Artists and Friends Return to Chatham for Alumna’s Art Exhibition

Attendees and VIPs at the Gialamas exhibition. Artist Fran Gialamas is in red; her subject Lesley Wells is in stripes.
Photo: Angela Billanti

Author: Angela Billanti


Artist and alumna Fran Gialamas returned to Chatham University in September to present her art exhibition, “The Chronicles of a Chatham Art Major.”

The collection derives from her 1958 solo exhibition proposed by her art professor Charles Le Clair.  “I took it very seriously and it was considered a professional exhibit at that time, even though I was a student,” Gialamas said.

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Artist Duane Michals’s work on display at the Carnegie Museum

With the free access to the Carnegie Museum of Art that Chatham students’ ID cards provide, it is shocking that more people don’t take the time to enjoy this cultural experience.  Specifically when the exhibits are constantly changing, like the collection of photography by Pittsburgh native Duane Michals, which is on display until February 16.

Upon entering the Duane Michals exhibit, one might initially find him or herself somewhat confused by the photographer’s apparent criticism of the photographic medium.

The writing on the walls of the exhibit suggest that Michals is very much against the idea of the ‘powerful single image’ and feels that a single photograph can not convey a poignant narrative–a counterintuitive opinion for someone who makes a living taking photographs.

Photo Credit: Katerina Sarandou

Photo Credit: Katerina Sarandou

The further into the exhibit one gets, however, the more apparent it becomes that Michals is not being critical, he just sees art in a different way than most.

He was once quoted as saying, “I am an expressionist and by that I mean I’m not a photographer or a writer or a painter or a tap dancer, but rather someone who expresses himself according to his needs.”

He also expressed the idea that he does not trust his eyes to find images to photograph, but rather his artwork comes from within himself. As a result his goal is not to document objective reality, but is to create his own introspective reality, based on preconceived images in his head, and to tell a story.

In this way, Michals’s tendency towards creating photo-essays, and writing on his photographs lends itself to his goal of telling a story, or creating a social commentary.

Photo Credit: Katerina Sarandou

Photo Credit: Katerina Sarandou

In the first piece in the exhibit, entitled, “Things are Queer”, Michals photographed a scene, within a scene, within a scene, and so on until the final image expanded out into the same scene as the original image. Though it may not have been the most compelling of his pieces, the viewer is immediately hooked by the idea, and it is easy to find oneself going back and forth between the first and last images trying to wrap one’s head around the concept.

That piece perfectly illustrates one of Michal’s quotes, in which he says, “My photographs are about questions. They are not about answer.”  Each photo in the set gives a bit more information about the narrative, but in the end the viewer is left with nothing more than what he or she started with.

This piece also sets up an expectation for the rest of the show.

Viewing his work is like reading a novel, in that the viewers constantly find themselves wanting to skip ahead to find out how it will end. However it was different from a novel in that the ending gives no concrete answers, only more questions.

Another highlight of the exhibit was the section entitled, “In the Mind’s Eye.”

This examination of human nature is filled with compelling photographs that stick in the viewers’ heads long after they’ve left the exhibit.

Photo Credit: Katerina Sarandou

Photo Credit: Katerina Sarandou

In one such piece, entitled, “Christ in New York,” Michals manipulated photographs so that a halo appeared around a man’s head as he intervened in various upsetting events, like a poor immigrant woman eating dog food for dinner, and a gay man being beaten in an alley. In the last photograph the “Christ” character is seen laying on the ground, and Michals’s caption says, “Christ is killed by a mugger with a handgun. The second coming had occurred and no one noticed.”

As a quote on the wall of the exhibit read, “[Michals] disrupted the medium’s trajectory with a radical new way of picture-making.” The fact that he used multiple photos, and text, to turn an image in his head into a visual piece of social commentary makes his work groundbreaking and effective.

The overall theme of Michals’s body of work is one of subtle retaliation against an oppressive system, with the ‘system’ in question being everything from traditional artistic practices, to the social and political atmosphere of the times.

