Self-taught local artists shine at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. | Art Reviews + Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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Self-taught local artists shine at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

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Binding Forces, curated by Tom Sarver at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, showcases work by two local, self-taught artists in diverse styles and media that fluently communicate how craftsmanship can be transformed to art.

Cardboard Sculptures, by Wilmerding native Doug Hill, is a fantastical menagerie of imaginary machines. Settled on tables, roosted on shelves, they dominate the exhibition. Cogs, gears, wheels and springs are all executed with plain cardboard, occasionally prettied up with scraps of materials emblazoned with color or logos; Sam's Club Cola figures prominently in Hill's factory of innovation, and the brownness of "Piston Drive" is interrupted by images of milk cascading over cereal. A penciled word or arrow offers matter-of-fact explanation or indicates physical direction, but provides little enlightenment: The application of these constructions is elusive. We've been admitted into the center of the works, but left without an operator's manual.

No doubt Hill knows how each element fits into the assembly line, but for the most part he's not telling. His silence leads us into our own designs. Examining these spellbinding fabrications -- peering at twine crooking through paper washers, and disc-like rings stacked upon each other like the clanking vertebrae of a wooden snake -- we create our own scenarios. Titles prompt us to mental activity: What, exactly, does one do with the "Course Extreme Arm Gear Up Test"? Could "The Sit-Up Machine" actually help? Is the snare-like "Massive Finger Test" something one could harbor expectations of passing -- and, if not, dare we even envisage the penalty for failure?

While most of these apparatuses are hands-off, a few invite the viewer to grab a crank and give it a go (albeit gently, italics the gallery's). To get this close and involved spurs further contemplation, opening us up to the invention of our own possibilities. As we turn Hill's wheels, he's turning ours.

String Paintings, spun by Dorothy Williams, who lived in the Hill District until her death in 2005, are far less complicated. They're devoid of guile or obscurity of any kind. Yet in their straightforwardness, they're no less entrancing. The scenes she represents with brilliant colors of embroidery thread celebrate the joy of dedication to family and simplicity. They're pleasurable because they're beautiful and herald a life viewed with beauty -- Williams' love for those around her, be they human, feline or fowl, is palpable in her renderings. Arms wave with exuberance at "The Party"; "Countryside" beckons with bucolic splendor; a vividly plumaged rooster is the personification of "Strutting." Her subjects are portrayed with warmth radiant enough to erase any chill we might be feeling.

In Binding Forces, the juxtaposition of Williams' sun with Hill's shadow results in perfect balance.

 

Binding Forces continues through Sun., April 13. Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, 6300 Fifth Ave., Shadyside. 412-361-0873

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