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Art & Museums

Art review: Regional Juried Art Exhibition at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art

| Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015, 4:57 p.m.
“View from Paul's Deck” by Robert Bowden, oil on canvas
Robert Bowden
“View from Paul's Deck” by Robert Bowden, oil on canvas
'Connemaugh Power Plant” by Alexis Dillon, photo, Giclee print on metallic paper
Alexis Dillon
'Connemaugh Power Plant” by Alexis Dillon, photo, Giclee print on metallic paper
'Picasso in the Hall of Bulls” by Jaime Cooper, oil and 24-karat gold on linen
Jaime Cooper
'Picasso in the Hall of Bulls” by Jaime Cooper, oil and 24-karat gold on linen
“Edge of Light” by Suzanne Andrews, photography-continuous tone print
Suzanne Andrews
“Edge of Light” by Suzanne Andrews, photography-continuous tone print
'Don't Be Offended” by Kenneth Cutway, mixed media in resin
Kenneth Cutway
'Don't Be Offended” by Kenneth Cutway, mixed media in resin

Since 1996, the Southwestern Pennsylvania Council for the Arts has held an annual exhibit that takes the pulse of artistic output throughout the region.

Featuring 64 works in a variety of media created by 64 artists from Southwestern Pennsylvania, the latest iteration, on display at The Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art at Ligonier Valley, is the 20th annual Regional Juried Art Exhibition.

As visitors will see, it's a diverse exhibit reflective of the region's high level of artistic talent and ability.

For example, first prize was awarded to Robert Bowden of Point Breeze for his oil painting “View From Paul's Deck,” which was inspired by his son Paul's renovation of his house in Polish Hill.

The view depicted, which references the immediate surroundings and the distant neighborhoods beyond Troy Hill, is startling when seen through the imaginative retention of an old brick facade, which Bowden has captured down to the very detail of light and shadow as it plays across the surface of the old wall.

“The contrast of new materials in the renovation is both visually interesting and has a tactile sensitivity,” says the artist, who, over the past 45 years of painting “en plein air” (in the open), has become nationally known for his watercolors. However, in this case, he says, “I chose oil as the medium because of the scale of my vision.”

“In creating ‘View From Paul's Deck,' I painted on the site for a period of two weeks on days of consistent light,” he says of the 3-foot-square painting.

Second prize went to Alexis Dillon of Greensburg, who shows a photograph of a power plant in high contrast that is quite a departure for her.

“I usually use my infrared camera on more lush, ephemeral, landscapes,” she says. “But I was prompted to make this image for two reasons. First, the cold, industrial, serene feel of the power plant was irreverently interrupted by a group of squawking birds cavorting in the middle ground. Second, watching the patterns created by the steam rising and wafting in the breeze, while sometimes casting the shadows on the towers themselves, lent an ethereal feel to the stark scene. I couldn't pass it up.”

Third prize went to Kevin O'Toole of Greensburg for his piece “374-15,” an abstract sculpture made of mahogany.

With its hand-hewn surfaces accentuated with copper-leaf overlay, this contrast in materials not only plays off the sensuous quality of the wood, but emphasizes the play of light across the surface.

As for the title, which is a sequential reference, O'Toole explains: “I gave up on titles early on. They were always just what worked for me, and since they are somewhat serial in that one often leads to the next, numbering them seems logical.”

Among several photographs on display, “Edge of Light” by Suzanne Andrews of Greensburg was my pick for the annual Critic's Choice award. It was the second year that I had the honor of selecting the winner.

Andrews says of the abstract work: “(It) was a part of a series of photographs I was photographing in the woods of Ligonier during a beautiful sunny fall day. The light and colors were very vivid, and this day was perfect for finding the right light I was looking for.”

It's a standout work because of the remarkable fact that it was created “in the camera,” so to speak, she says. “I love looking beyond what I first see and finding images that are abstract to create a new way to see the world.”

Among many more notable works, Jaime Cooper's oil painting, “Picasso in the Hall of Bulls,” is another standout for the remarkable likeness in a portrait of the great artist Pablo Picasso.

“I read an anecdote about Picasso that said he visited the Hall of Bulls cave paintings in Lascaux, France, looked up at them and said, “My God, we have learned nothing.” I was fascinated that paintings up to 30,000 years old impressed Picasso in such a way. I strove to capture this moment in my painting,” says the Ligonier-based artist and art instructor.

Several sculptural pieces and a few mixed-media works round out the exhibit.

Ken Cutway's “Don't Be Offended” is perhaps most notable among them, being that it incorporates an antique photograph the Greensburg-area artist found in his mother's attic years ago.

“This picture had a note written on the back,” he says. “It's fascinating because we all have these old things and can only imagine what they meant.”

The remaining works are compelling, as well, making for an exciting presentation that marks a 20-year milestone of dedication on behalf of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Council for the Arts to the visual artists of our region.

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kshaw@tribweb.com.

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