This is especially true when his work–mostly from the late 20th century–is put in the context of the times, when society was fighting for social change, and was rejecting traditional values.  Michals is an utterly original artist, and his photography is not only beautiful, but also made makes the viewer think.

Chatham professor Corey Escoto exhibits art at Carnegie Museum of Art

If you take a trip to the Carnegie Museum of Art in Oakland, chances are you will notice a prominently displayed sign outside of Gallery One that features a name familiar to Chatham University and its students. Corey Escoto, a Chatham professor for the past five years, currently has an ongoing solo exhibition in the CMOA as a part of the 2014 Pittsburgh Biennial.

His exhibition is titled “Corey Escoto: Sleight of Hand,” and features his ‘experimental polaroids’ paired with sculptures that work alongside the photos. The polaroid images themselves, 16 in total hanging on the walls, feature different images pieced together in geometric forms instead of the standard solitary image that is conventionally associated with instant polaroid photos and photography.

These altered images play on our willingness to accept photographs as a concrete representation of truth and the world around us, when in fact they too can be so easily manipulated. They also play along with the ideas of chance, mistake and experimentation, which is in fact a part of how they came to be.

Photo Credit: Alice Shy

Photo Credit: Alice Shy

After dealing with the difficulties associated with lost digital photo files, a stolen computer, as well as a lost phone, Escoto decided to try polaroids as his photography medium.

With a large quantity of the instant film, Escoto says that with the polaroids, ” I could take pictures of anything and everything and not feel too fearful about not making great photos.”  They provided a chance to have more freedom with experimenting beyond the conventional and straightforward uses of the polaroids. The new medium brought with it the freedom to experiment and make mistakes.

The polaroids in the exhibition were produced by selectively covering areas of the light sensitive film with cut stencils to control the light exposure. This is how his camera stencil method came to be, and he has been fine-tuning and experimenting with the process for nearly three years.

The camera stencil technique that Escoto uses allows for the film to go through multiple exposures instead of the usual single exposure and provides them with a look that appears to almost to have been created and manipulated in Photoshop. This creates geometric forms within the larger images that unite fragmented smaller images of different places or objects.

Photo Credit: Indigo Baloch

Photo Credit: Indigo Baloch

The various images and moments are flattened into a single pattern in one planar surface. By using this technique of multiple exposures, the instant nature of the polaroid photos is undermined, as the end product now requires more than one exposure to be finalized, but it also creates new potential for what can come of their use.

In the exhibit at the CMOA, the polaroids are accompanied by related sculptures that bring the geometric shapes and patterns of the images into three-dimensional space.

Photo Credit: Indigo Baloch

Photo Credit: Indigo Baloch

Working against the flatness of the photographs that they are modeled after, the sculptures focus on surface and are made from materials that resemble natural materials, but are exclusively synthetic and man-made. They are made from goods such as wallpaper, paint rollers, printed vinyl, spray foam, cardboard, plastic, contact paper, and Plexiglas.

This is not the first major exhibition that Escoto has been a featured part of. Last spring, he had a solo show at Taymour Grahne Gallery in Manhattan and the year prior to that he had a solo show in Brooklyn.

The show in Brooklyn, presented at Regina Rex, a small and out of the way artist run space, was able to create other opportunities for Escoto, including his current show at the Carnegie.

He says, “each show is important, even the small ones, and I try to produce the best possible outcome given the situation for every show, big or small.” This just goes to prove that every show that an artist puts their work into is important, regardless of size, as they can lead to greater opportunities in the future.

“Corey Escoto: Sleight of Hand” is on display in Gallery One of the Carnegie Museum of Art through September 29, 2014.


Dots and Doodle hosts Mocktails, Cocktails, and Canvas

On Friday, September 5, beginning at 6 p.m. in Café Rachel and the Chatham University Art Gallery in Woodland Hall, the Office of Student Activities along with Dots and Doodle’s hosted “Mocktails, Cocktails, and Canvas”. This event invited students to enjoy delicious drinks from Café Rachel while painting canvases under the direction of the Dots and Doodle’s staff.

