Mean Girls

Mean Girls, an exhibit and community engagement project on the topic of female bullying curated by Jill Larson, began at Space Gallery and then traveled to Penn State New Kensington Art Gallery.  

 Opening reception for Mean Girls at Space Gallery

Opening reception for Mean Girls at Space Gallery

 From my series 'We Are Not You'  (portrait of Melissa Kuntz)

From my series 'We Are Not You'  (portrait of Melissa Kuntz)

JULIA at Boxheart Gallery


Photo:  Working with Julia Erickson in the studios of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, preparing for my upcoming exhibit of new portrait paintings at Boxheart Gallery (opening on August 24)


Last December, my debut solo exhibition, Beautiful Dreamers, featured portraits of 16 women who make Pittsburgh an exceptional city.  On August 24th at Boxheart Gallery (Pittsburgh, PA) is the public reception for my next portraiture exhibition, Julia, a series of oil paintings celebrating Julia Erickson, Principal Dancer with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and Creator and CEO of Barre, LLC.

I had asked Julia to be part of my first show, Beautiful Dreamers, and getting to know her through the process of painting her portrait was truly an inspirational experience for me.  Not only is Julia a wonderful person, but her dedication to her art, ballet, as well as her entrepreneurial acumen in starting and growing Barre is truly impressive.  Getting to know Julia inspired me to approach my painting with the same commitment and passion as she brings to dance.

I was intrigued by the concept of a “serial portrait,” or a series of portraits all about a single subject meant to capture different aspects of the subject’s personality. Andrew Wyeth has, perhaps, the most famous “serial portrait” in his Helga series, and Alex Katz created a similar project through his lifelong dedication to painting his wife, Ada.  I became interested in how the cumulative effect of a serial portrait can convey a greater understanding of an individual than a single image or moment.  Once I met Julia, I realized I would be honored to attempt a "serial portrait" of such an amazing woman.

I created my paintings for Julia based on a series of photo shoots taken at my home/studio in Greenfield and the studios of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. I am grateful to have been welcomed by the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre to observe a studio rehearsal for Giselle where I created life-drawings of Julia, and the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre also graciously allowed us to use costumes for paintings that will highlight the artistry of PBT’s dramatic productions while also showcasing specific moments of choreography.  The centerpiece of the show will be a full-length diptych of Julia as Odette and Odile in Swan Lake. 


About Julia Erickson:

Born and raised in Seattle, WA, Julia Erickson received her training on a scholarship with Pacific Northwest Ballet School and San Franciscio Ballet School.  She began her professional career in ballet in 1999, when she accepted a position with Fort Worth-Dallas ballet (now Texas Ballet Theatre) where she danced for two seasons. Julia is now a Principal Dancer with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. She joined the company in 2001, and is about to enjoy her thirteenth season with the PBT.

Some of Julia’s favorite roles include Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, The Sylph in La Sylphide, Sugar Plum Fairyin The Nutcracker, Lady Capulet in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette, and the leads in Balanchine’s Agon, Prodigal Son, Who Cares? and Serenade.

Julia’s career in ballet has taken her around globe. She has performed at the Sadlers Wells Theater in London, the Edinbugh Festival in Scotland, the Hong Kong Festival in China, and most recently in Israel at venues in Karmiel and Tel Aviv. Locally she has performed with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, and choreographed and performed at the annual Dancers’ Trust benefit performance.

Throughout her career in ballet, Julia has maintained her passion for food. In 2010 she combined her love of food and ballet, and started a nutrition bar company appropriately called Barre! Barre is a real food nutrition bar conceived of Julia’s own recipe in her South Oakland kitchen.  Through Barre, Julia endeavors to teach young dancers the importance of proper nutrition and share the culinary secrets of dancers to the rest of the foodie world.


Beautiful Dreamers: A Celebration of Pittsburgh Women


I’ve always been interested in figurative art, portraiture especially, ever since childhood trips to the National Gallery of Art with my parents—they’d let me pick out a postcard of my favorite painting from that trip, and invariably I chose images of beautiful women, often by the Impressionists. Shortly after art school at Carnegie Mellon, however, I’d turned to abstraction as a way to find my “voice” as an artist.  Often these were paintings I thought might please “the art world,” or might look good for eventual MFA program applications, but when I sold my first piece during a group show, I couldn’t help but feel dissatisfied and even a little phony, feeling as though I'd sold something that I didn’t quite believe in.  I asked myself the most basic questions, such as, did I even really know how to paint?  Were my meager attempts at abstraction really expressing any new ideas or were my paintings just "pretty colors"?  After that night, I gave up abstract painting, instead teaching myself how to paint with oils using the techniques of the old masters, learning from experimentation, books, and most importantly, countless hours studying great paintings during many museum visits. 

