Burgess says he felt like a “mad scientist” while creating his installation, playing with motors, lasers, soldering irons, audio equipment, electronics, etc. “I love to build, design and create in general, so, this type of installation is truly exciting but rewarding to me to see my creations come alive, Frankenstein-style.”

Next door, at 709 Penn Gallery, curators Vicky Clark and Cindy Lisica brought together six very different artists with the exhibit “Cast of Characters.” The artists were selected because they use and explore characters or character identity in their work.

“Each artist added another dimension, and, once assembled, the artworks in the show really spoke to one another,” Lisica says. “As a group, there seems to be an active dialogue and a playful energy.”

The exhibit is colorful, fun and sensory, while also profound, and sometimes serious and contemplative. And, even though it is on display in a small space, it includes paintings, illustrations, photographs, ceramics, animation, and even knitted and inflatable sculptures.

Visitors will likely be drawn in by the four life-size macramé superhero suits created by Mark Newport of Detroit. Pinned to the back wall, they look like a superhero line-up of the most unlikely heroes, including “Argyleman,” “Rawhide Kid” and “Bobbleman.”

The center of the gallery is filled with several ceramic busts by Jeff Schwarz, a former Pittsburgher who maintains a studio in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn.

Since moving to Brooklyn two years ago, Schwarz says his work has been significantly influenced by New York City.

“I have always been interested in people, their behaviors and their interactions between each other,” Schwarz says. “These figures and the one drawing in the exhibition is a reflection of the people that I have interacted with either for an extended period of time or a brief moment on the street or subway.”

However, instead of trying to imitate a likeness of these individuals Schwarz uses his own likeness and incorporates some of each person's attributes. “As a fusion, personal qualities enter,” Schwarz says. “It's entertaining to me, melding my quirks and others into a series of pieces.”

For example, in “Good Tooth” Schwarz took the qualities of a beloved older woman he knows from his neighborhood and fused them with his own image. In “Jeff Ramone,” his love of punk rock, fashion and graffiti becomes personal and anonymous.

“The surfaces of the work are directly influenced by graffiti,” Schwarz says. “It is part of my life all of the time and made sense to incorporate it directly onto the pieces.”

Other works — like the puzzle-faced “Plasma Bright” by the Los Angeles-based art duo “FriendsWithYou” (Samuel Borkson and Arturo Sandoval III) and starry-eyed “Punk” portrait by a Tijuana artist who goes by the name Mr. Glaubitz — make up the rest of an exhibit that is sure to bring smiles to the faces of visitors who will no doubt be drawn into the gallery by the fun and funky works on display.

Both exhibits will be open until 9 p.m. April 26 during the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's quarterly Gallery Crawl, which is free and open to the public beginning at all Downtown galleries at 5:30 p.m.

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

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