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InPgh Weekly >> 11.15.00 >> A&E >> Exhibits

Jorge Myers connects history and place through art.

Jorge Myers uses remnants from his neighborhood to create an art that traces his roots. Photo by Daniel Gray-Kontar
By Jorge Myers
Les Idees Gallery // Duquesne University, Uptown
Through Dec. 1: 396-6687

Try to visualize Miles Davis' classic tune "Sketches of Spain" at three in the morning, eyes closed to the sound of Davis' melodic horn. That's the essence of Jorge Myers' vivid paintings and provocative sculptures.

The 43-year-old artist from the Hill District investigates African-American folklore past and present -- where the loss of the African motherland intertwines with the exploration of a strange land. He captures the moments in which one's roots rise into one's life, then considers the significance of those moments.

In "Anthony," Myers reconnects with his fallen 17-year-old nephew, killed in a drive-by shooting two years ago. At the painting's center is Anthony's abstract black figure, surrounded by strong reds, blues and yellows. Thus his vibrant spirit lives on, in a heroic tribute punctuated with a painful question: How many more black youth must die?

Myers pays homage to a man who loved jazz as much as he loved his beer in "Horn for My Father." Bottle caps pasted on a striking red canvas form the horn; red symbolizes the name of a band his father once loved: "The Blazers."

Ironically, there's a distinctly maternal vibe here, derived from the survival skills Myers learned from his grandmother, who made clothing out of old burlap sacks. Similarly, Myers rarely uses materials other than Hill District discards. To create art, he snags everyday items: old ceiling tiles, nails, bottle caps, broken glass and discarded paint.

In fact, his work is an art of necessity. "If tiles on the ceiling were falling down, I knew that it would cost money to have the city cart them away," he explains. "So I would paint on them and hang them on the walls instead. People would come by and tell me what I was doing was art. But I just saw it as home improvement."

Myers owes much of his success to William "Buzzy" Robinson, former owner of the Hill's Crawford Grill, who had showcased local artists in his jazz joint during Myers childhood. (Two success stories: Mbuto, whose work has received international acclaim, and the locally esteemed Ding Bat.) From age 14 on, Myers learned from Robinson that painting is a reflection of the story within the soul. This all came back to him a few years ago while he was renting the space above the Grill.

"Here I am listening to the jazz coming out of the walls," he says. "Remembering conversations that I've had with cats, with my grandmother, and I've got all this stuff around me that most people just throw away. I know this one cat, he was on heroin, but he was a genius ­ he said to me, 'You know where most people go wrong? They buy equipment to make their art. But anything that is flat is a canvas.'"

Those "thrown away" artifacts, along with an ever-present ethereal quality, make each piece distinct from the next. // DANIEL GRAY-KONTAR

By Susan Constanse
Helios Arts // South Side
Through Nov. 30: 381-6117

There's something a little questionable about an art movement that defines itself by stipulating what art cannot and shouldn't be -- especially when what it can't be is anything that involves complex ideas or forms. But that's the basis of Stuckism, a new European school of thought birthed in response to the commercial success of Brit Art.

The main tenets of the Stuckists: True artists only paint; anything conceptual is bad; postmodernism is evil; and if a body of work must be shown in a gallery then it's not art. Access to sofas, tables, chairs and cups of tea are necessary in order to appreciate the work.

Installations are specifically targeted: Stuckists denounce the idea that one can manipulate a space or objects with a certain space, imbue it with meaning and call it art. It's a thought that has probably crossed the minds of conservatives every now and then, but even they usually grant that it's not that the work isn't valid -- they just "don't get it."

Stuckists, on the other hand, write off most "professional" artists as commercially minded folks who intend to profit from duping the public. They themselves are "amateurs" willing to take risks -- although limiting your genre to paint and canvas doesn't seem too risky in my book.

The archetypal Stuckist would seem to be a really pompous character, but Susan Constanse, whose latest show is on display at Helios, is anything but. A former installation artist herself, Constanse's interest in the more understandable aspects of Stuckism is worth some consideration. She believes conceptual art has alienated most viewers; art shouldn't be a private language; and that it should speak of the human condition.

Thematically, "the human condition" is pretty vague, so it would be unfair to say Constanse aims to limit what artists can discuss in their work. But setting a boundary in the first place reeks of the Guiliani school of art, not the intentions of a woman wanting to put emotion back into painting. And by the way, "emotional" and "conceptual" aren't mutually exclusive; perhaps many viewers are alienated by complicated works because they've not been taught to think about art in a productive way. Perhaps the solution is more art education, not eradicating anything that's too hard for the mainstream to understand.

It seems the Stuckists value craft and narrative over meaning, but their work on the whole doesn't illustrate any great talent. Constanse's work, however, is engaging -- her series of vibrant oils on canvas of snakes and birds in particular. She also depicts scenes of people interacting, taut with expression -- her commentary on the human condition, I suppose, but I can't say her work is ripe with emotion.

It's hard to review a body of work and not critique the philosophies of the artist, when one believes that art lies primarily in meaning. Technical skill is one thing, but to truly examine the human condition is to find new ways of thinking about it, not to force creativity into a tiny box. Constanse's paintings might be visually stimulating on a certain level but they're definitely not the end-all of artistic creation. Ironically, I doubt she would think so, either. // SHARMILA VENKATASUBBAN

By Granular Synthesis
Wood Street Gallery // Downtown
Through Dec. 16: 471-5605

Feld 1 departs from the norm for Austrian artists Kurt Hentschlager and Ulf Langheinrich, whose previous work has focused on the landscape of the body and face rather than digital culture. Their depiction here of electronica is at turns exactly what one would expect and completely unexpected. The two, who go by the moniker Granular Synthesis, use four video projectors, 20 loudspeakers and an overload of amplified sound and light to project a large, wide undulating line of iridescent light that vibrates and gradates to the sound of thumping -- the essence of the techno sensory experience. It's also the essence of what's most human about it: an immediate mental and physical reaction to light and sound occurs in this dark space. Rather than emulate any feelings of alienation (which often times seems to be the running theme when discussing the effect of electronics on life), these two artists seem to consider instead the almost "otherworldly" realm that can and does exist in these experiences. You don't have to be of the raver generation to understand what Granular Synthesis is getting at -- although you might need some strong eardrums. // S.V.

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