Sewickley Sweetwater exhibit examines 'pop' influences

| Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Photographer April Friges is bringing back the old in her newest form of art, to be exhibited as part of Sweetwater Center for the Arts' new show, “Pop Explosion: the Artist and Popular Culture,” to open on Saturday.

In the three pieces that belong to a series of work she has done called “Spectator,” she “steps backward to traditional photography — more specifically the photogram— because of its one of a kindness.

”However, she doesn't use a camera.

“My art practice is about looking at photographic conventions and creating alternate methods by blurring the boundaries of digital and analog media,” said Friges, of Squirrel Hill, a photography instructor at Point Park University.

The award-winning photographer explained that her newest large-scale, black, white and silver gelatin prints are 50 inches wide and range from 8 to 10 feet long when flat. They are created in the darkroom using photosensitive paper on which different objects are placed. When the paper is exposed to light, areas of the paper that have received no light appear white, while areas exposed are dark.

But, her work doesn't stop there. When the creations are installed in a gallery or show, Friges physically sculpts the paper, molding the art piece into different shapes on the wall, creating a three-dimensional look. When they are taken down, they are re-flattened so the sculpted image will have a new shape each time it is shown.

Friges, who earned her master's of fine arts from University of California in 2010, uses the light in the galleries or spaces as part of her abstract creations. The paper is highly reflective, she said, and the light creates pockets of highlights and shadows that add to or contradict the shapes of the image already created, depending on how the paper is sculpted.

This will be Friges' first showing in Pennsylvania, recently moving to the area from Los Angeles, but she had been exhibiting her work since 2003 in California, New York, Ohio, Kansas, Vermont, Michigan and Iowa. She will have a solo exhibit at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts on Shady Avenue in Squirrel Hill later this year.

“When we think about the influence of pop on contemporary art, we naturally think about the new kind of relationship it forged between the so-called ‘fine arts' and popular culture,” said Andy Warhol Museum curator Nicholas Chambers, one of the jurors for the show.

“What is sometimes overlooked, however, is the manner in which pop also dealt with questions concerning medium and technique. My co-juror, Bob Beckman, and I liked that April Friges' work, which sits somewhere between photography and sculpture, brings these kinds of discussions to the fore.”

Friges will be one of 11 artists, the only one from the Pittsburgh area, to display work at the first-time exhibit, said Elysia Cecchetti, Sweetwater artistic director. Other artists hail from Ontario, Nebraska, Indiana, Massachusetts,Texas, West Virgina, New Mexico, New York and California.

Cecchetti said the exhibit showcases individualized interpretations of what popular culture is to the artist and how they identify with it.

“The artists consider the relationship between the influences of popular culture and technology — technology being either the subject matter or a tool used to create the work.”

Artist Andy Mattern of Albuquerque comments in his artist statement on “the unfulfilled promises and unintended complications of modern technology” with his series, “Remote.” Derrick Burbul of Kearney, Neb., both celebrates and mourns the transformation of the western landscape with his “kitschy representations of objects that were once sentient tools and are now popular culture icons.”

The winner of the Jurors' Choice: Best in Show award will receive a $250 prize and have the opportunity to spend the day on the North Shore of Pittsburgh. The winner will take a tour of the Andy Warhol Museum, followed by a tour of Artists Image Resources' working print lab a few blocks away. Chambers and Beckman, Artists Image Resources director, will guide the tours.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or

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