Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category


Lisa Platt

December 5, 2010

Lisa Platt began her artistic career in 1998 with paper mache. She also worked with sculpture, and focused on making sea creatures and mermaids. “I am a mermaid,” she says. In 1998, she took some of her work to the PCA shop and they took it on.

Yellow SubmarineMosaics are now her main focus. She creates her own tiles, fires them and paints them, then arranges the tiles, often around found objects, such as rescued wood. Her works are diverse, some focusing on sea creatures, and some showing urban landscapes. Her work “Yellow Submarine” is an example of objects integrated with her handmade tiles. In this work, her submarine is surrounded by water made of Youghiogheny stained glass.

Other pieces of hers focus on city life, such as her piece entitled “Our Town.” In it is depicted a building with “a crazy lady with a big head. That’s me.” The building also contains a transvestite couple, as well as “a single mom with four kids, a fish and a bird.” On the top of the picture is the night sky, and people dancing on the roof. “It’s Pittsburgh”

The “crazy lady” represents Lisa because she is a landlord, as well as an artist and a teacher. She has taught workshops on mosaics, as well as art camp for mosaics. This winter, she is offering a class on paper mache at the Center for the Arts.

Lisa’s work can be seen around the city. She created the mosaic that wraps around the stingray tank at the zoo. She also has a large mosaic at Children’s Hospital. This mosaic features the hospital, the countryside, the city, and the zoo. “It turned out cute.” The mosaic contains, “doctors, nurses, birds, giraffes, monkeys.”

She describes her pieces as whimsical, and this characterization can be seen in a work she made for a former fellow at CMU. He commissioned her to create a work of art to thank his colleagues. She made the pieces with CMU’s mascot the Scottie dog, as well as the CMU seal, and plaid. Each of the four parts represented a different season, and for each season the Scottie dog had on different attire. For winter he had a winter hat, and in summer sunglasses.

“A lot of artists represent themselves in different ways. My interest is to lighten it up. My intent is to make people smile and be happy. I crack myself up all the time.” Her work gets people smiling, from her large mosaics to her ornaments. She sells ornaments of fat cats with whiskers. People bring these ornaments up to the register in both hands, looking at the little faces and smiling.

Lisa was born in Pittsburgh, but moved to Florida in 1979. There she had a variety of jobs, including manager of a ship store in the marina and working on a fishing boat, on which she was the only girl. “They did challenge me,” she says of the experience. Her time in Florida is part of what inspires her love of sea creatures and mermaids.

Other factors have also influenced her art. “I grew up around a wonderful family.” Her dad was a creative writer, and friends of her family were photographers, painters, furniture makers, and people who made money with their crafts. They were “a bunch of bohemians.”

Lisa worked at the zoo for 16 years as the operations manager; she was in charge of the gift shop, restaurant, catering, and special events. She was also responsible for hiring, scheduling, and tracking 150 seasonal employees each year. “My strength is I am good with logistics.” The job was intense and rewarding. It was hard to make the transition from employee to self-employed artist. At the time she made the change, she was managing 10 buildings, working full time and making art. “I couldn’t do it all. I had to back off from something.” It took time to get “used to not going to work everyday for someone else.”

Of the PCA she says, “I love the Center. I took classes there as a kid and young adult in ceramics.” She would especially like to thank Jen Carter, the PCA Shop Manager. “She’s so devoted to the program, which features some of the nicest work I’ve seen in one place. She;s a good, strong manager, lovely person, and talented.”

Of life as an artist,“this is the best time of my life now,” she says.

Visit the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts to view Lisa’s work.


Ron Donoughe

November 27, 2010

Ron Donoughe is a Pittsburgh artist known for his plein air method. He finds outdoor locations in and around Pittsburgh, sets up shop, and paints outdoors. Once he has created his painting, he brings it into his studio to create a larger version. He began his outdoor paintings years ago because he “wanted to do work directly from life in an honest way.” He is interested in light and shadow, as well as how colors change over distance.

When he had begun painting, the work he was doing was “clever. It felt like jumping through intellectual exercises,” and did not involve “experiencing the landscape.” He refers to this as “drawing from the interior rather than the exterior.” He switched to the plein air method because the plein air works were “more honest. They felt true to who I was.”

