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Modern art and traditional music highlight arts festival

| Wednesday, June 6, 2012, 2:04 p.m.
Melissa Bryan's Breath at the Arts Festival juried art exhibit at the Trust Arts Education Center downtown.
James Knox  |  Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Melissa Bryan's Breath at the Arts Festival juried art exhibit at the Trust Arts Education Center downtown. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
William Schlough's Untitled (Pay Phone) at the Arts Festival juried art exhibit at the Trust Arts Education Center downtown.
James Knox  |  Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
William Schlough's Untitled (Pay Phone) at the Arts Festival juried art exhibit at the Trust Arts Education Center downtown. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The largest exhibition of the Three Rivers Arts Festival, the Juried Visual Art Exhibition is far from the busy Artist's Market and food vendors in Gateway Center and Point State Park. On display at 805-807 Liberty Ave. in the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Arts Education Center, it's well worth seeking out. That's because the exhibit features a vast array of compelling artworks by artists throughout the Greater Pittsburgh region.

The festival received hundreds of entries, from which a three-person jury panel — Linda Benedict-Jones, curator of photography at Carnegie Museum of Art; Pittsburgh Cultural Trust curator Murray Horne; and Mattress Factory co-director Michael Olyjnik — selected the 61 works on display by 42 artists.

This year, sculpture appears to be the primary mode of expression, and expressive pieces abound. For example, one of the first pieces visitors will come to is Kyla Groat's sculptural installation, “My Body Will Betray Me,” which confronts the viewer with the anxiety endured when faced with cancer.

Featuring hand-sculpted forms of a female chest, before and after mastectomy, it represents “a before and after, as well as a mother and daughter,” according to the Indiana, Pa., artist's statement. Set on a black backdrop, the piece references an altar while assuming a recognized space within the gallery for observation and contemplation.

Nearby, Gibsonia artist Kyle Milne presents another sculptural installation that commands its own space. Titled “Outhouse,” basically, it is a life-size outhouse-type structure built from scrap wood that has a barrel attached to the roof that holds wet, diluted clay, otherwise known as “slip.” Visitors are encouraged to interact with the piece, which will cause some of the slip to drip out of the outhouse and onto a puddle on the floor. As the slip slowly dries, it creates a crackled, desert-like surface. According to Milne, the clay slip will create a “constantly changing environment, one that dries in cracks, only to be covered over again and again.”

On a lighter note, several of the sculptures on display have a humorous bent. The best among them is “Untitled (Pay Phone)” by William Schlough of Friendship. Here, the artist has combined a pair of mannequin legs with a pay phone in which a man appears to be swallowed whole by the phone itself.

Nearby, Indiana artist Chad Whitaker's piece “Monster” attempts to dispel the myths of monsters under the bed, a common childhood nightmare, by piercing a single mattress and boxspring with a fluorescent tube of light. “As irrational as it may be,” the artist writes in his statement, “I still get anxious that there is a big spider waiting to get me when I fall asleep.” As violent an image as a fluorescent tube piercing a bed may be, the light emanating from that tube somehow creates a calming effect.

Also displaying a sense of humor, Verona artist W. Kramm's piece “Janus Head Self Portrait” is a whimsical work in the form of a small, spinning plaster bust that seems to smile as it turns. Tucked in a corner, it is tiny compared to most of the sculptures on display, but nevertheless packs a punch.

There also are several abstract works on display.

Aspinwall artist Mia Tarducci Henry's magnificent “Peacocking” painting is by far the most pronounced, having gorgeous, lush colors that reference peacock feathers.

But just as attention-getting is the work of Elizabeth Plakidas, also of Aspinwall, and Alison Terndrup, of Ebensburg, whose painting “collaboration 4” is just as colorful and equally well-composed.

At first glance, the piece “Volcano” by Thomas Mason of Washington, Pa., appears to be another strong abstract painting. But upon further inspection, it reveals itself to be an accumulation of colorful wax that has dripped from many a burnt candle onto a table. Shot from above, however, it looks very much like an abstract painting.

Of course, there are many traditional works on display. Lawrenceville-based photographer Timothy Burak's photograph “Calle Ocho: Unisex Barber Shop” is a wonderfully composed picture of the exterior of a barbershop. And not to be outdone in the category of portraiture, Melissa Bryan, a visual-art student at Carnegie Mellon University, shows a magnificent mixed-media painting “Breath” that features a massive portrait painted onto a cardboard constructed “canvas” on top of which she has woven a network of intertwining string. It's a compelling piece that will definitely grab your attention.

The remaining works on view are just as compelling. And many of these works are by artists who have never before shown their art in the Juried Visual Art Exhibition, which makes this presentation all the more invigorating.

The Juried Visual Art Exhibition continues through Sunday at the Trust Arts Education Center, 805-807 Liberty Ave., Downtown. Hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. today through Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.

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