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Society of Artists opens 'Sanctuary' exhibit at Panza Gallery in Millvale

| Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, 7:08 p.m.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Christopher O'Connell's 'Among the Currents' at the Sanctuary show at the Panza Art Gallery in Millvale Friday, October 4, 2013.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Janice Schuler's 'Mother: Her Automatic Arms' at the Sancturay show at the Panza Art Gallery in Millvale Friday, October 4, 2013.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
W. Korol Selley's 'Sunrise III' at the Sanctuary show at the Panza Art Gallery in Millvale Friday, October 4, 2013.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Paul Bolio's 'Apeiron' at the Sanctuary show at the Panza Art Gallery in Millvale.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Malia Bennett's 'Diwali (Inner Light)' at the Sanctuary show at the Panza Art Gallery in Millvale.

With more than 350 artist members living within a 150-mile radius of the city, the Pittsburgh Society of Artists, founded in 1965, has grown to become one of the largest visual art groups in our region. And its latest group exhibition effort, “Sanctuary,” on display at Panza Gallery in Millvale, proves that its membership boasts a lot of talent.

Juried by Carnegie Mellon University art professor Patricia Bellan-Gillen, the exhibit is diverse in media, with a paintings of all kinds, photographs of the digital and analog kind, and a variety of sculptural and mixed-media works.

Though the exhibiting members are from all over the region, the exhibit is close to home for Janice Schuler, who lives in Millvale. Her painting, “Mother: Her Automatic Arms,” is a real standout for its bright colors, rough texture and motherly figure depicted with massive, seemingly robotic, arms.

Schuler says the piece was inspired, in part, by Laurie Anderson's 1981 song “O Superman” from her album, “Big Science.”

She points to lyrics in the song, “...when love is gone, there is always justice, when justice is gone, there is always Mom ... Hi Mom ...” and “Mom, and her long arms ... her automatic arms.”

But Schuler takes this notion one step further. “This painting is a romantic, somewhat mythical view of Mother as omniscient — with the welcoming nod of her knowing, yet shadowy, head, hiding her identity and leaving only a general impression of who she is, rather than her role,” Schuler says. “I wanted her to possess unconditional love and be alert, waiting to embrace her wounded children seeking sanctuary.”

As far as painting goes in this exhibit, it falls squarely in the semi-abstract vein. That makes it all the more interesting, because it is flanked by realistic works such as “Sunrise III” by W. Korol Selley and solidly abstract works like “Among The Currents” by Christopher O'Connell.

Malia Bennett's ceramic sculpture “Diwali (Inner Light)” is one of the more unusual pieces of sculpture on display.

A ceramics and sculpture teacher at Trinity High School in Washington County, this Mt. Lebanon-based artist says she created her piece specifically for the “Sanctuary” exhibit.

“After reflecting on the theme of sanctuary, I felt it to be a state of being rather than a physical place,” Bennett says. “I often use buildings in my sculpture to represent the person and the ‘facade' that we project toward society. Most of my pieces are closed buildings with only small apertures that are not meant to be looked into.”

For “Sanctuary,” Bennett opened up the facade of the building, which is left rough and dark on the outside, to show golden light spilling out. “I gave it the name Diwali in honor of the Hindu festival of the same name that celebrates the inner light we all have,” Bennett says.

At least a third of the show is made up of photography, and many pieces combine images into single compositions. Such is the case with the piece “Apeiron” by Paul Bolio of Hopewell, Beaver County.

Combining images of a woman's face, a fish and street signs imposed over the facade of an abandoned building, Bolio says “Apeiron” is a “metaphorical representation of dreams as a perfect boundless sanctuary.”

“The blue door (in the facade) evokes the mind, where every substance of what dreams are made of emanate, while the lion-fish clearly ignores not only the preconceived idea of his natural element but also the human limitations and inherit boundaries represented as traffic signs,” Bolio says.

Finally, the show's host, gallery owner Mark Panza, also is a member and he has several pieces in the exhibit. Most unique among them is “In Golden Doorway,” a photo-based light-box sculpture that combines a multilayered photo image into a three-dimensional light box.

“This is one of my very latest works,” Panza says. “I've been exploring layering of images for some time, including buildings, nature and figures. All of which represent what I see as beauty.”

Blending this imagery is a way for Panza to explore all of these things. “I thought this particular piece lends to the idea of sanctuary very well,” Panza says. “I'm always exploring new and interesting ways of presenting my work, hence the light box.”

For an artist who owns and operates a frame shop above his basement gallery, Panza's new light-box format seems a perfect fit.

“It takes my woodworking and framing skills and combines my art/photography, and voila!”

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

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