Point Park exhibit showcases 'Dance' paintings

Kurt Shaw
| Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, 7:47 p.m.

Just outside one of Point Park University's dance studios is the most amazing and apropos art exhibit.

“Dance,” a solo art exhibit documenting and portraying the beauty and passion of dance through the performing arts program at Point Park, is the result of a year-and-a-half exploration in paint by Crafton artist Joyce Werwie Perry.

Perry spent countless hours drawing, videotaping and photographing students in the studio and in live performances. Then, she transcribed what she saw in thick oil paint on canvas, manipulated with palette knives.

“I have such a wealth of material, I could do another show,” she says, while standing in the gallery, surrounded by the two dozen works on display.

Some of the paintings, such as “Ballerina With Piano” and “Dancers Iin Wax III,” are clear, concentrated studies of students in rehearsal. Others, like “Lifts” and “Dancers on Stage I,” show them performing in front of live audiences.

And though many of the paintings are more realistic portrayals of their subjects, several are more abstract, evoking a sense of movement that overwhelms any semblance of realism.

Even so, Perry says the night of the exhibit's opening, many of the students could still recognize themselves in the swaths of thick oil paint. “Even when you can't really see exactly who they are in some of them, they recognized themselves, the part that they played or the dance that they performed,” she says.

All of the works, except for a few small studies in encaustic wax, were done in Perry's signature impasto style, which she has been perfecting over the past 12 years.

“Every painting is different. I don't plan it out that way. It's just about how and what I want to project in each piece,” she says. “It's the feeling I have about the subject that determines the way the painting turns out. Some are more realistic, and others aren't.”

Perry says many of the class studies are more realistic because, “It was a quiet, more focused and concentrated environment, and I sensed that from the dancers.”

“Ballerina With Piano” is just that, a more focused and concentrated study. It features a single dancer in profile, en pointe, arms raised and framed against a wall of windows that feature an urban backdrop gridded off in subtle squares of violet and blue.

It stands in stark contrast to the much more agitated works on display, like “Four Dancers,” which hangs opposite.

In this piece, Perry says the figures are “all torn up and ripped apart” in an effort to capture their intense movements. It appears as if the four dancers are actually two, a couple depicted from two different angles, from above and to the side, as if moving through space.

“Onstage, the movement and passion of how freely they danced after they studied their craft is what I tried to portray,” Perry says.

As for the “ripping apart” of the figures, she explains: “I paint things then I go through them with a knife and just obliterate it. Originally, this painting was a lot more realistic. There was a lot more paint and detail and everything, but I just went through it and ripped into it, pushed the background into it, and just destroyed it, really. And then I came up with whole new lines of color, and really got what I wanted out of it.”

Still, as much as the painting depicts movement, it also holds its own as a purely abstract composition. “You can look at it and see something in space and, at the same time, see flat abstraction, which is what I am trying to do,” Perry says.

Motion is captured again in both “Stay” and “Dancers in Motion,” but, here, in a way that evokes real time, or, perhaps more specifically, the slowing down of real time.

That's not without good reason, Perry says, because both paintings were based on photographs. “The images I used were taken with a camera, and it blurred in the camera because they were moving so fast. I wasn't permitted to use any light with my camera, so, therefore, the shutter speed was slow. So, I painted exactly what the picture looked like.”

Overall, Perry says the experience was one she will never forget. Not just because it was an opportunity to paint one of her favorite subjects, but also because of the students and teachers she met. “They were wonderful to work with,” she says.

And as for this project, “It was a perfect opportunity to feature them, since I like painting people in their environment.”

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

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