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AIR showcases nice work by resident artists

A joint show by Abby Franzen-Sheehan and Tresa Varner complements work by Tina Brewer

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Artists Image Resource is a multi-tasker, its North Side warren hosting open-studio sessions and teen-education programs, plus exhibitions that often overlap with artists' residencies in which work is produced on-site. So it is with two new ones featuring Pittsburgh artists.

 Patterns of Grace: Abby Franzen-Sheehan and Tresa Varner pairs colleagues in The Andy Warhol Museum's art-education program. The artists shared source material of old engravings, photographs and patterns in a fluid exchange, lending cohesiveness. Patterns of Grace represents the idea that humans seek balance and grace in their lives — a concept with viability as artistic inspiration, though somewhat remote for visual communication. 

Varner's take is realized as an evolving series of prints in which Warholian influences of camouflage patterns from cut stencils, found imagery and arbitrary color achieve a balance between abstract patterning and representational depictions. The viewer is cast in the role of seeker, puzzling over fragments submerged within bold shapes.

Franzen-Sheehan employs the same source materials to create diptych screenprints that are more mellifluous in color, stable in composition and readable in their unobscured antique iconography. Viewers see women pleading or praying, World War I-era soldiers busy destroying and — by connecting the dots — those women recoiling from the horrors of war. The patterns in this series are traditional floral prints, stereotypically feminine as well as representations of nature that contrast with the horrors made possible by civilization. Franzen-Sheehan also exhibits screenprints on canvas with hand-painted figures, inserting portraits of young people into the visual themes of the diptychs.

In a concurrent exhibit, artist-quilter Tina Brewer experiments with printmaking techniques to explore themes of the African diaspora. Her approach includes signs, symbols and motifs attesting to the accomplishments of African culture, the persistence and contributions of African-American culture and, by implication, how much has been suppressed and lost.

Presented as exploratory proofs, trial works on fabric and large prints, this series combines references to African geography, ocean currents linked to slave-trading routes and tribal symbols. The circular format, with its elements of symmetry, has an iconic presence, alluding to the vast tragedy of the slave trade. Brewer will incorporate this new work into quilts to be displayed at The August Wilson Center next year.

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