From a distance, you can tell it's a tree, but just barely. Kenneth Batista's landscape doesn't look like a painting; it looks like a digital photograph with really bad resolution. You can see the blocky pixels and, up close, the picture looks like a mess of colored squares. This effect is deliberate. It's Impressionism for the Information Age. You end up gazing at these paintings for much longer than you realize.
Batista's series "Recent Work" is one of 10 solo exhibitions now showing at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. These exhibitions, housed in separate rooms, show an exhilarating range. Batista's paintings are technically simple and easy on the eye, and they reflect vast exploration. The tree portrait is based on a photo Batista took in Kenya. Not only does Batista tinker with computerized imagery, but you could imagine hanging his art on a living-room wall.
Approximately half of the PCA exhibitions make you want to personally own them. Ryan Woodring's series of paintings, "Drying," is based on a YouTube clip of a tsunami crashing across a Japanese shore. Without the artist's statement, you would never guess their inspiration, but the landscapes stand on their own. The muted colors and grainy consistency make these images feel damp and moody. Just as the tsunami decimated the coast, Woodring washes out his paintings, and their texture is captivating.
"Hungry Ghosts," by Stephanie Armbruster, behaves similarly to Batista's and Woodring's series. Inspired by Buddhist folklore, her paintings are grimly abstract. They combine encaustic — a painstaking process that involves heated wax — with graphite, paint and charcoal. The hungry ghosts are people whose materialist desires are never satisfied. The paintings are rich and engaging, but knowing their muse, they also seem cold and lonely.
Many of the other exhibitions are sculptures and installations, on par with any avant-garde works at the Carnegie Museum of Art. They are creative enough, and strange enough, to elicit all kinds of reactions. Some will find humor in Blaine Siegel's buffalo head and Jerstin Crosby's music-playing slice of pizza. Others may find them unsettling. But this is where PCA reigns triumphant: It has the space, and the daring, to try every medium and attitude at once. These are not really 10 solo shows. They are one big anthology, and more than the sum of their parts.