Donoughe comes from a large family and had seven siblings, one of whom is his identical twin. They grew up in the country, surrounded by cows and chickens, “immersed in the landscape.” During his youth he had a variety of jobs, including landscaping and grave digging, which he did with his twin. The graves were hollowed out with a back hoe, but he and his brother had to climb in with shovels to even them out. “It was a crazy job, but the undertaker always tipped well.” They also had a job that involved catching chickens in the chicken coup, which Donoughe describes as “character building.”

house shadowWhen he began outdoor painting, he painted rural landscapes in all seasons. He has since “warmed up to the urban landscape.” Nowadays he paints both urban and rural landscapes. With his twin brother he owns his parents home, which he frequently visits, finding locations in the area to paint. He also paints every day in Pittsburgh. “It’s part of my routine. I go out looking for subject matter. Something will stop me and call out to be painted.” In his urban paintings, he strives to “give voice to areas of Pittsburgh that don’t get a voice visually.” These days he has been painting in Garfield, Lawrenceville, and Braddock.

At the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Donoughe is currently selling his smaller Melt linepaintings that he completed while outdoors. His winter paintings are some of his most famous for the way they show the play of light, shadow and color on snow. He has paintings from every season in both rural and urban environments.

For more of his work visit his website at : or go to the PCA shop.


Divided Sky, by Michael Sherwin

September 2, 2010

Michael Sherwin’s exhibit Divided Sky is on display at the Melwood Gallery through October 17th.  A reception will be held on September 30th from 6:00 to 9:00 pm, at which Michael Sherwin will discuss his art.

Filmmakers interviewed Michael Sherwin on August 31st about his art, his process, and this current exhibit.

A variety of series created by Sherwin explore the theme of the change inherent in nature. “Everything is in a constant state of change,” he says. “It’s what connects us all. Even the inanimate, at the microscopic level, is changing.” Everything is in “a perpetual state of entropy. Cars, computers, buildings are all alike.”

The interaction of art and science is a theme in many of Sherwin’s works. Art and science overlap in that “artists and scientists are fascinated by wonder and mystery and the natural world.” The main difference is that “scientists are seeking answers; they aren’t content until they get answers.” Whereas, “artists are asking questions, presenting questions to the viewer to come up with their own answers. My work is about the mystery.”Collective Direction by Michael Sherwin

A variety of scientific insights have influenced Sherwin’s work. One of his compilations is a set of arrows from the parking lot of a mall. They are all clearly of the same species, but no two are exactly the same. This relates to evolution and the nature of animals and species that is greatly different from our platonic common sense about the categories of life.

Another major theme in Sherwin’s work is the connection between the macroscopic and the microscopic. Instances of such connections include his work Minor Planets, in which he photographs small rocks against a black background, causing them to look like asteroids and planets. “Deliberately placing clouds with bubbles from waves” is another way in which he deals with this theme. He visually compares the tangible with the inaccessible. “There is just as much going on in your backyard, just as much mystery and fascination, as in the solar system.” Sherwin calls it “the cosmic in your backyard.”

One influence on this way of thinking is his young daughter. “Her relationship with the natural world has infused my work.” The childlike wonder of a world in which everything is new and moving, mysterious and intriguing, is apparent in his art. Sherwin is also interested in the Butterfly effect,the causal relationships between separate things. The web of relations.”

Some of Sherwin’s works involve the appropriation of videos and images from webcams. This is due to his “fascination with the everyday and the ordinary. Webcams are designed and intended to be objective instruments for scientific purposes.” However, often, “objectivity fails” when they are “recording an abstraction.” As an example, Sherwin cites his work entitled True North. This work from True North by Michael Sherwinconsists of images from the webcam situated at the North Pole. “The true North Pole is under water, so the camera is placed on a floating chunk of ice. It is bombarded by extreme weather and can only photograph three months a year. Sometimes the camera is hanging from its mount, or caked in ice. Every few minutes to an hour, an image is transmitted. It is of no real use to scientists.” However, it has an aesthetic appeal. “To me it is really attractive. I have a visceral response to the abstraction.”

