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Art & Museums

Thomas Bigatel's abstract exhibit at Penn State New Kensington takes viewers along for the ride

| Sunday, April 2, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Abstract artist Thomas Bigatel
Abstract artist Thomas Bigatel
'In The InBetween' by abstract artist Thomas Bigatel
'In The InBetween' by abstract artist Thomas Bigatel
'Within' by abstract artist Thomas Bigatel
'Within' by abstract artist Thomas Bigatel

Thomas Bigatel says he has always been aware that he is an artist.

It wasn't until 1998, though, that the Glenshaw resident, who is making his debut April 3 to 28 at the Penn State New Kensington gallery, decided it was time to leave a job as a sign painter that was literally making him sick and pursue what he believed is his life's work: painting full time.

“It's what I do and who I am,” says Bigatel, 57. “It's an intrinsic force that I must pay attention to. If I don't, then I am turning my back on myself.”

Talent is fine, however it only goes so far. “It's the desire, passion and hard work that truly take it to those other levels. I'm at my best when I paint,” he says.

Others have taken notice.

His vividly colored body of creation now exceeds 1,000 pieces, shown in solo and group exhibitions in galleries and universities throughout the state and beyond. Many of his abstract paintings, inviting the viewer to explore the complex nature and seemingly endless flow of color, have been purchased for private and corporate collections including prominent collectors in New York City.

In his “Through The InBetween” show at the New Kensington campus, he showcases work created in the past five years, about 21 paintings of various sizes and, in a nod to his fascination with wood, a half dozen small wood sculptures. Bigatel says his “InBetween” series began while contemplating the timeless question, “Why are we here?”

“I am honored to be invited to exhibit at such a wonderful space,” he says. A free meet-the-artist reception is 5 to 7 p.m. April 7.

Tina Sluss, art gallery coordinator, sees his work as “visual poetry,” grasping the senses as they transform thought and movement.

“Art is an experience for all. Abstract art requires the audience to let it take them somewhere, rather than viewing a representational piece that has a specific definition,” she adds.

Carolyn Pierotti, the owner of Purple Room Fine Art Consulting LLC, and director of Percolate Gallery in Wilkinsburg, which will host a retrospective of Bigatel's art in July, says when she first viewed his paintings, she thought that it was digital photography. “When I visited his studio my breath was taken away. These sensual paintings were just the tip of the iceberg to a collection that I couldn't imagine. His paintings and sculptures have this organic flow, connecting and dancing with each curve made.”

It is art that is “an invitation to explore,” suggests Nicole Capozzi, who with husband Joshua Hogan have worked with Bigatel for more than 15 years at their BoxHeart Gallery in Bloomfield. “His abstract paintings and sculptures are invitations to explore an inherent and intimate flow of color and motion, a visual representation of the process of emergence. In both artistic processes, beauty is excavated from within to reveal Bigatel's own personal truth.”

His art is “extremely personal,” she adds. Working in a flowing motion, unorthodox and exploratory, allows him to manipulate the oil paint to create depth and translucency. Nature is most often at the forefront of inspiration, wind and water, smoke and fire, coming together and breaking apart to conjure what he calls “ a peaceful serenity and a vigorous energy” in his paintings, Capozzi explains.

He believes that finally realizing his voice and developing his unique methods of painting, along with the positive energy reflected in his work, is what gives his paintings strength and thoughtfulness.

“I am most proud of having had the courage and conviction to truthfully embrace what uniquely comes from me,” Bigatel says. “It was getting past the fears and unknown, just surrendering to the process.”

He has no preconceptions when he enters his studio.

Using a lot of energy, he paints fast and without distractions, becoming completely involved with what is happening in that moment. “It works for me. I don't rely on an idea. I don't wait for inspiration. I paint. I just paint,” he says.

He hopes those who view his art will leave with “a positive connection in their lives.”

After the process of making the art, exhibiting the art is the next best thing, he says.

“Especially with all the turmoil and uncertainly in our world, if I can produce art that speaks to the viewer in a positive and enlightening way, and leaves them feeling uplifted, then that is what the work is created for, and I not only have fulfilled my time during the process, but have been able to share it with others.”

He plans to donate a portion of the proceeds of any sales from the exhibit to the National Endowment for the Arts.

“Given the impending defunding of the NEA by the federal government, it's the least I can do to help support my fellow artists, musicians, actors and people in the arts community,” he says.

Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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