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 Yinzpiration.com; 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.