Currently on display at Filmmakers’ Melwood Gallery is Divided Sky, a work which includes the combination of photographs by Sherwin of the sky with appropriated images from webcams and the internet. One piece of the work is entitled In The Clouds and contains photographs of the sky that are broken up by Facebook status updates. The sky represents the universality of human experience, and the appropriated images from the internet represent the divide that our technology creates between ourselves and the natural and social world we all inhabit. “Webcams, youtube, internet, social media, and technology have divided us from the natural world, separated us from each other.” The title works “literally for some pieces,” because the sky is overlaid with grid or text. Sherwin says of the work, “it symbolizes the feeling I have about our society and the effect media has on us.”

Sherwin chooses to draw his his images from webcams that depict abstractions. This way, “the viewer has to work,” and can participate in the artistic/scientific processes of observing phenomena and asking questions.

Included in the exhibit are three books derived from Google image searches. Sherwin googles phrases in quotations and collects the images that emerge. When performing the searches, he has an intent, but not an exact vision of what the final outcome will be. The work arises based on the images that are out there on the internet. These books are “commenting on human society’s relationship to the natural world.” In so doing he shows a variety of subjective visions of what we tend to consider objectively describable phenomenon.

The internet has changed our sense of place, time, and physical mapping. According to Sherwin, this is both positive and negative. It has upped our connectivity, but “the process of connecting via wires has separated us from our desperate need for physical connection.” Although Google Earth is an excellent educational tool that gives us perspective on our planet, “it has taken away from our internal compass. The more we rely on GPS and maps, the less independent we are, the more automated we are by machines and technology.” Sherwin says he is as guilty as anyone of this reliance. “I don’t mean to critique society because I am an active part of it. I want to explore.”


American Independents: An Interview with Kyle Stevens

August 24, 2010

“Any contemporary study of independent film should start with Cassavettes,” says Kyle Stevens, a doctoral candidate at the University of Pittsburgh, who will be teaching a class at Filmmakers in the Fall Semester entitled “American Independents: Cassavettes, Todd Haynes, and the Coen Brothers.”


Stevens’ class will cover the history of independent film, using these three filmmakers as case studies to illuminate the economics, aesthetics, and techniques of independent film. Cassavettes was the first modern filmmaker to work outside of the system, and to create “new forms of narrative” that challenge the expectations of viewers. He “pioneered the style,” bringing in new ways of filming and acting and incorporating improvisation, allowing his films to “capture the present moment.”

Todd HaynesStevens finds Haynes an exemplar of independent film because he “made us rethink ways we watch,” particularly the way we watch women, and how we identify with characters.

The Coen Brothers are the models of modern independent film. Stevens asks, “how independent are they if they are winning Oscars?” Yet they have their own style, and he lists one of their movies as among his favorites.

Stevens feels that independent films are accepted by the mainstream because “we enjoy having our expectations played with.” As life gets more complex, we are able to accept, and we often desire, “more complicated forms of storytelling.” Independent films are better suited to deliver this than mainstream films based on stock narratives. They also “speak to our senses of identity,” and are likely to deal with issues such as race and sexuality, which are of interest to a wide audience.

Coen Brothers

Stevens’ plan for the class is to have students watch films, cogitate, then spend class time analyzing and discussing. Themes that are of particular interest to Stevens are the ways people interact, the ways they present themselves, and the politics of identity. These topics, among many others, will be discussed in the class.

When asked about his favorite independent film, Stevens noted that he had recently seen the Coen Brothers’ “A Serious Man,” which he likes because it is “deeply funny” and, unlike other Coen Brothers movies, not cynical. It accomplishes being “sincere, but not trite.” In particular he is fascinated by the prologue, and says he “can’t wait to discuss it with the students.”


Faculty Profile: Mark Perrott

May 3, 2010

Mark Perrott, an adjunct faculty member at Filmmakers, has developed several series of photographs, each years in the making. We spoke to him about three of those series: tattoos, roygbiv, and modern ruins.

Perrott was driving home one day when he passed a tattoo parlor called Island Avenue Tattoo in McKees Rocks. This was in 1975, when tattoos were “way outside the mainstream culture, “ when they were for “motorcycle guys, convicts, and fallen women.”

