Breathtakingly Basic at Gallerie Chiz | Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Breathtakingly Basic at Gallerie Chiz

Susan Middleman's paintings and Stephen Gleasner's sculptures impress

Susan Middleman's "Modern Lovers"
Susan Middleman's "Modern Lovers"

The best art moves people. In some cases, it reveals the truth about the human condition; in others, it elucidates the spirit/matter conflict; and, in others still, it tells a story. Each approach is present in the Gallerie Chiz exhibit Breathtakingly Basic. The show contrasts the works of Susan Middleman and Stephen Gleasner. Middleman uses oil sticks to paint monument-sized "pictures of home," while Gleasner creates much smaller, highly finished art objects employing the most basic of materials.

The tensions of human existence are reflected in Middleman's work. Love and hate, melancholy, devotion and the joy of being a woman are among her subjects. Viewers can identify with raw cocktail-party scenes, people yearning for love, isolated individuals á la Hopper, and the spiritual distance between people. There is sensuous expression as well as a conscious primitivizing of figures. The Pittsburgh-based artist has a great sense of design with jazzy patterns, rhythmical striped lines and gaudy colors. Figures are often distorted to emphasize composition, while the artist relies on local color and position for perspective. Titles are offbeat: "A kiss is just a kiss according to the dog." Middleman writes that she wants the public to interpret for itself the stories she suggests.

Gleasner's art is more about the mastery of machine and technique, creativity responding to the rules of the mind and material. The work, in the form of finely finished vessels and glossy, striated spheres, incorporates plywood and denim. The plywood is nearly diaphanous and seamless, its grains dyed with mellow golds, greens and blues. The curled and folded denim evinces a natural beauty. Gleasner is obsessed with "cutting through layers," a metaphor for his life. The work also offers insights into the interplay between spirit and matter. The Maine-based artist writes in an email that he "wants people to feel something," and he achieves this with his lathe and these lesser respected materials.

This exhibit's triumph lies in the contrast between the respective mediums and the works' sizes. In Middleman, we feel a vicarious pleasure as we observe and react to the honest body language and personalities of her pictures. In Gleasner, the color harmonies are stunning and invoke mystery about how he accomplishes the effects. The exhibit's simplicity evokes a view of what is interior, but with which most people can resonate.