Art Review: 'Fabrizio Gerbino: New Paintings' at Galerie Werner
Though Pittsburgh has long been associated with its industrial past, just as prominent has been its legacy with the arts. Hundreds of artists and craftsmen settled here in the 19th century, setting the stage for development of visual arts in our region.
In the early 20th century, artists like Aaron Harry Gorson (1872-1933) made steel mills the focal point of myriad canvases, and many other artists followed suit throughout the century.
They still come, proving Pittsburgh still has a special allure.
For Italian painter Fabrizio Gerbino, nothing could be more inspirational than what can be found on a factory floor.
Originally from Florence, Italy, Gerbino has been living and working in Stowe since 2003, when he moved to Pittsburgh with his family. Since then, he has visited several factories and recycling sites, either on Neville Island or near his home, for inspiration in the creation of a series of works related to urban spaces, industrial buildings and abandoned objects.
His latest exhibit, “New Paintings,” on display at Galerie Werner, inside The Mansions on Fifth, Shadyside, gives evidence.
One of the 10 paintings in his show, one untitled work relates to Gerbino's visit several years ago to a former cement factory on Neville Island.
“While touring there, my attention was drawn to the remains of some flooring,” he says. “It was like a refined mosaic, and it reminded me of something at Pompeii. It was a sort of industrial archeological site in Pittsburgh.” At nearly 6 foot square, the piece is the largest in the show.
Just around the corner from that painting, a much smaller work, “Blast Off,” is a media-appropriated newspaper image of a space shuttle blastoff.
“I was intrigued by the shuttle going into space, something that is futuristic,” Gerbino says.
Admittedly, “Untitled (Blast Off)” is a bit of an anomaly in this show, as Gerbino mostly holds true to industrial strengths. For example, in a photo portrait of the artist, he is holding a rusty industrial chain.
“It was given to me while visiting a recycling plant, also on Neville Island,” he says.
This chain was the point of departure for two paintings in the exhibit. They are works on paper: “Chain #4” and “Chain #5.”
“This chain makes me think about some organic forms,” he says. The associations to beans, seed pods and other natural forms are most obvious.
Another untitled work on paper was inspired by cork shoe heels Gerbino found at a small factory in Italy. Here, painted in a stacked formation, they look like a portion of a spine, or a bug.
“I like repetition in objects,” Gerbino says. “I used these cork forms in various ways, including installations. Also in these cork forms, I see something organic, like bones or a spinal cord.
Not all of the works have industrial underpinnings, but they have the same look and feel.
For example, two paintings of paint-can lids were inspired by a “purge” can from a paint store, full of mixed tint colors in the can and on the lid.
In many ways, Gerbino's work can be tied to the philosophies espoused by the Bauhaus, the most influential modernist art school of the 20th century that was founded in 1919 in the city of Weimar by German architect Walter Gropius (1883-1969).
Though it closed at its final location in Berlin in 1933, the school's approach to teaching and understanding art's relationship to society and technology had a major impact in Europe and the United States long after it closed.
The motivations behind the creation of the Bauhaus lie in the 19th century, particularly in regard to anxieties about the soullessness of manufacturing and its products and in fears about the purpose of art in society becoming lost.
Creativity and manufacturing were drifting apart, and the Bauhaus aimed to unite them once again, rejuvenating design for everyday life.
For Gerbino, this philosophy is no different.
“In my work, often I begin with a found object,” Gerbino says. “It is just a point of departure. The image moves into abstraction and becomes something else.”
As does a factory floor, a rusty chain, the heel of a shoe, and so on and so on.
Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.