When asked why the Office of Student Activities decided to host the event, Hallie Arena, assistant director of Student Affairs, said that previous, similar events received good reviews and were greatly enjoyed by students, and the same could be expected for the event this time.

The event was set up mostly in the Art Gallery (connected to Café Rachel), with light refreshments set up in the Café. Each person who registered on my.chatham was given a seat and a canvas with a rough outline of a flower traced in pencil.

Throughout the evening, the Dots and Doodle’s staff gave guests step-by-step instructions on how to paint his or her canvas to look similar to the model—an abstract painted flower, consisting, appropriately, of many dots and lines, as well as an array of bright colors.

Attendees were also given vouchers for Café Rachel, allowing them to purchase one to two drinks of their choice to enjoy while painting their canvas. As previously mentioned, a table of free refreshments (such as homemade potato chips, raw vegetables, and a variety of dips) was set up in an adjoining room.

The event was, as expected, a success, giving participants the opportunity to get creative with their painting, take home a great decoration, as well as make new friends. Senior Ashley Trainor said, “It was so much fun to sit at a table where I knew no one…once we began painting, we were all laughing and joking with each other.” Trainor then went on to say, “I’m so glad I went to this event, and I hope Chatham invites them back again.”

Photo Credit: Allison Albitz

Photo Credit: Allison Albitz

Part of the success of the event could be attributed to the popularity of similar events around the city. Also a factor in the success is websites such as Groupon and LivingSocial, which make events such as these not only a possibility, but also makes them affordable for organizations such as the Office of Student Affairs.

The greatest appeal, however, to this form of art and this kind of event is the concept as a whole. The direction from the Dots and Doodle’s staff makes painting the canvas flower simple, not only for those who have artistic skills to begin with, but also those who may never have taken an art class or painted a canvas.

The simplicity of the pieces that the staff chooses allows students to feel confident in the possibility that they could recreate it, as the concept of painting dots and lines is one that most people can grasp.

Overall, the event was a success, and many attendees are already looking forward to Chatham’s hosting of another, similar event sometime in the future.

Artists gather at the 45th annual “A Fair in the Park”

The mood at Mellon Park the weekend of September 6 was one of creativity and family fun as the community gathered to celebrate the 45th annual “A Fair in the Park.” The fair, hosted by the Craftsmen’s Guild of Pittsburgh, is an event that provides artists from all over Pittsburgh and surrounding areas an opportunity to show and sell their work. This year’s fair, which took place on Friday, September 5 through Sunday, September 7, included over 100 booths featuring a wide variety of mediums from photography and painting to woodworking and textiles.

According to Kathryn Carr of Bethel Park, a board member for the Guild and owner of Go Car Go Art Studio, planning for the event begins well in advance of the fair itself. The process, which she described as “quite an endeavor” involves everything from choosing the vendors, to laying out the locations of the tents, and organizing food vendors and performers for the main stage.

Photo Credit: Katerina Sarandou

Photo Credit: Katerina Sarandou

She also explained that all of the vendors must provide their own tents, tables, and anything they may need for the show, so setting things up takes a while. “Fortunately, I got to put up my tent on Wednesday” she said, chuckling.

The efforts of the Guild paid off, however, as the park was packed with hundreds of individuals, couples, families, and friends who came out to enjoy the festivities. People strolled through the sea of white tents and enjoyed rows and rows of arts and crafts. Vendors also enjoyed themselves, as was clear by their engagement with the customers. They were eager to talk to the patrons, and were more than happy to share their backgrounds, artistic processes, and to talk about the pieces they were selling.

June Burns, the owner of Peachie Originals in Fredonia New York, was one such vendor. Her artistic journey began thirty years ago when she decided to turn her engineering degree into something more rewarding. She and her husband have been making old-fashioned wooden puzzles ever since, and the two of them, as well as their children, travel to fairs and festivals to sell their products.

