Art Review: 'Seven Degrees of 7' at Brew House gallery showcases residents' works

Kurt Shaw
| Wednesday, July 3, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Now in its seventh year, the Brew House Association's Distillery Program is a six-month residency program for artists wanting to make the transition from academically trained to professionally bound.

This year, the participating artists included Alexis Roberto, Cara Livorio, Crystala Armagost, Josh Mitchel, Elizabeth Brophy, Kate Hansen and Terrence M. Boyd. And now, each is represented in the culminating exhibit “Seven Degrees of 7,” currently on display at the Brew House Space 101 Gallery.

As tidy an exhibit as can be expected with as many artists, it showcases diverse interests and directions. All seven of the artists shared a studio space in a loft high above the gallery for six months. The resultant works are, at least, respectively cohesive and, at best, developed to the point of solid communication.

For example, after receiving a bachelor of fine arts in drawing, painting and art history from Penn State University, Livorio studied curatorship in Milan, and lived in Italy for three years studying, teaching art and art history, and painting murals.

She lives in New Kensington and is employed at the Andy Warhol Museum as an artist educator, works on freelance art commissions, teaches Italian and works on her art in her home studio.

“I really enjoyed my time in the Brew House residency with the other artists since January, and I'm very pleased with the results and experience,” she says.

A painter in the classical sense, Livorio creates figurative paintings that are all about light and color and its power to transform everyday reality into something “more special,” she says.

In paintings such as “Afternoon Light” and “Red Head, Blue Jeans,” the palette is palpable and the sense of light, real.

“I like to highlight small moments by using my love for color to describe the light nuances and forms in my work,” Livorio says. “I like there to be physicality to the color and paint that brings the experience of that moment back to life.”

Also a painter, Mitchel, who studied art at Indiana University of Pennsylvania more than a decade ago, had lived in San Diego for all of that time, recently returning to live in Point Breeze and partake in the program before moving in the fall to work on a masters in fine art in painting at Edinboro University.

Two of his paintings of unmade beds from his “Saturday Afternoon” series take center stage in this exhibit. Admitting to a fascination for “the robustness of fabric and drapery,” he says “it displays as the materials undulate like a landscape.

“For me, these works serve to articulate a range of experiences,” Mitchel says. “I'm not sure if they are snapshots in time or the simple expression of a memory captured in fabric. The series has been created to move from simple to complex and inviting to apprehensive and tense.”

Video art was the medium of choice for Kate Hansen, a multidisciplinary artist who lives in Squirrel Hill. Holding an undergraduate degree in studio art from Pitt and a graduate degree from Carnegie Mellon University in arts management, she works as a project manager at the Office of Public Art for the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.

Her piece for the Brew House show titled “Contemporary Captivity Narratives” makes reference to the literary genre of the “captivity narrative,” or stories of people captured by enemies whom they generally consider uncivilized.

In this piece, Hansen has chosen to restage three contemporary crimes where women were held against their will — the kidnapping and murder of Polly Klaas, a girl who was taken in the early '90s from her family's home; the Fritzl case, where a man in Austria captured his own daughter and imprisoned her in a dungeon under his home, fathering multiple children with her over the next 24 years; and the more recent case in Cleveland, where three women were held captive by a man, Ariel Castro, and recently escaped.

Each is animated in a “machinima” style, which is, generally speaking, video art made using video games.

“These three stories lack the redemptive qualities of earlier captivity narratives, and I'd chosen to represent them in an unbiased way,” Hansen says. “I've used a computer game to exert a level of distance between the story and the viewer, but the game chosen (‘Sims 3') still has a level of familiarity and humanism that is relatable.”

The videos have a dollhouse quality, which make them seem at first glance rather saccharine and innocuous, until you grasp the sometimes violently animated action and content. Though in each, the narratives are sort of fractured, this, no doubt, adds to the creation of tension, making them extremely compelling.

Printmaking was the focus of Armogast, who completed a bachelor of fine arts with a focus on printmaking and sculpture at Carnegie Mellon in 2003. She displays several prints produced during the residency that relate to Pittsburgh's industrial past, as well as the piece “The Element Memory No. 4.”

With the help of iron-based ink and an application of patina, which allows the prints to rust, they are a real standout, even though a few are sandwiched between the other works on display.

Most unusual among them, the elephant print is based on a photo that Armogast took of an old playground sculpture that she frequently visited in Homestead.

“Someone spray-painted its eye until the paint ran into a tear,” Armogast says in explanation as to why the elephant in the print appears to be crying. “I found out after years of visiting this elephant, from reading ‘A Town Without Steel,' that he actually faces a stone wall filled with dirt that used to be a fountain filled with goldfish. The elephant became all the more tragic for me. I couldn't help but relate the idea of elephants having incredible capacity for memory with the idea that the elephant is mourning the loss of the goldfish in the park.”

Works by Boyd, Brophy and Roberto complete the show, making for a well-rounded exhibit that is the culmination of a lot of hard work and cross-pollination. Thus proving that each of these artists is ready for the next phase of their respective careers.

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

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