Art Review: 'Cataloguing Pattern' at Space

Kurt Shaw
| Wednesday, July 30, 2014, 9:10 p.m.

“Cataloguing Pattern,” organized by Carnegie Mellon University art instructor Kristen Letts Kovak for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's Space gallery, Downtown, offers an interesting insight into a common theme: patterns in everyday life.

Wanting to make sense of the constant ebb and flow of order and chaos in her art, Letts Kovak asked eight artists to join her in exploring the notion of pattern. The result is more than 50 pieces displayed in sections to help visitors make sense of it all: seriality, rhythm, rehearsal, behavior, permutation, morphology, expectation and repetition.

“So many people come to contemporary art wanting some place to start with,” Letts Kovak says. “And these terms help with that.”

The first one visitors come to is “Rhythm,” summed up best in two large abstract paintings — “Yellow Stomp” and “Three Against Five” — by Salinda Deery of Elkhart, Md. Filled with short brush strokes in rhythmic pattern, they are the result of transcribing the repetitive rhythms of music into abstract paintings.

Deery says her ideas were inspired by factory labor. “Treating my painting like assembly lines, I systematically mark the canvas as I walk parallel to their surface — each color representing a new repeated motion,” Deery says.

Thus, the paintings layer the movements of her body and brush and call attention to the interruptions in her routine through subtle shifts in shape and color.

Paintings like this reveal pattern to be more than ornamental. “It reflects our desire for order and predictability,” Letts Kovak says. “It is through recognizable patterns that we categorize the unknown, predict others' behaviors and determine our own course of action.”

Yet, the artists in this exhibit demonstrate that breaking an existing pattern can be more significant than establishing one.

Perhaps no one does this better than Letts Kovak. Her “Permutations” is a 23-foot-long scroll, hung floor to ceiling, with hand-drawn and -painted patterns inspired by those seen in everything from wallpaper to Renaissance tapestries.

“This painted scroll is a study in tangential order — continually shifting between convergent and divergent thinking, acceptance and rejection,” Letts Kovak says. “It is a conglomeration of unaffiliated patterns connected through stream of consciousness.”

In this way, Letts Kovak investigates a system of mutating anomalies that work to form new patterns.

“I started with a very single goal: make a system, break a system,” she says. “But, by doing that, it created its own sort of system. By consistently interlacing conformity with chaos, I established an unintended pattern and emergent superstructure.”

Rebecca Zilinski of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., displays several ink drawings made up of small dots of diluted ink.

Some, like “Eye Contact: Bridge Walk 10 / 22 / 09” relate to patterns in real life, which is why it is in the Behavior section. On the day in the title, Zilinski recorded each time a person smiled back at her after she smiled at them by placing a smile inside a diluted dot of ink.

“The things I record, measure, track and collect are often integral to our lives, but might not get the credit they deserve,” Zilinski says. “Miniscule changes are very beautiful to me. In materials, I see a parallel to behavior. Each dot or glance may appear the same initially, but a larger context makes the invisible more visible, elevating that which is barely there.”

Seeing pattern in our built environment is the focus of Philadelphia-based Todd Keyser's art.

In works like “Golden Thread,” in which Keyeser has painted relative geometric patterns over a real-world photograph, the use of repetitive and reductive marks alters the relationship between the abstract nature of paint and the reality captured by photography.

The spectator must suspend an acceptance of natural images for those that are interrogated through the addition of painted abstracted geometric forms. The result blurs the distinction between art and the everyday.

Then, there is the work of Maria Mangano of the South Side Slopes. Her body of work began by searching for patterns in animal behavior.

Even the most casual passer-by will likely notice her work in the gallery window. There, she has placed several mandalas (a symmetrical design representing an ordered plan of the cosmos) made from life-size drawings of birds on the floor of the gallery.

“A bird flying into a window seems like a random or occasional event to someone who might have seen one lying on the sidewalk, but I learned while doing research for these pieces that it happens millions of times per year in the U.S. And it happens dramatically more often to some species of birds than others, for reasons that aren't fully understood,” Mangano says.

Relegated to the theme of repetition, her piece “Relating to Song of the Earth IV: Mandala” takes her research one step further, being made up of silhouettes of birds cut from field guides.

“My pieces in this show use pattern to address these repeated fatalities and the cycles of death and change in people's lives, particularly as a way to understand and process loss.

“As humans, we look for patterns as a way to comprehend the world around us, so I used two systems of ordering pattern in ‘IV: Mandala,'” Mangano says. “I made the birds from field guides and laid them out in the form of a mandala. The four shapes in the mandala are ruby-throated hummingbirds, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, white-throated sparrows and golden-crowned kinglets — birds that are particularly vulnerable to window collisions.”

The exhibit runs through Aug. 31.

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

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