Pillbox

Artists of the Year showcase new creations

Vanessa German’s piece “America” offers powerful commentary on the American experience through 
homage to African-American folk art.  (credit: Samantha Ward/) Vanessa German’s piece “America” offers powerful commentary on the American experience through homage to African-American folk art. (credit: Samantha Ward/) Charlee Brodsky’s exhibit Good Dog features the artist’s dog, Max, as the “actor” in each of her photo books. (credit: Samantha Ward/) Charlee Brodsky’s exhibit Good Dog features the artist’s dog, Max, as the “actor” in each of her photo books. (credit: Samantha Ward/)

The Pittsburgh Center for the Arts is teeming with bright creations and new ideas. Charlee Brodsky and Vanessa German — who earlier this month were named 2012 Artist of the Year and Emerging Artist of the Year, respectively — are currently displaying the unique and intricate creations that earned them their titles.

German’s work, titled 21st Century JuJu: New Magic, Soul Gadgets and Reckoning, explores the concept of souls. Her statement reads, “I am thinking about the technology of the Soul; how I might go into the inside of the inside of the inside, what I got to do to git there, and how I attend to what I find [sic].”

Rooms feature statues of dark-skinned women, doll-like and eerie. Each figure possesses a presence and soul. Their attire is pieced together from an eclectic mix of odds and ends: Keys, light bulbs, animal statues, birds, mirrors, and pieces of Americana adorn the figures.

German’s work exhibits a strong commentary on the American experience, largely focusing on African-American and black folk art. In one room, a large ring of 14 statues adorned in American paraphernalia stare out past viewers. The first figure visible from the doorway sits atop a table labeled “America,” with rusty nails jammed into its torso and holding an American flag handkerchief.

German investigates the pain and presence of American culture in her work, and succeeds in displaying a powerful range of emotions through her figures. The body of work was created with the intention of showing only what German loves to create. According to her statement, she asked herself the question, “What comes from my most innate, original places?” and worked forward from that point.

German is a self-taught artist who currently lives and works in Homewood. Her process involves a collection of old kitchen materials, domestic items, old tools, and objects that people use in everyday life.

Brodsky’s work, featured on the second floor of the art center, displays a more subtle approach to creation. Her work appears in book form, pairing photographs of her dog, Max, with the words of famous poets, artists, and authors. She displays seven handmade books featuring Max with the words of William Shakespeare, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Mary Shelley, Samuel Beckett, and John Muir.

The pictures and text mix in a pleasant, slightly humorous nature. Max, a small West Highland white terrier, is considered the “actor,” taking on different roles in each of Brodsky’s photo books. In one of the books, where the photos are paired with passages from Shelley’s Frankenstein, Max plays the role of a monster. In another of Brodsky’s photo books, called Dual Tracks, he is featured as an urban escapist, paired with lines from Muir.

The large prints of Max paralleled with the philosophical writings that Brodsky chooses gives the little white dog an oddly human quality to him. What appear to be his heart-wrenching thoughts on life and his surroundings document him as an unspoken philosopher. For example, a print from one of Brodsky’s other photo books, called The Artist, matches a forlorn picture of the small dog in a deserted alley with painter Mark Rothko’s musing, “Silence is so accurate.”

Brodsky’s statement on her exhibit, titled Good Dog, begins with “I didn’t start out as a dog photographer.” This particular exhibit is her first presentation of Max as her subject. A professor of photography in Carnegie Mellon’s School of Design, she pairs her photographs with famous writers “to get at the human condition,” she explains in the statement. “There is seriousness at its core, but there’s a lot of humor, too.” Brodsky’s past work has similarly focused on combinations of photographs and words, though largely in collaboration with other authors.