Associated Artists show more vision in new exhibit

Kurt Shaw
| Saturday, June 1, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

If you've had a chance to see the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh's 102nd Annual Exhibition on display now through June 23 at Carnegie Museum of Art and liked it, then you may want to stop by the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts in Shadyside to see more work by that group's members.

Curators Adam Welch and Stacy Weiss selected works by 30 members of Associated Artists for the exhibit “30:2.” And as visitors will see, this exhibit rivals the one on display at the Carnegie.

Take, for example, the series “What I Did Last Summer” by Steven Sherrill of Hollidaysburg, Blair County. Seven oil paintings of 60 the artist has completed so far, each has a self-contained narrative aspect that begs the viewer to complete the story. And the stories may be pretty wild, considering many feature middle-age women in their underwear in absurd family situations. Far from sexy, they are more fun and funny than anything else.

“I prefer to let my inner juvenile delinquent run the show,” says the self-taught artist, who also happens to be a novelist. “I am a novelist, first and foremost. Most of my public ‘success' has been through words. I go to my painting studio in part as an escape from pressured creative work.”

That explains why Sherrill likes the narrative format.

“I see the potential for ‘story' everywhere,” Sherrill says. “In my paintings, I don't go beyond the implied or suggested story. My deep pleasure in making these paintings comes from composing the image, then coloring.”

“Pageant” by Travis K. Schwab of Murrysville also has that narrative quality. A larger-than-life portrait of a boy, it's rather arresting for the mere fact that it looks as if the boy's face has literally been wiped off the canvas.

“The painting is based from a photograph of myself during a pageant in elementary school when I was around 10 years old,” Schwab says. “The idea of this painting is about how a person's ideas and worldviews change as you grow from childhood to adulthood.”

Schwab says he initially created the painting as a literal portrait, but upon realizing it looked too much like a portrait, which was something he thought he should avoid with this particular piece, he says, “I then ‘erased' a portion of the face, which, I think, made it look more psychological and more interesting with my initial objective. However, I wanted to keep the mouth because I felt it needed some hint of expression.”

The result is a rather eerie image that speaks about changes in life that we all undertake, whether the result of conscious decisions or not.

“Change isn't just physical, but can be psychological, as well,” Schwab says. “So much so that a person is mentally unrecognizable from the person they once were because of their development over time. It also has some allusion of being in the role of a child — having little responsibility, pleasing authority and having adults make choices for you, like dressing up for school pageants.”

“Sundown and Shadowing” by Deanna Mance addresses another change in life, especially as it relates to elder years.

Mance, who recently moved to Chicago to pursue work as a teaching artist and to facilitate activities with seniors who have middle to late stages of dementia and Alzheimer's, was living in Pittsburgh's Polish Hill prior to leaving town.

In the past year, she has been working and creating art with seniors who have dementia. “It has had a deep affect on my day-to-day life, creativity and outlook,” she says.

To that end, she created a mural in several spots throughout the show that relate to the mind and the body's profound connection to light and time, a cause-and-effect phenomenon widely known as “sundowning.”

“The chaotic and impulsive affects of sundowning become a challenging part of my day where patience is most required,” Mance says. “Creatively, I became interested in the concept of manifesting an abstract documentation of the resident's change in mood, cognition and creativity during sundowning.”

Using freehand drawing techniques, Mance wanted to create something similar to a representative graph, documenting the highs and lows of the resident's mood throughout the day and to depict the struggle and dominating forces of dementia.

“In whole, this mural became an abstract record of my meditation on this syndrome and the residents that I have worked with,” she says.

Not so much emotional or psychological, but certainly evocative, “Broken Glass” by Wade Kramm of Shadyside is sure to get the visitor's attention for its mere ingenuity. A trompe l'oeil piece in its truest sense, the piece looks at first glance like exactly what the title implies — a piece of broken glass on a white wall. But upon closer inspection, the entire thing is an illusion made from Scotch tape strung between a few strategically placed nails.

“A primary theme in my work is the reification of space,” Kramm says of the concept of treating the abstract as if it had physical form. “I manipulate negative space through the careful arrangement and accumulation of objects to make palpable that which is usually unseen and taken for granted as empty.”

A few years ago, Kramm created a piece called “Dotted Line” for the scissors part of an exhibit titled “Rock Paper Scissors” at Fe gallery. In the show, he suspended wooden “dots” from the ceiling with monofilament to delineate an invisible spatial plane that cut across the width of the gallery. More recently, he taped dots along the corner of the Panza Gallery to create a “Dotted Gallery Space” for an exhibit there.

Both were ingenious interpretations of space in this reviewer's opinion. But this piece is just plain genius — a must see!

“Ipanema Mutation” by Tom Estlack of Bethel Park is the only video piece in the show, but it's a piece that will likely get the visitor's attention. A continuously looped video, it documents a studio recording of Estlack playing his version of “The Girl From Ipanema,” but in four frames simultaneously.

Other aspects of Latin jazz are incorporated into this version, which is why Estlack gave it the name “Ipanema Mutation.” While the video is analytical and raw, Estlack says, “I think the musical and video elements contrast with each other in that the music is very emotionally expressive.

“The relationship of image and sound is very important in my work,” Estlack says. “In this piece, the viewer might be able to cognitively separate or merge the visual material and the musical elements, which are often irreconcilable.”

Finally, it would be remiss not to mention the work of the late Jane Haskell of Oakland, who died May 28. Her piece “Fire and Ice,” which replicates both elements in the title via neon tubes, glass and Plexiglas, showcase the talent she had for saying a lot with an economy of means. She will be missed.

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

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