'Pop-Up Exhibition' goes on display at museum's temporary Unity location

Kurt Shaw
| Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 7:17 p.m.

While the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg is closed for a two-year expansion project, its cultural contribution to the Greensburg area goes on undaunted at Westmoreland @rt 30, a new temporary location for the museum's staff and holdings in the former Stickley, Audi & Co. furniture store in Unity.

There, not only will visitors find a good portion of the museum's permanent collection on display on the second floor of the building, but on the first floor of the building, the first of many pop-up art exhibits is on display. There are other pop-up exhibits planned through spring 2015, when the expansion and renovation of the Main Street building should be complete.

One of the first pieces visitors will likely come to is a 4-foot-high, 30-foot-long maze by Pittsburgh cartoonist Joe Wos, which the artist hopes will make it into Guinness World Records.

The hand-drawn maze, whose presenting sponsor is Pittsburgh-based video-game company Schell Games, features intricate cartoon illustrations of a random mix of comical characters, from a hippo on a bicycle, to Starkist's iconic character Charlie the Tuna. Starkist is one of several sponsors who stepped up to support the project, as well as Guardian Self-Storage and KDKA TV.

Locals may recognize Wos, a freelance cartoonist and storyteller, as the founder and executive director of the ToonSeum, Pittsburgh's museum of comic and cartoon art.

According to Wos, the maze has more than 1,000 dead-ends, and the solution alone stretches “almost a mile.”

So far, only a few visitors have attempted to complete the maze, by drawing with marker on an acetate overlay; no one has succeeded.

The “Pop-Up Exhibition” also features the works of artists Brian McCall and Ryan Taylor, whose whimsical works complement Wos' cartoon maze nicely.

McCall grew up in California, where he received his art degree from the California College of Arts and Crafts, now the California College of Arts. Now a Greensburg resident, he is an illustrator, animator and sculptor whose work many locals may know from seeing it in businesses throughout the Greensburg area, such as the former Red Star Brewery & Grille.

And like those sculptures, many here feature the same sardonic sense of humor the artist has come to be known for. For example, in “John Roberts and the Supremes,” McCall takes aim at the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, depicting caricature busts of each justice holding yo-yos, surrounding Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

A wall-mounted piece, it's one of the most three-dimensional pieces in the show, as opposed to a great number of works that combine allegorical drawings with written words and sculptural elements attached to the borders, all painstakingly crafted from Styrofoam and papier-mâché.

“The drawings are an attempt at humor and murder,” McCall says. “I frantically work at getting lines and color on the paper, and then I destroy and erase and redraw or scribble, destroy it over and over until what's left begins to catch my interest.

“Then, I try to bring out the ghost I see in the paper,” he says. “It's an effort at defeating cleverness and not contriving or composing the drawing from beginning to end. In other words, it's my best effort at letting the unconscious rule.”

Conversely, McCall says the sculptures are “totally contrived.”

“I know exactly what I want and render it,” he says. “I enjoy the sculpture because it seems easy to me. No pretending to be arty, just enjoying making a car or monster or whatever.”

Ryan Taylor's drawings and paintings, which are interspersed among McCall's pieces, have a similar energy.

Taylor earned his bachelor of science degree in graphic design from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. A country boy who now makes his home in Pittsburgh, he is a fixture on Pittsburgh's urban-arts scene. He has exhibited in Art All Night, Lawrenceville, as well as contributed to the exhibition “1968: The Year That Rocked America,” at the Senator John Heinz History Center in the Strip District.

This is Taylor's largest exhibit to date. The show includes 42 works completed in the last year, “most of which in the month prior to the show because I am a terrible procrastinator and a binge painter,” he says.

“It would have been 50, but as life goes, my basement bedroom-studio flooded a week before the show, and I lost a few to the Allegheny sewer system.”

The earliest work in the exhibit is “Street Hounds,” which features a young girl standing behind a rabid dog. A mixed-media piece, it was created with spray paint, acrylic, watercolor, ink and colored pencil.

Like a lot of the works in this show by Taylor, it's self-reflexive.

“The title and subject matter of the piece were derived from my time spent in some of the seedier areas of Pittsburgh, and the monsters I met there,” he says.

“Salon Dreams,” the largest painting of the show, also attempts to tackle a self-reflexive topic, self-image.

“As humans, we worry about the way people view us, so much that it stifles movement and our decisions can often constrain ourselves to seats amongst chaos, becoming uglier by the second,” Taylor says.

Another mixed-media piece, it is made up of latex house paint, spray paint, watercolor, pastel, oil, colored pencil, coffee and ink.

The remainder of Taylor's works combine a multitude of media with equal parts street knowledge and sarcasm, making for a good complement to McCall's pieces, which have their own gritty sense of humor mixed with social commentary.

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

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