“I was always intrigued, and one day got the courage up to stop the car and go in. In back was Nick Bubash bent over a barber chair. Every wall had artwork, posters, postcards, every kind of cultural debris. I fell in love.” Perrott talked to Nick for all of 15 minutes, and was then invited to come into the parlor anytime to photograph his clients. So Perrott came back that Saturday and set up shop in the back of the parlor. He stayed all day, and anytime a person finished getting tattooed, he made a portrait.

Perrott’s photos were always of the subject. The tattoos were never the central focus, and in many of the photographs the tattoo is not visible in its entirety. With the portrait he captures “the powerful process of transformation, that change from terrified to making a pubic announcement that you’ve completely changed.” He shot all the photographs naturally, never giving the subjects any direction. “I love how they spiritually and emotionally organize themselves. I just shut up and waited and wanted to see what came from that moment. The subjects sat with me for 15 minutes, then they were back in the wind.”


“I love all the people, most of all the ones who come in with a friend.” The friend holds your hand while your getting a tattoo, and becomes an important part of the ritual. “I encouraged my subjects to bring the friend to take the picture. I loved that relationship, how they organized themselves in an affectionate way to make a portrait.”

Perrott went to Nick’s on Saturdays for over a year. Then he asked himself, “where else in the country is this happening?” He went to West Virginia, Ohio, New York and New Jersey. He connected with tattoo artists and went to a variety of shops from 1979 to 1980. Around this time the notion of tattoo and the cultural significance of tattoo were changing. “It was a renaissance of tattoo.” Perrott went to conventions with 30+ tattoo artists. At conventions, “people strut and parade and carry on.” The vulnerability, terror and power were leaving tattoo. He set up a booth at conventions and made hundreds of portraits. This continued for 2 or 3 years. In 1983, he showed some of his prints to Jack Lane, the director of the Museum of Art, and had a show at the museum.

He traveled around the country to Seattle, New York City, LA, San Francisco. A culture of celebrity tattooists was developing, and he set out to meet the artists that were most searched out by clients.

All told he worked on the project for 20 years, and took thousands of portraits, all shot with the same camera and similar lighting strategies. “That first day at Nick’s set the pattern.”

“In 1979 it was a rite of passage.” For a 17 year-old male, it was “a powerful way of joining a tribe. He was now marked, and could never go back to the old tribe. People came to Nick to memorialize an important event. In the same way a photo memorializes a graduation or a wedding, tattoo has the same power.”

But tattooing has changed since 1979. “Tattoo has lost its outsideness completely.” At Nick’s, people were getting their first tattoo. “But once they’ve covered most of their exterior, the next tattoo doesn’t have the same effect. When I first started, who knew about tattoos? They were not cool, not mainstream. Athletes never got tattoos.”

The project changed over the years as he found fewer and fewer first times tattooers. He went to tattoo conventions, and found people “so thoroughly beyond their first tattoo. They would display, parade.” He discovered that he had chronicled the history of the tattoo renaissance.

“At the end of my tattoo adventures, piercing showed up as another layer. By 1990 piercing was at tattoo conventions, as was suddenly brightly colored hair.”

“I went through a time when I decided: everything you never wanted to do, you should try doing.” For Mark Perrott, that meant making color photographs. “Roygbiv was an anomaly. “ He had never made noncommercial color photos before, and hasn’t since. “Color was never part of my interest, it’s too complicated. Nothing about color says ‘use me.’ The only color that intrigued me was the folks outside the Beehive on Carson. In the spring they came out, showed up with that brilliant, outrageous, striking hair.”


“I did 100 or so roygbivs. I went on the road, went to Club Laga in Oakland.” On Saturday nights on the dance floor, there were always willing subjects. With the permission of the owner, he set up shop, took kids one by one and photographed them. These portraits Perrott printed up huge, 6 feet by 6 feet. ‘Those heads have to be big!” He even made the head of Emily 12×12 feet. “Emily had blue hair with magenta streaks. She’s teaching school now. But my wife saw her smoking a cigarette outside an art store, and she told her to come to the studio.“

Perrott has a third set of photographs called Modern Ruins. “Living in Pittsburgh, Modern Ruins started in a little coffee shop. I was reading the paper and saw an article about Jones and Laughlin steel. They were demolishing the steel mill. It seemed important to make a record of it before it was gone.”


