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Variety spices up Associated Artists' '102nd Annual Exhibition' at Carnegie

| Saturday, May 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Associated Artists of Pittsburgh
Ken Merget's 'Dance Role,' paint on canvas
David Montano's 'Portrait of the Artist’s Bedroom with Walls Stripped Bare,' book and postcard
Associated Artists of Pittsburgh
Chuck Johnson's 'Doll,' ceramics
Associated Artists of Pittsburgh
Untitled work by Scott Hunter, oil on canvas
Associated Artists of Pittsburgh
Stephen Hankin's 'Cellist and Dress Shop Mannequins,' Tel Aviv, oil on linen
Associated Artists of Pittsburgh
Erika Osborne's 'Homage to Converse Basin, Charcoal on Grapestakes'
Associated Artists of Pittsburgh
Lenore Thomas's 'By The Way This Place Is A Creephole' (#2), acrylic, graphite, intaglio

The Associated Artists of Pittsburgh's “102nd Annual Exhibition,” on display at Carnegie Museum of Art, is one of the smallest in recent years, but it doesn't disappoint.

The exhibit was juried by David Norr, chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, who chose 65 works by 43 artists from more than 500 entries submitted by artists living within 150 miles of Pittsburgh.

“I chose to focus my selections on artworks and artists that appeared less familiar, even novel, to the organization and to exhibitions past,” writes Norr in his statement printed in the small catalog that accompanies the exhibit.

Even so, a variety of mediums and modes of expression are represented. For example, two tall ceramic sculptures by Chuck Johnson of Venango, Crawford County, who teaches ceramics at Edinboro University, take up the center of the first gallery, creating a narrative all their own through the use of imagery that has metaphorical possibilities.

“This work is part of an ongoing series that references ideas of social mobility, institutionalized religion, cultural conflict and, especially, our declining environment,” Johnson writes in an email.

“I combine these broad concepts with my more formal interest in three-dimensional forms including Gothic architecture, industrial objects, wheeled toys and endangered animals.”

Abstract works abound, such as “Darkness Creeps In,” a geometric abstract photograph by William D. Wade of Lawrenceville, and “By The Way This Place Is A Creephole (#2),” a mixed-media piece by Lenore Thomas, a University of Pittsburgh assistant art professor from Edgewood.

Thomas says she created her piece based on the landscapes around Rochester, N.Y. “In general, I am intrigued by landscapes that have an ambiguous sense of space, scale, distance and depth,” she says. This piece has all of those qualities.

An untitled abstract oil painting by Scott Hunter of Bethel Park is a standout.

“The color palette of the painting grew from a few pieces that came before it, but slowly separated itself through the process of refining, editing and experimenting with the paint,” Hunter says of this 48th in a series of abstract paintings. “Within the blues, greens and yellows, I see a certain tenuous balance and a bit of an edge. I like to think of it as a painting that reflects a successful journey, successful because of the risks taken.”

Most intriguing is “Dance Role,” a painting by Hopewell, Beaver County, artist Ken Merget that was inspired by a Henri Matisse painting titled “Dance.”

“If you trace an outline of his models' hands that are joined, you get a close resemblance of a foot,” Merget says in regard to the Matisse work. “My current structure for painting is using leaves. The mayapples in (‘Dance Role') are smiling as they dance.”

Another work by Merget, “For Tune,” is inspired by British op-art painter Bridget Riley. Incorporating silhouettes of leaves and images of cattails, it is one of 70 leaf-inspired paintings completed by Merget over the past five years.

Another nature-inspired work is “Homage to Converse Basin” by Erika Osborne of Morgantown, W.Va. Basically a charcoal drawing of a tree trunk on wood fencing made from grape vineyard stakes, the work is about the deforestation of the Giant Sequoia forests in northern California.

“The title, ‘Homage to Converse Basin,' is meant to honor the largest of (Giant Sequoia) trees that were found in a swath of forest called Converse Basin. Currently only about six of the thousands of the old-growth trees remain in this area,” says Osborne, who worked on the drawing after visiting the Laboratory of Tree Ring Research in Tucson, Ariz. Osborne says that during the late 1800s, most of the Giant Sequoia, the world's largest trees, were felled.

“Giant Sequoia that were chopped down during this era were used for such insignificant things as grape (vineyard) stakes, match sticks and fence posts,” Osborne says. “My piece in the show is a commentary on this.”

Other, more realist-based works, such as Point Breeze-based artist Stephen Hankin's painting “Cellist and Dress Shop Mannequins,” which features a female street musician playing the cello in front of a dress-shop window in Tel Aviv, and two collages of interiors made from old books by David Montano of Stanton Heights round out the show. But there are plenty more pieces to see in a tidy but exciting annual exhibit that is not to be missed.

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

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