“Printmaking 2015,” a group show presented by Pittsburgh Print Group that showcases new work by regional artists working in a variety of printmaking mediums, is just one of several engaging exhibits currently at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.
Juried by Kim Beck, associate professor of art at Carnegie Mellon University, the exhibit features work by Jo-Anne Bates, Christie Biber, Michelle Browne, Chris Calligan, Barbara Broff Goldman, Leslie A. Golom, John Hanna, Robert Howsare, Paula Garrick Klein, Thomas J. Norulak, Mick Opalko, Elizabeth Rose and Sharon Wilson-Wilcox.
Golomb of Point Breeze took the juror’s award for three works from her latest series titled “Except for the Sound of My Voice.”
They are all simultaneously a print and a photograph depicting a young woman interacting with an object, such as a hula hoop or a cello.
“By its very nature, it creates a world somewhere between the real and the imagined,” Golomb says of the copperplate photogravures, her printmaking method of choice. “The narrative behind the work is inspired by my niece Shira Burcat’s short stories. She is also the protagonist photographed in the series.”
For example, in “Dancing With My Cello,” Shira is photographed swaying with her hula hoops while dancing with an ink drawing of a cello that Golomb incorporated into the copperplate etching.
“I want the viewer to hear sounds without reading text, and the cello is the closest instrument to the human voice,” she says. “I work so tightly within a series format that its always a risk to exhibit just part of the story. But I feel this print, in particular, is very dreamy, so that the viewer can enjoy the mystery and, hopefully, yearn for more.”
The series, in its entirety, also is showing at the 2015 International Print Triennial in Krakow, Poland, and at Impact 9, the 2015 International Print Conference at the China Academy of Art, Hangzhou.
Myung Gyun You
Showcased on the second floor of Pittsburgh Center for the Arts is Myung Gyun You’s exhibit “Time Travel,” and Talia Greene’s “Precarious Balance,” as part of its annual exchange program with Philadelphia’s Center for Emerging Visual Artists.
Myung Gyun You immigrated to this country four years ago. For the first two years, he lived in New York City, but then moved to Philadelphia, where he currently resides.
His exhibit is filled with a dozen large-scale abstract paintings, primarily in black, white and blue acrylics. It is a sight to behold and evidence that painting, in its most palpable and engaging form, is alive and well.
This is especially true with “The Pond of Memory, August 2015,” which at 7 1⁄2 feet high and 17 feet wide is commanding, to say the least.
You says this painting is an expression about narcissism in human society.
Spin around, and on the wall opposite, “Time Travel, May 1, 2015” is sure to startle, as a skull emerges out of a similar pond of blue.
“Everything is changing constantly,” You says. “While I am in the forest, I realize that there is life circling all around me, including (the processes of) birth, growth and death simultaneously. Human civilization also belongs to this natural rule. The culture we share seems to exist in a floating world like time travel.”
For the artist, creating art is “a way to find what I am,” You says. “That means that I try to find my identity or my roots through (creating) art.”
“We might be thinking, feeling and sensing with the cognitive structure which was built by education or information in our culture, but I want to know more real things, as in where or out of what did I get this cognitive structure?” You says. “For that, I try to express human culture or history as a kind of natural phenomenon, because humans must have more primitive (motivations) behind the cognitive structure we have.”
With “Precarious Balance,” which is on display in a gallery next to You’s exhibit, Talia Greene exhibits works that combine digital imaging with collage, painting and drawing to explore relationships with the natural world.
Because it is not obvious from the labels, Greene says, “All of the works in the ‘Precarious Balance’ series were hand-painted with gouache, then scanned and digitally printed so that they could be either combined with the old paper or printed on the wall paper.”
That should surprise most who see this show, because the birds rendered are so well done they look like Audubon prints or something of that high quality.
Beauty, and an obvious high degree of technical skill aside, Greene says, “I guess the best way to talk about the show in general would be to point to the title, ‘Precarious Balance.’ Together, the works look at how precarious the balance is between living with nature’s abundance, destroying it, and/or being destroyed ourselves.”
Greene’s work is about our relationship to nature and, despite our efforts to tame it, its inescapable power over us.
For example, with “Precarious Balance II” Greene says she was researching the impact of urbanization on the flora and fauna in New York City for an upcoming project there, and discovered the incredible story of the Passenger Pigeons.
“Their story is stunning because they went from being so numerous in 1870 that flocks would darken the skies for days, to complete extinction by 1914,” she says. That is why, with this piece, she depicts the birds standing one on top of the other, as if a Jenga game in which the whole column of birds will topple at once.
A dead Passenger Pigeon becomes a platform for the ridiculous pigeon tower, which is topped with a little swamp sparrow. “In my imagination, all of the birds are trying to save themselves from the fate of the one on the bottom by getting as far from the dead one as possible,” Greene says. “But, of course, they have to step on each other to do so and don’t seem capable of flying away.”
Though the swamp sparrows are not currently endangered, their marsh and wetland habitats certainly are.
The remaining works depict birds in unusual settings. “I suppose the pieces take the loss of wildlife habitat to an absurdist conclusion, since all of the birds perch either on human rubble or on each other, rather than comfortably in their natural habitats, as you would expect to see in a naturalist illustration,” she says.
A real standout in this exhibition are four prints from her “Ruination” series, which are arranged tightly on the back wall.
Though each looks like a page from an antique book that has been ripped out and framed, each was drawn by hand with a Wacom tablet on the computer, then digitally printed.
“With the ‘Ruination’ series, I was thinking about the causes of the destruction of human habitation, and about how blurry the lines are between man-made and natural disasters,” Greene says.
Starting with images from the news regarding recent natural disasters, Greene imagined that the spaces mentioned were not razed and rebuilt, but turned back to the local wildlife.
Pointing to the “Lower Ninth Ward” piece, which depicts New Orleans re-inhabited by nature after Hurricane Katrina, she says, “For me, the Lower Ninth Ward piece, which started with an image of a flooded street from Hurricane Katrina, is one of the best examples of a natural disaster, which was really a man-made disaster.”
Though turning places back to nature may seem both logical and ideal, resistance to the idea of turning the Lower 9th Ward into parkland even 10 years after the storm, reminds Greene that, as she says, “It is not just nature, but also human communities that can be displaced or driven to extinction.”
Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.