“Pittsburgh was steel and steel was Pittsburgh. We were the muscle that made steel, big things for big cities, big buildings, big wars. That’s gone now.” In order to make a record of the mill and its demise, he snuck into the steel mill every Sunday and photographed all day. “There’s something fascinating about seeing a place dissected. Every week something was missing, and a new view materialized. It was intriguing, like dissecting a corpse.”

So Perrott spent a year of Sundays in the old steel mill, and Saturdays at Nick’s. “Tattoo was a Saturday event. People got paid, had time off, went to Nick’s.”

To see samples of these collections, as well as many other works of Mark Perrott, visit his website at


Sheep Ranching and Belly Dancing

April 14, 2010

Among the many projects of Will Zavala, full-time instructor at Filmmakers, are two documentary films strikingly different in subject matter and aesthetic, but similar in theme.

The films are San Francisco Beledi, which documents the Bay Area based American tribal belly dance troupe FatChanceBellyDance, and Today I Baled Some Hay to Feed the Sheep the Coyotes Eat, which is about the lives of sheep ranchers in Montana. San Francisco Beledi focuses on the collision of cultures and the tension between the art and its reputation. The theme of Today I Baled Some Hay to Feed the Sheep the Coyotes Eat is to “bring people in touch with something they’ve become divorced from.”

Fat Chance Belly Dance

Although belly dancers and sheep ranchers represent different sides of the spectrum of American livelihoods, Zavala found that they have certain similarities. Both are down-to-earth people who are in touch with tradition. The dancers find inspiration for their work in the dances of nomadic peoples of the Middle East, and have created a hybrid of ancient and modern styles. The ranchers are also grounded in a nomadic tradition, following and tending their flocks.

The films have an opposite aesthetic impact. San Francisco Beledi is filled with the bright and intense colors of costumes and tattooed urban dancers. The light is strong, and in some scenes theatrical lighting was used, which intensified both color and shadow. The end result is a vibrant, kinetic film. Today I Baled Some Hay to Feed the Sheep the Coyotes Eat, on the other hand, has a muted tone. It takes place on the treeless hills of Montana in cloudy weather. Will Zavala explains that the sheep aren’t ever washed and thus “the sheep themselves get a little dirty.”

Dirty Sheep

In a documentary, certain scenes are salient, summarizing the theme in a few images and words. In the case of San Francisco Beledi, one such scene takes place in a restaurant where the women are dancing. They are on a stage that is in front of a window that faces out onto the street. As the women dance, two men are to be seen outside, pointing at the dancers and joking around. As this image is played, it is overlaid with an interview in which a dancer discusses the bad reputation of belly dancers, and her desire to rehabilitate the art. This scene represents the tension between the art and its image, as well as the dancers’ place as both artists and agents of social change. In Today I Baled Some Hay to Feed the Sheep the Coyotes Eat, the ranchers do not call a veterinarian or try to save ailing sheep, yet they help a sheep give birth. It shows how the ranchers “do not form bonds with the animals, yet are intimately involved with them.”

Both films are currently available for viewing. For more information on these films, go to Will Zavala’s website at


The Force that Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower

April 5, 2010

An interview with Connie Cantor, a Pittsburgh-based artist whose work appeared in Cluster, and is currently on display at the Rock Paper Scissors exhibit.

Connie Cantor

When I saw Connie Cantor’s painting, it spoke to me. I understood it on an intuitive level and had no logical reason, nor even words, to describe the feeling. I am not accustomed to this experience because I generally rationalize my intuition. I like to see things from a mathematical perspective; I deduce, infer, derive. Wanting to understand why I had this reaction, I set out to find answers through a logical process. My first step was to see Cantor speak at the Cluster panel discussion.

