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Three local artists take different paths to Illuminations

Carlow exhibit features moving work by Ruane, German and Oresick

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After the deadly 2015 shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Suzanne K. Mellon, president of Carlow University, said: “It is not enough for us to talk about a just and merciful world, but rather it is time to ask ourselves what we are doing to make that world a reality.” Answering this call is Sylvia Rhor, Carlow University Art Gallery director and professor of art history, who has curated Illuminations: Works by Vanessa German, Peter Oresick and Christopher Ruane.

Reading the works clockwise, one first encounters three photographic prints by Pittsburgh-based composite artist and photographer Christopher Ruane. Painstakingly created over a period of one to two years each, Ruane’s massive digital photomontages comprise thousands of individual layers drawing from Biblical stories and figures. The results are dreamlike compositions set within the modern world of various Southwestern Pennsylvania locales.

Facing the gallery entrance stands a double-sided altar created by the visual, performance and citizen artist Vanessa German. The assemblage of vintage baby shoes, bottles, spoons and keys is sorrow made manifest. Centered within each altar is a tar-covered santo niño embodying the artist’s grief for victims of gun violence. “Marcus” is named after a baby whose life was cut short at 18 months; “Robert” is in memory of the young father German witnessed die across the street from her home.

The show culminates with work by the late poet, English professor and painter Peter Oresick, who died in September. Stemming from a childhood in the Ukranian Catholic Church, Oresick’s enchantment with icons was first stoked by faith, then cultivated in a workshop with icon painter Peter Pearson. This decades-long passion for Byzantine iconography is evident in the three works on display that merge both the sacred and secular. Mill workers of Oresick’s youth flank a faceless “Madonna of the Steel Valley.” “Messiah over Pittsburgh” shows a crucified Christ floating above the city’s skyline and three rivers. Imbued with the artist’s greatest passions, however, are the four “Icons of American Literature,” where Oresick honors his literary saints: Poe, Whitman, Melville and Dickinson.

For individuals seeking a moment of quiet reflection post-election, this intimate space and moving exhibition provide an opportunity to contemplate faith, grief and hope, and perhaps one might also ask and answer: What can I do to help illuminate the world?

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