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Artists given wonderful display at Squirrel Hill's Christine Frechard Gallery

| Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015, 9:12 p.m.
Michelle Browne 'Three Sisters/Dray Shvester'
Dimeji Onafuwa's 'In A Brown Study'
Sandra Moore 'Vizacaya Revisited (gold leaf lid)'
Carolyn Carson 'Legacy of the Matriarchs'
Joyce Werwie Perry 'Sleep Tight'

With the flurry of fall activity in the Pittsburgh-area visual-arts scene, much of it with an international flair, its heartwarming to find such a well put together showing of works by local artists as “Amazing Artists Pittsburgh,” on display at Squirrel Hill's Christine Frechard Gallery.

It's a diverse grouping, to be sure, but each piece plays off the other nicely, with a good deal of paintings, interspersed with ceramics, photography and even fiber-art pieces.

Michelle Browne of Squirrel Hill is an active member in the Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh. She integrates her painting and printmaking background with an interest in fiber by printing on fabric, painting on fabric, stitching and rusting various fine cotton fabrics that she collects on her travels.

“I use the printing press at Artist Image Resource on the North Side. I ‘rust' fabric in my backyard using iron odds and ends from Construction Junction,” she says.

Her “Three Sisters/Dray Shvester” is her illusion of female figures in fiber.

“This work is strongly influenced by antique Greek and Roman relief sculpture, which intrigued me on a trip to Italy years ago,” she says. “My “sisters” are not of that specific era, but purposely ambiguous, so as to let the viewer respond to the forms and the textures on the fabric.”

Browne's are not the only fiber pieces in the show. Carolyn Carson of Pleasant Hills displays four quilts. Carson teaches Urban Studies at the University of Pittsburgh and says, “Quilts are my medium of choice because they exemplify women's work, historically.”

“My love of working in fiber and textiles is partially responsible for my career path,” she says. “After learning to quilt approximately 35 years ago, I became very interested in women's history, which inspired me to return to grad school at (Carnegie Mellon), where I earned my Ph.D in history and policy. And that history, in turn, informs my art.”

Carson's “Legacy of the Matriarchs” reflects her interest in women's issues globally, as well as a fondness for Israel. “The piece is my personal celebration of the strength of the matriarchs, the ancestors and heritage of Jewish and Christian women,” Carson says in regard to the standout piece.

Patrick Schmidt, an assistant professor of art at Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, Pa., displays several abstract paintings that look a lot like patchwork quilts.

Using pattern as a metaphor, his work is about identity and using cultural pattern images to represent this identity through digital means.

“When I talk with people, I like to talk about how the layering of multiple patterns disrupts the original pattern so that we cannot recognize the source. What are produced are new shapes that are familiar, yet not, like recognizing the unfamiliar,” he says.

But even so, Schmidt cannot help but be inspired by pop culture, as well. As with the piece “Gershwin Tune,” about which he says, “I was thinking about Gershwin, also about jazz.”

But Schmit says the title was inspired mainly from watching the 1988 film “The Fisher King,” in which Robin Williams' character sings the Burton Lane/Ralph Freed song, “How About You,” with the line, “I like a Gershwin tune, how about you.”

Joyce Werwie Perry of Crafton displays several new works, as well as an older piece, “Sleep Tight.”

“It was part of my solo exhibit ‘Remnants' at the Westmoreland Museum (of American Art) in 2010,” she explains. “It's based on an old family photograph given to me by a student and dates back to the late 1800s.”

“People either love this piece or are creeped out by it,” Werwie Perry says. “Either way, I love that all who do see the painting are very much intrigued and affected by it. Pulling emotion from the viewer is what I am after.”

It's an excellent example of subtle complementary contrast and is used often as an example in color theory classes she teaches at Le Poire, her studio and gallery in Crafton (le-poire.com).

Then there is the work of Nigerian-born artist Dimeji Onafuwa, who splits his time between Portland, where he lives with his family; Pittsburgh, where he is completing a doctorate in design at CMU; and Charlotte, where most of the clients for his design consultancy business are located.

Several of his large paintings in the back corner of the gallery feature compelling portraits of young black boys in isolated fields of color.

Inspired by Mark Rothko's color field paintings, Onafuwa says, “I like large fields of color on a canvas and how they make you feel small and sometimes insignificant. It makes me think of how ignored and seemingly insignificant certain people are.”

Inspired by Nathan Oliveira and Bay Area Figurative artists, as well as Edgar Degas's compositions, in a “Brown Study” Onafuwa has placed a young black boy in a pensive mood and isolated in ‘empty' space.

“Somehow, however, it seems like there is a presence around this boy,” Onafuwa says. “A large presence. An overwhelming presence. Something spiritual or supernatural. As he is increasingly aware of the presence of this absence surrounding him, his inner eye, or what the Yorubas call ‘Oju Inu,' begins to see the unseen.”

Finally, a delightful mix of raku pottery and abstract photography by Sandra Moore of Glenshaw complete an exhibit that is about as perfect a presentation of local art as one could expect to see in a local gallery.

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

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