Painter shows off '90 Pittsburgh Neighborhoods' in 1 exhibit
Painter Ron Donoughe is passionate about Pittsburgh. So much so that between the summer of 2013 and 2014 he spent an entire year painting in all of Pittsburgh's 90 neighborhoods.
Now, the results are on display in the solo exhibit “90 Pittsburgh Neighborhoods” at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.
Over 12 months, Donoughe visited and painted Pittsburgh's neighborhoods in alphabetical order, attempting to create at least two or three each week. The goal was to capture the overall texture of the city through seasonal changes.
“Pittsburgh folks are very passionate about our city, and it was an honor to paint the places they call home,” Donoughe says. “I also learned a lot about this city and hope others take the opportunity to explore areas outside their own locality. It is a fascinating and unique place — well worth crossing the bridges. Perhaps these paintings will inspire that.”
A native of Loretto, Cambria County, who has lived in Lawrenceville since moving to Pittsburgh in 1979, Donoughe is well known for his plein air (outdoor) landscape paintings done in a realist style.
Donoughe says plein air painting is about capturing a particular time and place, done mostly “alla prima,” or all at once.
“Studio paintings take on a different feeling and are not meant to be an exact replication of the small reference study,” Donoughe says. “They are an extended meditation on the plein air experience, which commits the spirit of place to the artist's brush.”
Right up front, Donoughe offers an example with “Reaching Shadows/Elliot.” At 4 feet by 6 feet, it is the only large painting in the show. A smaller Elliott neighborhood painting, on display among the 90 much-smaller paintings, served as a reference for this piece.
“Large paintings such as these are difficult to execute on location,” Donoughe says. “The time to complete a small painting is usually 2 to 3 hours, while a painting this size required almost three weeks of studio time.”
The rest of the exhibit is made up of the smaller 9-inch by 12-inch paintings that Donoughe made on-site in each of the neighborhoods. As visitors will see, they are as varied as the neighborhoods themselves.
When you plant yourself in a neighborhood, Donoughe says, you never know what's going to happen, and there were a few challenges along the way.
“You might be totally embraced; you might be totally ignored. Someone might offer you a glass of water,” he says. “Some places were scary, but I would explain why I was there and ask what is here and what is unique about their neighborhood.
“Sometimes people would walk by me and not even notice that I was making a painting,” he says. “That seems really strange to me, although a lot of passersby had wires attached to their ears. Maybe they were listening to music or having a phone conversation.”
Painting in all seasons, Donoughe says, “sometimes it was just too darn cold to paint outside.”
He points to a painting he did in Knoxville of a small snow-covered garage in an alleyway behind a house.
“There were a few days last year when it was impossible to paint outdoors. I remember it being so cold that my cell phone kept shutting off. I did this painting in my studio after surrendering to the temperature, which didn't get above 10 degrees.”
Often, however, it was the people he met along the way that warmed his heart.
A painting done in the Mt. Oliver neighborhood (not to be confused with the neighboring borough of Mt. Oliver) is a gentle reminder.
“I met a gentleman named Tom while setting up to paint this church,” Donoughe says. “He was visiting from North Carolina, but this area was once his home, and he had been baptized here. His feelings for Pittsburgh had grown quite intense over the years. It's a story I've heard many times. Pittsburgh people who have moved away have actually never left. Their hearts remain here.”
Some places reminded Donoughe of his own childhood. “East Allegheny,” for example, which features two identical houses, side-by-side, is one of them.
“These two houses reminded me of what it was like growing up as an identical twin. My brother and I were always being compared to each other,” he says. “Like these two houses, we appeared to be the same, but were different in many significant ways.”
Donoughe holds a bachelor of arts in art education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and studied at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, Calif. While Donoughe has been a full-time painter for the past two decades, some of his previous jobs have included landscaper, grave digger, chicken catcher, art teacher, museum installer and graphic designer.
That last one came in handy when designing a book ($35) of the same title that accompanies this exhibition, as well as a poster (18 inches by 24 inches, $15) featuring all 90 paintings. Both are available in the center's gift shop.
Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.