Pop-art influences collide in the latest exhibit to open at Concept Art Gallery in Regent Square, “Robert Lepper & Nancy Callan.”
For the past 16 years, Callan has been a member of the glass-blowing team of famed Italian glass master Lino Tagliapietra and has traveled throughout the world as his assistant. But she has been to Pittsburgh many times and has found much inspiration here for her own work.
“When I agreed to do a show in Pittsburgh at Concept Gallery, I wasn’t sure what pieces I wanted to exhibit,” Callan says. “Then I thought about my many trips to Pittsburgh … and one of my favorite things to do there is visit the Warhol Museum.”
A big fan of Andy Warhol and pop art, Callan says that for this exhibit, she decided to revisit a series of hers called “Stingers,” which have a pop-art aesthetic.
Three of those stingers — “Spiderman Stinger,” “Green Goblin Stinger” and “Thor Stinger” — dominate the center of the gallery with their bold colors and sleek, pared-down design.
Each of these are later adaptations of an earlier stinger form she explored in a series she called “Bee Butts,” from 2011, several of which are on display in the exhibit, as well.
These latest stingers have a decidedly pop-art twist. “The color combinations on the stingers are based on classic comic book superhero costumes, like Spider-Man and Green Lantern,” Callan says. “I also thought the bold colors of the stingers would add a nice contrast to Robert Lepper’s monochromatic aluminum works.”
A professor in the industrial design program at Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University) from its inception until his retirement in 1975, Lepper (1906-91) had an uncanny fascination with machine parts, as evidenced by a plethora of pieces in this exhibit made from various machine pieces, and metal extrusions.
A perfect example is “The Eggs,” which is a wall-hung relief work on display in the rear of the gallery made from pieces of aluminum pipe extrusion cut at an angle to create egg shapes, tastefully arranged among various machine parts.
A purely abstract work, it stands in stark contrast to the first piece visitors will come to, “Fish” (circa 1960), which is a sculpture of a fish Lepper made from printing plates. But even here, the evidence of the machine-age culture that so inspired Lepper is evident.
Industrialization and machine-age culture also are evident in a small study Lepper made for the mural at the Mineral Industries Building at West Virginia University, from 1940, which is his most famous work and is still on view there. Here, in this small study, you can see the artist’s attention to detail in creating a composition that includes representation of nearly every industry that thrived in our region in the first half of the past century.
Callan says that she was particularly drawn to Lepper’s monochromatic aluminum works, such as “The Eggs,” as well as several untitled, undated examples that also can be found in this exhibit.
Those led to creating more monochromatic works in her most recent series she calls “Orbs.” “Usually I make them with a lots of color,” Callan says, “but for this show, I wanted to try mirroring these pieces.”
Thus, pieces like “Archne’s Orb” and “Ariadne’s Orb” mirror, both figuratively and literally, Lepper’s pieces.
To see several of the mirrored orbs arranged together on one end of the gallery calls to mind the work of another artist, and one of Lepper’s most famous students at Carnegie Tech, Andy Warhol (1928-87).
And indeed, Callan says, “I was very inspired here by Andy Warhol’s ‘Silver Clouds.’ I love his giant mirrored helium pillows that float around in a room, especially how they invite the viewer to come and interact with them; it’s very playful.”
Callan says she strived to get the same effect with the mirrored orbs. That is, to “bring the viewer in close to view themselves and the reflections of the environment in the glass,” she says.
“The viewer sees themselves through the layers of cane (the swirling lines) and small divots on the surface that affect the reflection and distorts them and their surroundings,” Callan says. “The silvery quality of the mirroring also echoes Lepper’s aluminum works, which I think is a nice connection.”
And for Callan, connections are what this exhibit is all about.
“It’s important to me in a two-person show to have relationships between the work, whether it is by contrast or symmetry of color, form, etc.”
Callan is in town this week as the honorary guest glass artist at the Pittsburgh Glass Center‘s annual “Art on Fire” celebration and auction (www.pittsburghglasscenter.org), which will be Sept. 27 at American Eagle Outfitters corporate offices, SouthSide Works. She’ll be at a reception Sept. 26 for the exhibit at Concept Art Gallery.
Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at [email protected].