Photo Credit: Katerina Sarandou

Photo Credit: Katerina Sarandou

“It’s not about what you’re good at, it’s what brings you joy,” Burns said, attributing the quote to her grandmother. “I enjoy connecting with people, and talking to all of the customers.” She went on to say that, despite living in New York, she loves “A Fair in the Park” because it is a “community show.” “Other venues are too big,” she explained, “but the people who live around here invest in their community…you see people coming back day after day.”

In the center of the festivities was a large stage that featured numerous bands throughout the three days, including “Cello Fury,” “Lovebettie,” and “‘Celtic Indian’ Arvel Bird.” In addition to performing, the artists also sold merchandise, and were more than willing to meet with their fans after their shows

Around the main stage, the fair boasted several food vendors from all over the area. There were options for every dietary need, with food from BRGR, Randita’s Vegan, and PGH Crepes, among others.

Being the community event that it was, the fair was just as popular for children as it was for adults. Numerous activities including face painting, animals from the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, and backpack decorating, were organized for the kids who attended the event.

Photo Credit: Katerina Sarandou

Photo Credit: Katerina Sarandou

In addition to planned activities, children were eager to watch the various artists at work. One artisan quickly gained a large group of young spectators who were eager to watch him carve a bowl from a block of wood.

Despite Carr’s point that this tends to be a “busy time of year for a lot of people,” the fair did not seem to suffer at all. After 45 years, the fair is still an important community event, and the general sentiment among the attendees was an excitement for it’s future.

The art of seeing: modern technology meets creativity in a local iPhone photography exhibit

Common wisdom would have people believe that the creation of art is only for the elite: people with extensive training and pricey equipment at their disposal.  However English artist, Hilary Robinson, proves in her new exhibit, “Pittsburgh je t’aime”, that all one truly needs to make art is a smart phone and an eye for beauty.

Currently based out of Middlesex University in London, Robinson spent several years in Pittsburgh where she was the Dean of the College of Fine Arts at Carnegie Mellon University, as well as serving on the boards of several local art establishments.

Robinson’s exhibit, located at the Pittsburgh Filmmaker’s Galleries in Oakland, displays a collection of over 100 photographs, all of which were taken on her iPhone, and printed on a commercial printer.

The photos, which were taken in various Pittsburgh neighborhoods–specifically Lawrenceville, depict views of the city that are easy to miss if one doesn’t pay close attention.

They include images of graffiti, close-up shots of small discarded objects, interesting patterns in fences and doorways, cracked plaster on buildings, and contrasting compositions between natural and urban elements of the environment.  These still-life photos capture a certain raw beauty in the bustling urban environment to which Pittsburgh plays host; drawing attention to the simple intricacies that can so easily go unnoticed among the distractions of people’s everyday lives

As her artist statement explains, Robinson took many childhood visits to her great-uncle’s cottage, where she learned to pay attention to the small details of the world.  He knew the land inch by inch, and she would accompany him on walks around the fields where he worked as gamekeeper.  It was his devotion to the land, and the environment, that inspired Robinson’s keen eye, because he taught her “lessons about how to look, about the democracy of looking, and about the knowledge gained when you really see something.”

Photo Credit: Katerina Sarandou

Photo Credit: Katerina Sarandou

What Robinson does in this exhibit is present the viewer with a whole new way of seeing.  Her images capture the idea that beauty is everywhere, and that to see it one must move past simply seeing, and learn to truly observe his or her environment.  Her love of the city is clearly evident, and the images convey a sense of knowing a place intimately, and appreciating the fleeting beauty of such an environment.  As a result, each individual photo seems to capture, not a scene, but a moment in time.

