Back in the Saddle | Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Back in the Saddle

While most independent artists bring some kind of autobiographical element to their artwork, often that life experience is negligible; they simply haven't savored too much of the real world before taking up pen, paintbrush or camera. Yet sometimes a hybrid of experiences bears strange fruit. In a Bloomfield gallery, for instance, art "wrassles" the rough-and-tumble demolition derby.

Urban Cowboy: Jason Sauer, at Moxie DaDa, is a one-man show that attempts to, well, "mix" the biography of the local artist with the myth of silent-era movie cowboy Tom Mix.

Both artist and subject were born in central Pennsylvania, and both served in the armed forces. Mix would later make his name on the rodeo and sharp-shooting circuits, before becoming the prototypical Good Guy in the White Hat in the early flickers. Sauer, for his part, distinguished himself on the demolition-derby circuit and later, like Mix, took his experiences to the inventive arena as an artist and instructor.

The undated artworks on display sometimes serve as an autobiographical amalgamation of life lessons learned. Several "combine paintings" contain dented car parts attached to wooden canvases; it's unclear whether these mangled parts are mementoes of Sauer's derby escapades or items found later elsewhere. "Sesanimal" is one such creation. Listed as a mixed-media artwork (to be sure), it features large swaths of poured yellow and green paint that serve as the background for a grayish, transferred image of an exotic flower projected from its backing upon several small dowels. Also suspended from the action-painted surface is a smooshed yellow car door that serves to literally merge the artist's past and present passions in a single work.

Along the same curving lines, "Driftwood, The Rain Made That One" is an expansive abstract tableau-cum-car-part. Large plumes of yellow, orange and red imply an explosion: A gray car door appears to hang loosely at an angle. In the upper left portion of "Driftwood," two orange circles with contracted black dots at their centers resemble eyes. Witness to a demolition-derby disaster?

Bereft of found objects and imported imagery, "Satellite Garfield" is an abstract composed solely in paint. Several black, gray and white "peaks" streak the bottom of the canvas over a swirling reddish backdrop. Perhaps produced by placing globs of paint on the surface, then angling it to allow gravity to assist, it suggests a Martian mountain-scape. Another abstraction, "The Gold One," is a swirling, gilded stucco production with a simple red center. Is it the angry eye of the sandstorm, or its welcome end?

"Prototype 1" is, through its sheer bulk and occupation of floor space, the gallery's centerpiece. A dinged-up black shell of a Chevy Nova SS, it's tangible proof of the artist's forays into the world of demolition derbies. A pane of mirrored glass reflecting upward rests on the shell's floor, intended to provide a "picture yourself sitting here " scenario.

The "Urban Cowboy" motif? Well, it's not readily apparent. While the artist may not be a clove-cigarette-puffin', loft-livin' artiste, the works presented don't exactly proclaim the fish-out-of-water theme, either. Indeed, there's nary any angst visually presented about living in the Big City quagmire. Nor any bolo ties, cowboy hats or bull-riding machines. Instead, the exhibit reveals a refined vision that's more Robert Rauschenberg and less John Travolta; more Pollock, less cornpone. More like "Urbane Cowboy."

Check out this show before it rides into the sunset, pardner.

click to enlarge Urban Cowboy: Jason Sauer continues through Oct. 21. Moxie DaDa, 4510 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield. 412-682-0348 or

Urban Cowboy: Jason Sauer continues through Oct. 21. Moxie DaDa, 4510 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield. 412-682-0348 or

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