During these years, I painted studies of faces and heads, often using my friends for models.  I broadened my interests in portraiture to include John Currin, Elizabeth Peyton, and Lucian Freud, as well as classic glamor photographers such as Cecil Beaton and Edward Steichen, and deepened my study of the portraitists that are most influential to me: Klimt, Sargent and Cecilia Beaux.  I began daydreaming of a possible portrait show.  After seven years of training myself in oil painting, I know that I still have so much to learn, but I feel confident enough with my craft to present my work.  I knew that I wanted to create a show of portraiture, and as I began thinking who my subjects could be, I realized I would like nothing more than to use the opportunity of my debut solo show to celebrate young women who are making Pittsburgh a truly exceptional city.  “Beautiful Dreamers” is over two years in the making, counting from when I asked the first of my participants to pose for me, until now, with the show opening in just a few weeks.
The most difficult part of this show, for me, was in actually asking these great young women to pose for me—I had to overcome a lot of nervous stress!  I didn’t have any particular system for asking women to participate.  I’d met some of these women through my work at the Three Rivers Arts Festival and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.  Some women, like Casey Hanner, the lead singer of Donora, and Katie O’Malley, the host of Pens TV, I asked simply because I wanted to meet them!  To give an idea of my thought process during this time: when my daughter Genevieve was born, I couldn’t help but notice that one of the doctors in the delivery room had incredibly beautiful eyes—and with her surgical mask and scrubs, her eyes were all I could see!  I tracked her down several months later and asked if she would like to take part in my show.
Although asking these women was the most difficult part, getting to know them has been, by far, one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  I’ve made friends with so many interesting, strong young women.  While traditional artistic disciplines such as figurative painting and portraiture are often derided as old fashioned or passé, I believe projects like mine show a way that this type of art can continue to be very relevant, by celebrating the greatness in our community and our lives.  
My 16 collaborators/ portrait subjects are:

Julia Erickson, Principal Dancer, Pittsburgh Ballet Theater

Tara Gainfort, Arts Advocate

Heather Hackett, Manager, Gateway Center Crazy Mocha

Casey Hanner, Lead singer of Donora

Kathryn Heidemann, Director of the Masters of Arts Management Program at Carnegie Mellon University

Joy Ike, Singer-songwriter, voted Pittsburgh City Paper’s “Best Solo Artist” for the fourth year in a row

Dr. Cindy Lisica, Adjunct Professor, Dept. of East Asian Languages & Literatures, University of Pittsburgh; Project Archivist, Andy Warhol Museum

Kellee Maize, Rapper; Founder and C.E.O. of Nakturnal

Toby McHenry, Biologist

Laura Miller, “Secret Agent L,” the international kindness movement

Nami Ogawa, Designer and Founder of ZETO clothing

Katie O’Malley, Host of Pens TV, Pittsburgh Penguins

Larkin Page-Jacobs, Journalist, Blogger, Host of “All Things Considered” for WESA/NPR

Dr. Kiran Perkins, MD, OBGYN, Mercy Medical Center

Angela Seals, Program Manager, Childrenʼs Museum of Pittsburgh

Kate Stoltzfus, Co-founder of Propelle for women entrepreneurs; Founder/Editor of; Digital Strategist, Plumb Media

Beautiful Dreamers opens at Fe Gallery (in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh) with a reception on Dec. 7, 7-11pm.  There will also be a special night of music on Dec. 14, 7-10pm with singer song-writer and Beautiful Dreamer, Joy Ike.

BOOK @ 709 Penn Gallery

BOOK opens tomorrow night (Friday, Oct. 19) at 709 Penn Gallery.  Reception 6-8pm.

About BOOK:

In the spring of 2012, my parents’ house (my childhood home) was struck by lightning, reducing my father’s vast library of books, collected over a lifetime, to ash.  The devastation of this fire, coming at a time in our culture when digital books are outselling print books and bookstores are disappearing from our landscape, made me reflect on the idea that books as we currently know them may soon become precious objects.  While artists continue to create "artists' books" as art objects, using printed matter as an art material has also become a very vibrant trend.  In BOOK, I invited artists Seth Clark, Dana Ingham, Randie Snow and Brett Yasko to reflect on the material nature of books, and changes in the way we perceive and consume them.  I chose these four Pittsburgh artists because I admire their work, each has a unique perspective, and because each is a graphic designer with a sensitivity to text. 


(The World and Will and Representation, cut and folded pages by Dana Ingham)


(Detail of Ingham's piece above) 

Seth Clark describes his series in Book: “The New York Times Style Magazine commissions various artists to interpret their logo for the publication's cover. Many times, these adaptations are physically built to only later be photographed, printed and distributed. Something is lost in this (d)evolution. As print turns digital, we get even further away from an original form and experience. Here, I celebrate the original.” 

