Artist Dan Bolick gets personal at Penn State New Ken
When he paints a portrait of someone, Murrysville artist Dan Bolick says he is, in a sense, switching places with them.
The true subject of each portrait is the interchange that takes place with the person depicted, he says. “I am painting them, but I am also trying to paint what I know about them. Hopefully, this is reflected in the outcome of the painting.”
After debuting in 2010 at Penn State New Kensington with “Resurrected” — his touring portraits of 10 wrongly convicted men who were freed after years of sitting on death row or facing life sentences — Bolick returns to the gallery with “In Your Face.”
“This year, people will see 35 faces looking back at them. Each portrait has a story behind it,” he says. “All of the people behind the faces have made an impact on me in one way or another.”
The exhibit, now showing and continuing through Feb. 28, offers 21 expressionistic-style works, made with acrylic, spray and latex house paint; nine portraits that are three-dimensional collage/assemblages created with plywood, acrylic paint and old maps and billboard paper; and five portraits rendered with ball-point pen, magic marker and colored pencil.
A meet-the-artist gathering is scheduled for noon Feb. 6 in the gallery.
“Dan has strong, socially relevant work. I admire and respect what he does, how it connects to his life and to the larger community,” says Bud Gibbons, Penn State professor of art and gallery director.
“The power that these paintings have on the gallery walls is matched visually by the powerful message explicit in the work,” Gibbons says. “People are struck by the paintings and pulled into their stories by the writing that is part of some of these images.”
When singer-songwriter Sting saw the artist's touring “Resurrected” exhibit in New York City, he told Bolick, “I love your drips, man,” referring to the flow of paint and how it creates emotion.
“The reactions I have received from people who have seen the ‘Resurrected' exhibit has always been very, very positive,” Bolick says. “People everywhere are very concerned and vocal about the issue of wrongful incarceration.”
When he saw the paintings at Point Park University in 2010, at a fundraiser for the university's now-defunct Innocence Institute, famed author John Grisham promised to help him find a larger audience for the exhibit, even writing a recommendation for his application for a Guggenheim Fellowship. (Bolick was not awarded the fellowship, monies from which he had hoped to use to continue to meet new exonerees and expand the project, offer free shipment of the exhibit and to write a book based on it. “As of now, the project has no legs. I have zero funding,” he says.)
Five paintings and five drawings from “Resurrected” are in the “In Your Face” show, including two new exonerees. They fit the theme of “In Your Face,” the artist suggests, because they “in and of themselves” also are faces.
“The artwork in the gallery is in the form of very energetic paintings representing in every case, ‘Faces,' the title,” says Gibbons. “The title is perfect as a description of excellent, powerful, well-painted images that capture your attention and tell a story.”
The portraits in the gallery are designed “to look at you while you are looking at them,” Bolick says.
He says none of the people in the exhibit are well known, except for the collages of Gandhi and Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. With the exception of the “Arson” and “Burglary” portraits, he knows all of the subjects.
The back wall is made up of seven portraits of his immediate family, who he says are his “muses.” The right wall features memorable students from his 34-year teaching career in Pittsburgh Public Schools, from which he is retired. “There is a story for each one,” he says.
The left wall holds his portraits from “Resurrected. “In the corner of the front wall are four small collage-paint portraits of people I know, just regular folks,” he says.
Bolick says he hopes that those who view his work in this exhibit slow down and contemplate on the visual image.
“I want them to look into the person I have depicted,” he says. “What emotions do they feel emanating from the person behind the paint? I also want the viewer to look at the surface of the painting and ask themselves, ‘How is it made, why do the colors run, does how the paint is applied to the surface conjure any feelings, does the paint cry?'”
He continues to say he is not interested in painting “pretty pictures.” “I'm more interested in creating a more socially responsible art,” he says. “I try to think of myself and my exoneree portraits as a form of art activism,” he explains. “I'm trying to act as the conscience of the people, trying to give a visual voice to this problem and, at the same time, help some people.”
Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or firstname.lastname@example.org.