The theme of her images is perpetuated in the gallery where they are displayed, and in the manner of their presentation.  The photos, taken on an iPhone and printed on photo paper, are attached to small metal binder clips, and hung on nails sticking out of the whitewashed walls of the gallery.  Likewise, the gallery itself has rather rough, industrial feel; reminiscence of Lawrenceville’s industrial past.  Nothing about the display draws attention to itself, but rather puts all of the emphasis on the photos in a way that they almost become an organic part of the environment of the gallery.

Robinson’s exhibit clearly displays a reverence for the world around her, and rather than letting her artistic expression be stifled by modern technology, she embraces it in a way that is unique to her style.  If viewers should take anything away from this show, it is that art is art is ubiquitous, and that art is accessible to everyone.

The Filmmaker’s Galleries is located at 477 Melwood Ave., and is open Monday through Friday.  “Pittsburgh je t’aime” will remain there through Feb 21, with a closing reception on Monday, February 17 at 5:30pm.

Reimagining Woodland: the future of art in liberal arts at Chatham University

One of Chatham’s most overlooked gems is the Olkes Collection, which contains hundreds of African artworks. Housed in the Woodland Gallery and the primary subject of one of the university’s Museum Studies courses, Curating African Art, it is rarely showcased to visitors due to both a lack of proper security and a shocking lack of interest on-campus.

When I came to Chatham in the fall of 2010, I entered as a Creative Writing major. Even so, it wasn’t long before I became an Art History major instead. One of the most promising and, in today’s contemporary art scene, most challenging fields out there, I felt thrilled to choose the museum world as my career path.

By the time I became a Senior, the art history program had vanished as its own major and had instead been reduced to a mere concentration in the Visual Arts major. The logical answer for this sad turn of events is simply that Chatham University did not have enough interested recruits.

But how could they when no marketing was given to the department? Chatham University’s numerous brochures boast for pages upon pages of their interest in global issues, politics, environmental studies, and science – and their renowned English department, whose professors have (quite deservingly) received many accolades.

However, the Olkes Collection, art history program, and Museum Studies minor were rarely mentioned. In fact, as Chatham pours millions of dollars into the Eden Hall Farm project (which has so far served only to artificially impress donors and alumni rather than serve current students), they have cut opportunities for student jobs, refused to fix faucets, pianos and other parts of their mansion-like dorms, taken away beloved student spots such as the Weathervane, and major by major, are slimming down their academic offerings.

Any other university in the country who offers a strong art history program, especially one with such a spectacularly focused collection and a close proximity to world-renowned museums such as the Carnegie International, would boast about these things. Chatham, however, has never said so much as a peep. I only knew about the major, in fact, after purposefully scrolling for it after taking interest in an art history survey course in high school.

If Chatham is to proclaim itself to be a powerful liberal arts school, then it must not ignore the study which so strongly encapsulates the visual culture and material evidence of our past, present and future. The wise choice would not have been to cut back on, but to build on their program (which has offered classes as varied as African Art, 19th Century European Art, Asian Art, and even special topics, such as Women in Art), to expand and market the Art History major, including welcoming new professors and redesigning the Woodland Gallery.

The new gallery could not only beautifully display the entire Olkes Collection, but might have also included a separate gallery, connected by doors, for student, faculty and guest exhibitions. Even better, would have been regular hours for the Woodland Gallery’s opening, regular security members on-site to protect the items, and, perhaps, even full-time staff members to research and restore the university’s art collection, both in a research room in the gallery, and in an off-site storage space for works not currently in view (perhaps at Eden Hall?).

Chatham University has always taught its students to be world-ready women. With an increasingly limited number of disciplines offered at the school, how can this be possible if we are not allowed, in college of all places, to explore different subject matter and improve upon those dear to our hearts?

How is it possible that they are able to quietly lock away studies, which–despite their important influence in the world at large–are strangely ignored in our own supposedly progressive academic halls? Take, for example, the Carnegie International, which made headlines not just in Pittsburgh but around the world this year for using groundbreaking contemporary art to bring light to important issues, including poverty, war, and discrimination. Art and its study must never, can never, and should never be removed from the liberal arts.