Dana Ingham titles his work from the book from which it is made: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, about the relationships between religion and the economic and social life in modern culture. (Max Weber, 1904, translated by Talcott Parsons, 1930).  Weber's work articulates a connection between religious motivations and economics and describes the Protestant work ethic as the precursor to Capitalism. Prosperity, like salvation, can be seen as a correlation between intelligence, confidence, dedication and hard work.

The silhouettes in Ingham’s work are from photographs taken in and around Pittsburgh. “Juxtaposed against the text of Weber's book, I wonder if intelligence, confidence, dedication, hard work and investment are still paths to prosperity and virtue available to everyone,” Ingham inquires.

Randie Snow creates “Book Relics,” speaking to the way books and traditional photographs are going by the wayside, becoming something to covet. In Snow’s Bible Series, she pairs virtues with their opposite sin, such as Chastity and Lust, Pride and Humility. Her new series explores themes of death and horror through literature, including Dracula and Frankenstein. 

Brett Yasko presents five sets of books in which he has transcribed the complete dialogue from four movies and a television show from the 1980s that he still remembers “because of a particular scene where the male character is either professing his love to, breaking up with, or being dumped by the female character.” In the unique way these dialogues are transcribed, each pair of books in the set relies on two people reciting the text between them.


Seth Clark is a Pittsburgh based artist and designer. Abandoned and collapsing architecture has served as a central focus of his work for over four years. He earned his BFA in Graphic Design in 2008 from Rhode Island School of Design and has since been awarded two Design Excellence Awards from the American Institute of Graphic Arts, Pittsburgh. His drawings and paintings have shown nationally, most recently earning him Best in Show at the Three Rivers Arts Festival and publication in New American Paintings.

Dana Ingham’s artistic life began as a kid, constantly drawing from comic books and Mad Magazine, and building forts from scrap lumber. He says these pursuits are what led him to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and a degree in Visual Communications. Ingham has been a freelance graphic designer and artist working in Pittsburgh since 1986.

Randie Snow is an assemblage artist based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her work strives to find harmony amongst seemingly contradictory ideas.Visually influenced by her background as a commercial graphic designer, Snow’s assemblages incorporate found objects, both man-made and natural, each contributing what she refers to as “a sense of energy and life lived.”  Each object takes on emotional qualities that contribute to a collective voice, ultimately telling the story of their combined experience and history.

Brett Yasko is currently Director of Design for the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. He also works with select clients on a freelance basis from a one-person studio in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His work has been recognized in exhibitions such as AIGA 365 and 50 Books, 50 Covers and written about in publications and websites including Communication Arts, Print, How, the New York Times, The Nation, Metropolis, Dwell, Good, Azure, Fast Company, NPR and Design Observer as well as Pittsburgh’s Post-Gazette, Tribune-Review and City Paper. He’s a member of the adjunct faculty at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design.


709 Penn Gallery is located on 709 Penn Ave. / Downtown Pittsburgh Cultural District

Hours: Wed. & Thurs. 11 a.m.–6 p.m.; Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m.–8 p.m.; Sun.11 a.m.–5 p.m.

709 Penn Gallery is a Project of The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s Education & Community Engagement department.

Exhibit runs through November 18.

"Feminist And..." at the Mattress Factory

Every time I go to the Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh's museum for contemporary installation art, I know that I am going to have a truly unique experience.  The current exhibit, Feminist And..., presenting new work by six women artists curated by Dr. Hilary Robinson, does not disappoint.  Carrie Mae Weems' piece, Lincoln, Lonnie and Me - A Story in 5 Parts, a video projection on mylar, is incredibly vivid and haunting.  Go see it! 


(A still from Lincoln, Lonnie and Me - A Story in 5 Parts by Carrie Mae Weems, video projection on mylar, 18 minutes. A Twitpic by Mattress Factory.)

Vanessa German - Love Front Porch & Emerging Artist of the Year

Here is just one grouping of the many mixed media sculptures by the 2012 Emerging Artist of the Year, Vanessa German, currently on display at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

Her incredibly inspiring community project, Love Front Porch, was recently written about in Pop City Media and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.  Check it out and support it here: 



Youth & Beauty @ the Cleveland Museum of Art

Thomas Hart Benton, Self-Portrait with Rita, 1922

A couple of weeks ago we ventured to the Cleveland Museum of Art to see Youth and Beauty, a collection of art from America's roaring '20s.  The works on view included liberated, modernized portraiture and urban-industral landscapes from the Jazz Age with an emphasis on youth and industry's exciting potential, and changing notions of the values that define beauty.