At Cluster she said, “I give myself permission to make art.” She spoke about how her art was not pre-conceived, and was based on intuition. Her explanation suited her art, but it did not explain why I felt a connection to her painting. In order to get a better understanding, I sought her out for an interview. I wanted to find out how our two different outlooks could have found a point of convergence in her painting.

I have come to the conclusion that the answer lies in our similar views of what consciousness is, but our divergent ways of handling our own consciousness. I see consciousness an illusion, a thin veil over the unconscious mind. It is often the traffic guard of the unconscious, directing attention. But it is also the policeman, judging the ideas that are fed to it, censoring. It is this action of the conscious mind that Cantor wants to circumvent. She says, “Your conscious self is your worst enemy. It is programmed with things that have nothing to do with you. The more you depend on your consciousness to define you, the further you get from truth.” She wants the full self to express itself without the intervening judgment and censorship of the conscious mind. This means that art isn’t preplanned consciously, yet what emerges is an authentic representation of the artist, and of an aspect of reality that needs to be expressed.

Being aware that I suffer under self-imposed limitations, I was drawn to Cantor at the Cluster discussion when she said that she gave herself permission to make the art that she makes. I ask her to describe this phenomenon to me. “It is the nut of the whole process. How do artists deny they are creative? How do people deny they are creative?” she asks. “They don’t give themselves permission to fail, to look like an idiot, to stumble around. What I am doing is stumbling. Stumbling is the only way to find something authentic.” To make art, you need to have a certain faith. It is a “faith in the core of yourself, a faith that something will emerge.”

Intuition is the driving force behind Cantor’s art, and she feels that art is made when the creator stops judging herself and allows the art to emerge. At this point, “the false self peels away,” and the artist is an integrated whole. When making art, she is not in control. “I surrender to some deeper wisdom that I have to trust won’t let me down.” She refers to this as “spiritual physics,” the law of which is “if you approach your work without judgment and fear, and with trust and faith, what you need is in you, even if buried under a million layers.”

In Cantor’s paintings, a variety of symbols tend to emerge. There are little houses, big forks, bones, chairs. When asked what these objects symbolize to her she says, “nothing. It is not my job to ask what they mean. When meaning is in your conscious brain, you stop. It is not helpful to deliver a conscious meaning. Don’t codify, solidify, freeze information or shape.” She likes what the recognizable objects do visually, “what they allow me to do.” They give her “the freedom to juxtapose and to transplant. I like them for the sheer fact that they are weird and out of place.”

Cantor does not plan her work, but rather allows the images and information to emerge. “For me, when something is planned, it falls flat.” She has a dialogue with the work and makes decisions, but tries to minimize that dialogue to allow what needs to come. She quotes Leonard Cohen, “’I write until something better than myself emerges.’ He doesn’t mean better than who he is, but better than he could have created consciously,” she explains.

Ceasing to judge yourself, having faith that there is something great in you that will emerge, and giving yourself permission to explore and grope until that light emerges are the underpinnings of her artistic philosophy. It is this approach, this freedom from the negative aspects of consciousness, that spoke to me through her painting.

For Cantor, making art is an all-encompassing process. Physicality and movement are important aspects of her work. She enjoys “accessing from the body as opposed to the mind.” The work becomes an extension of her body. If she feels separated, she stops, and gets back into the flow. She asks herself, “What do I need to do in this moment? Whatever the answer is, don’t censor that.” Judgment is a form of self-sabotage. It limits the artist. To make art, one must let go of judgment. One needs to grope. Here she quotes Dylan Thomas: “’The force that through the green fuse drives the flower.’ That is what art is to me,” she says. It is that vital force.

Connie Cantor’s work is currently on display at Artist Image Resource as part of the Rock paper Scissors exhibition. This exhibit is open until May 23rd.

Her work is also on display in a duo exhibit with artist Janise Hexon called Inside Glance at the Christine Frechard Gallery in Squirrel Hill. This exhibit ends on April 8th.

She will also be chairing the Interplay exhibit at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. This exhibit runs from June 25 to August 22, 2010 with the opening reception on June 25, 2010 from 5:30 – 8:00 pm.This is a major collaborative event with the PCA, AAP and the 8 guilds. It will be juried by Eric Shiner of the Warhol Museum.