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Art Review: 'Breakup' at James Gallery

| Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014, 9:05 p.m.
Andrew Myers
Andrew Myers' 'Screw abstract,' metal screws and oil
Scott Draves
Still of Scott Draves' “Dreams in High Fidelity II'
Heather Joy Puskarich
Heather Joy Puskarich, “Ekho,” recycled glass, makeup, decals, sandalwood
Orna Feinstein
Orna Feinstein's 'Tree Dynamics #44'
Ken Batista
Ken Batista's “Florence Sunset,” acrylic on canvas

With it's high-tech theme based on pixelated imagery and fragmented forms, “Breakup,” the latest exhibit to open at James Gallery in the West End, offers a few surprises beyond the common idea of digital art.

In fact, pure digital art is scarce in this show, save for a computer-generated video work by Brooklyn-based artist Scott Draves.

Draves grew up in Monroeville and lived in Shadyside and Squirrel Hill in the mid-1990s while attending Carnegie Mellon University for his doctorate in computer science. His piece, “Dreams in High Fidelity II,” is his first large-scale collectible work.

“It's the culmination of 15 years of work, developing and refining the technique and concept,” Draves says.

The piece uses a self-generating computer database of 100 gigabytes of video that is programmed to generate 1,000 pieces that play in an infinite, nonrepeating sequence. Draves says the experience of viewing it is like wandering in an English garden.

“The viewer is taken down one path after another, sometimes coming to the same intersection, other-times finding hidden grottoes,” he says. “It would take six months of continuous viewing to experience every path.”

Draves estimates the piece took about 100 years worth of computer time to generate.

“But through the software that I wrote, I was able to harness the collective power of the Internet and complete the work in just a few months,” he says.

More than just tapping into the computer power out there, the process actually involves the public as well. “What you see is distilled from a giant cyborg mind consisting of thousands of people and their computers, all working together,” he says.

From extreme digital to extreme analog, Ken Batista of Regent Square shows that pixelated imagery need not be computer-generated with his series of landscape paintings made up of tiny painted squares of acrylic color on canvas.

For example, his painting “Florence Sunset,” a pixelated version of what its title implies, is from his Italy series, which is based on observations during a recent visit to that country.

When seen up-close, the canvas seems to be a random array of colored squares, but as the viewer steps back from the painting, the squares morph into a recognizable image. “This is of particular interest to me because it requires the viewer to be an active participant in order to complete the viewing cycle,” he says.

Batista says the nocturnal palette in “Florence Sunset” created an interesting challenge unlike that of the other paintings, but, he says, “I feel that I was able to capture the feeling of twilight.”

“I also wanted to capture the feeling I had when I met my family at the end of the day for a gelato from a shop at the foot of Ponte Santa Trinita on the Arno River near the apartment we rented in Florence,” he says. “I can still feel the warmth of the afternoon sun as it gave way to a cool breeze and the taste of pistachio gelato.”

For several years, Orna Feinstein of Bellaire, Texas, a Houston suburb, has focused on the tree trunk as the main image in her art.

Her piece “Tree Dynamics #44” is a multilayer, 3-D monoprint on fabric and Plexiglas that appears to have movement because one layer has been mounted a few inches above the other.

Feinstein says the piece is based on a microscopic view of xylem, the pipes in trees that transport water from the roots to the branches and leaves. “Abstractly, the circular laser-cut shapes resemble these pipes,” she says.

Feinstein likes to print on nontraditional materials and experiment with the layers. “Prior to working on the ‘Tree Dynamics' series, I worked on ‘Xylem' series and ‘Rings' series, where I stitched the fabric on top of the paper, but in this series, I print on the laser-cut paper and stitch it on top of a fabric,” she says. “Reversing the order opened up new ways to use color.”

In similar fashion, several abstract constructions by Andrew Myers of Laguna Beach, Calif., use analog means to convey a pixilated or multi-unit theme.

With Myers' work, multiple screws create a very angular and simple shape and become a unit, just like the screw itself.

Each screw head is painted in subtly shifting hues, creating a gradual shaded effect that compliments the shapes created by the varying depths of the screws.

“I also paint the screws in reverse, meaning that the higher screws are a darker hue, while the screws that are lower, or further in, have the lighter colors.” This process creates an effect that tricks the eye as the actual form of the sculpture wants you to believe that the highlights are closer to the viewer.

Finally, Pittsburgh artist Heather Joy Puskarich, who is an adjunct professor of art at Alfred University, Alfred, N.Y., returns to the gallery with semi-abstract works based on digital photographs of the human eye that examine notions of time, beauty and fate.

For example, in “Ekho,” one can barely make out the image of an eye in what looks like a large glass slide covered in a chemical bath.

“The eye is seen as the window to the soul and is the key element in many religious practices,” Puskarich says.

Thus, this work, as well as the others by her on display, have a compelling draw all their own.

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

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