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Artist Explores Our Ability to Be Self-Destructive, Remorse at the PCA gallery
by Eric Sloss Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2008 at 8:03 PM (email address validated)

Artist Explores Our ...
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Artist Explores Our Ability to Be Self-Destructive, Remorse at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts

In times of war it is not uncommon to hear military vernacular in everyday language and in the media, symptomatic of a disturbed cultural consciousness in times of strife. It becomes commonplace to hear terms like “AWOL” and “MIA,” taken from their military context and applied to everyday civilian experience. Reflecting this phenomenon, the military term “R and R,” meaning rest and recuperation, provides inspiration for the latest exhibition by Susanne Slavick, the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts (PCA) 2008 Artist of the Year and the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Art at Carnegie Mellon University. Showing now through Nov. 2 at PCA. “R&R&R” expands upon the original military lingo, filling the acronym with new meaning- R&R becomes “regret, recover and renew” in “hopes to pose questions about the complicity… or miraculous recovery from self inflicted destruction.”

“Susanne was selected as the Artist of the Year because of her outstanding work as an artist and educator,” said Laura Domencic, Executive Director of PCA. “The pool of nominees was varied in disciplines and each had made significant contributions to the community as well as having an impressive career body of work. The committee recognized her strong impact on future generations of artists through her teaching in the Pittsburgh community. What made her stand out was the high level of quality and poetic nature of her paintings; her art is powerful and articulate.”

The exhibition is presented in 6 different rooms along the second floor of the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. It seems as if the work is installed in deliberant succession. Each room takes viewers on a journey though visions of architectural wreckage complimented by an overlay of Arabesque imagery in gouache paint. Slavick combines appropriated images and hand-painting to transform images of ruin into meaningful cultural criticism that “recognizes, rues or reconstitutes” devastation and is as thoughtful as it is expansive- the rooms are filled with over sixty pieces of artwork, most digital prints with gouache on German-made Hahnemühle paper.

If the artist wants us to contemplate our own self-destruction, her ambitions are realized in the very first room. Each print of architectural ruin is framed with wood and glass, each evoking the wreckage of a bombsite. Rebar is exposed through cracks of concrete and bulging structures, bared innards testifying to the violence forever captured in the still of the aftermath. The gouache overlay emphasizes the arabesque geometrical shapes, as if the paintings represent a window or fence dealt a lucky fate and spared the bomb’s wrath.

In contrast to the severity of the buildings, the overlaid paintings are simple and reserved, almost transparent in opaque white. Though most of the gouache images are obvious fixtures, out-of-place by character, color or depth, some fool the eye, appearing an innate part of the print. Especially in the first room where the prints are matte gray, the gouache merges with the image in an integrated, deliberant whole.

In the second room, Slavick offers the same simple painting gestures evident in room one. The gouache overlay is not as aggressive but the digital prints are unrestrained, increasingly stark and mournful. Room two is the main room adjacent to the second floor steps, where one cannot avoid the 4 wood-framed glass prints on the back wall, each holding the same image of a building’s façade. The building hosts empty balconies without windows. The prints stand 66” x 42” and are titled “Recover: Illuminations,” “Restoration: Red Balcony II,” “Remorse: White Curtains,” and “Restitution: Spectral Barriers.” Each print is treated in a different color, one each in red, black, yellow and white. The haunting “Remorse: White Curtains” is black with gray undertones, the building’s fifteen balconies harboring a delicate gouache painting of curtains flying seamlessly in the wind. The curtain’s simple color and ruffles evoke a sense of repentance.

In room two Slavick presents her first depiction of the human form, painting white shadows of ancient workers laboring over the digital print of a decapitated bridge. In their perpetual toil, the workers reconstruct the pulpit of a mosque, called a minbar.

In rooms three and four the paintings over the prints become more complex and begin to show a more expansive selection of architectural remnants. If you know Slavick as a painter, you’ll be happy to see the painting titled “Resurgency,” a 60” x 96” oil, acrylic and Galkyd on panel. This massive painting fills an entire wall of the third room and exclaims Slavick’s wonderful talent.

Rooms four, five and six maintain a more complex presentation of gouache painting. A wide arrange of beautifully colored birds, camels ornate with gold and red sash, dragons billowing from smoke, flowers or blue blankets hanging from rope superimpose the prints depicting bombed buildings, desert scenes or abandoned machinery. The effect is both disconcerting and exuberant, a singular climax in the movement from austerity to extravagance.

Two additional paintings adorn the white walls of room five. The paintings depict ropes, metal and cloth wrapped in the middle of trees, beginning and ending both on and off the panel. These paintings are the bleakest declaration of the exhibition’s theme- that we are responsible both for our destructive ethos and for its remorse, revealing something disturbingly masochistic about the world we live in.

Note: A version of of this article appeared in the Piper a publication of Carnegie Mellon University. Eric Sloss is an employee of Carnegie Mellon University and is a freelance art writer and critic.

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"by 24 Nessie Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009 at 5:02 AM" this is a forgery Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009 at 1:09 AM
see the show 24 Nessie Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009 at 10:02 AM
Artist's Website! BE47 Saturday, Dec. 06, 2008 at 8:36 PM
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