Downtown Pittsburgh exhibit showcases artists’ works of healing, empathy |
Art & Museums

Downtown Pittsburgh exhibit showcases artists’ works of healing, empathy

Etienne Frossard
Rudy Shepherd's 'We are All Trayvon Martin,' 2014
Etienne Frossard
Rudy Shepherd's 'Healing Device, Phase 2 No. 3,' 2015
Michael Brolly
Michael Brolly's 'Fleur,' 2015
Andrea Donnelly
Andrea Donnelly's 'Holding In,' 2009
Taylor Dabney
Andrea Donnelly's 'Body Blot,' 2011
Michael Brolly
Michael Brolly's 'Ghost of the Hand That Rocked The Cradle of the Father,' 2007

“The Invisible One,” an exhibit at the Society for Contemporary Craft’s satellite gallery in the Steel Plaza T-Station, encourages viewers to consider the implications of stigmatizing and stereotyping populations such as minorities, women and those with mental illness.

The exhibit features the work of Michael Brolly of Bethlehem, Andrea Donnelly of Richmond, Va., and Rudy Shepherd of New York City. It’s running at the same time as a mental-health-themed exhibit, “Mindful: Exploring Mental Health through Art,” at the society’s main gallery in the Strip District.

Art aficionados might remember Shepherd from “Black Rock Negative Energy Absorber,” which was part of the 2015 Three Rivers Arts Festival. The sculpture of a giant rock was meant to absorb “negative energy” for all who embraced it.

Here, Shepherd offers much smaller versions of that bad-vibe-absorbing monolith in the form of nearly two dozen “Healing Devices.” Shepherd says the idea with these smaller ceramic pieces is to create healing objects that can bring peace and tranquility to the homes and areas people inhabit.

“The forms are quite intuitively created but meant to somehow speak to their function — with filters, antennas and references to other everyday objects one might find in their homes,” he says.

Hung above one of the two tables that holds these “Healing Devices” are the paintings “Trayvon Martin” and “We Are All Trayvon Martin.” The former work depicts Martin — the 17-year-old African-American who was fatally shot in 2012 by neighborhood-watch volunteer George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla. — with his father, and the latter shows Shepherd with his son.

Shepherd says he created both paintings after finding a photo of Martin and his father shortly after the teen was killed. “It was a touching photo that brought me to tears for many reasons, one of which is that I have a son and I can only imagine the pain that father must be going through,” he says.

“This is what inspired me to re-create the photograph with my own son and then make a pair of paintings of both images,” he says. “I think there is something about this photograph of Trayvon Martin and his father that cuts through the politics of the story and forces people to empathize, and I think this is the key to fixing the problems that this story epitomizes.”

Not far away hang several works from Donnelly’s “Woven Ink Blot” and “Body Blots” series, which not only reference Rorschach tests, but tackle the subject of dual identities in a further exploration of psychological experience.

Donnelly says she is “obsessed” with the idea of the inkblot as a shared language. “To me, it’s a symbol of human complexity, of personal experience meeting cultural knowledge.”

Two pieces from her “Body Blots” series — “Body Blot #2” and “Holding In” — take the notion of body language even further, as each combines Rorschach-type designs with paintings Donnelly has done of her own body with textile paint.

“I hope they communicate a sense of vulnerability and intimacy through both their imagery and material, and, perhaps counter-intuitively, their large scale,” she says.

In a style evolved from carving and texturing wood through sandblasting, Brolly displays several sculptures that offer viewers a kinetic element in which works appear to morph into something new when moving from one side to the other.

Brolly says these changing views “speak to those who put on their face before coming into contact with others,” adding that these pieces on display here explore postpartum depression and domestic violence.

“Domestic violence, sibling-on-sibling violence, incest, alcoholism — all of these cast long shadows,” Brolly says. “Genetic shadows, learned shadows, responsive shadows. Shadows that darken the horizons of most, if not all, upon whom they fall.”

Some, like “Fleur,” are about personal narratives that many actively choose to hide.

Others, such as “Ghost of the Hand That Rocked the Cradle of the Father” are about the effects that ancestors have on future generations. Taking the form of five wooden dinner plates with silhouettes of different family members carved into the bases, each faces the wall, side-by-side on a shelf.

Brolly says the reason they are facing backward is that “we bring topics to the dinner table, and we let our kids watch really horrible stuff on the news — ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ — and we wonder why they are the way they are,” he says. “Also, we think we hide stuff from our children, but it is all out there, the elephant in the middle of the room, but we go blindly forth, convinced of our correctness.

“Thus, the family heirlooms, proudly displayed on the dining-room wall, their real meaning seeping into our children’s subconscious, a hidden, unwanted agenda, poisoning the wellspring of our future.”

Kurt Shaw is the Tribune-Review art critic. Reach him at [email protected].

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.