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Pastel artists league features 49 works in many styles

| Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Pittsburgh is home to myriad arts groups, so it's no wonder an artist doesn't have to look far to find one that fits his or her interest to a tee.

For example, if pastels are your thing, then the Pittsburgh Pastel Artist League is for you. Formed in 2002 by Dr. Pat Bianco, an ardent pastel artist, the league is a loose group of 62 members and growing. They don't hold typical meetings, but instead stay connect through "E-letters" containing information on exhibits, supplies, artists' accomplishments and websites. ( www.ppalartists.com )

"When we do meet, we have fun," Bianco says, "usually a business meeting first, lunch, and then a paint-out."

Occasionally, members will exhibit their works as a group. "Spot Light on Pastels" is currently on display at Boxheart Expressions in Bloomfield.

Featuring 49 works in pastel by 22 artist-members, the exhibit is a tour-de-force of styles and subject matter.

For centuries, pastels have been a favorite among landscape artists for their portability, ease of use and blending capabilities. Thus, there are several excellent landscapes on display.

For example, William Ceriani captures the delightful colors of fall foliage near a stream in his "Autumn Splendor," while Gail Beem places her subjects -- birch trees -- amid a field of crimson weeds in her piece titled "Birches."

While Ceriani has chosen to take a literal approach to his subject, Beem's piece is more impressionist, intending to provoke an emotional response. "I paint to induce a state of mind, to provoke emotion and a response," Beem writes in her statement, which brings to fore another particular facet of the medium and the artists who prefer it.

Though pastels are technically a drawing medium, because of the lush color they produce and how easily they can be blended directly on paper, many pastel artists call their works "paintings," and consider them to be such.

One look at Karen Ferrick's piece "Fungi Fugue" and it's hard to argue against that idea. With bright-orange mushroom caps amid a field of green grass and purple leaves, the piece almost looks like an abstract study of color and composition. Ferrick proves that color is king when it comes to pastel painting.

As mentioned above, many artists like to use pastels to paint on location, or "en plein aire" as they call it. Frances Marze for example, works in a variety of media, but appreciates working in pastel for plein air studies. Her colorful "Sketchers at the Strip" piece and expressive "New Mexico View" show the variety of approaches one can take with the medium.

And Diane Grguras' "Good Friday" and "Young Orchard #3" are both excellent examples of working in this mode. All of her work in pastel is in the plein aire tradition, and considers color temperature and the effect of light.

Other artists, like Maria Kovalenko Leysens, prefer to work from photographs. Leysens, for example, works from photographs, both vintage and the ones she takes in her travels, as a source of inspiration, as well as finding inspiration from her Ukrainian-Russian heritage.

The latter notion is obvious in her piece "Evening (S)Troll," while her piece "Marsh Fishing" is an obvious take on a trip down South.

Carol Donnelly, too, was inspired by her travels. "Changing Skies," "Glorious Fall Colors" and "Albuquerque Splendor" all capture the amazing changes in nature -- from the formation of clouds to the dash of glory fall brings before we move to winter -- that she encountered while traveling. She writes in her statement: "The medium of pastels allows me the ability to capture the essence of the colors found in nature."

That sentiment is echoed by many of the artists whose works are included in this exhibition. But some have other sources of inspiration. For Kathleen Hartman, inspiration comes from what she imagines a person is feeling or thinking. Her piece "Inner Strength" captures a stoic look on the face of a Tibetan woman that says it all.

Unlike most arts groups, the Pittsburgh Pastel Artist League does not screen artist's work for membership and, thus far, has not had a screened or juried exhibit. That means that members of all skill levels are encouraged to join and exhibit. That's why, among the artists whose works are on display, many are self-taught. But even so, their works are quite outstanding. For example, Ceriani and Hartman fall into this category, as does Mary Dunn and Charlotte Davidson.

One look at Dunn's "Twila-Dawn" or Davidson's "Water Fall," and you wouldn't know whether or not you were looking at a piece by a classically trained artist.

"Our artists' experience range from professional to beginner and everything in-between," Bianco says. "Some of our artists have been featured in art publications, did demos, taught classes, and won prestigious awards."

All the more reason to come see these wonderful works in pastel.

Additional Information:

'Spot Light on Pastels'

When: Through July 17. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 1-5 p.m. Sundays

Admission: Free

Where: Boxheart Expressions, 4523 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield

Details: 412-687-8858 or website

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