Hilary Shames: Ambridge artist emerges
Patti Conley, Times Staff

  Ambridge artist Hilary Shames is Pittsburgh Center for the Arts' Emerging Artist for 2005. Hilary is shown in a room at the Center where she has branch scupltures and digital photo montages displayed.
The Times / Sally Maxson

Her work flows like water, which is a compliment to artist Hilary Shames.

Water is H20, a combination of hydrogen and oxygen, a liquid that's wonderfully able to be ice or steam, a wave, a river, a flood. And more. It's a life necessity and life's quencher.

Think about what water is and can be on Friday evening or whenever you're at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts in Shadyside and looking at Shames' 2005 Emerging Artist Exhibition.

The exhibit opens Friday as part of the financially struggling center's fund-raiser, the First Annual House Party and 60th Anniversary Bash. The evening will feature Martha and the Vandellas as well as an exhibition by Clayton Merrell, the center's Artist of the Year. Shames is the center's 2005 Emerging Artist of the Year.

The Ambridge resident has the uncanny talent to give nature's simple things - a wildflower called Queen Anne's Lace, clover sprouts for a garden salad, a jade plant, sheer curtains, the branches from a neighbor's chopped down maple tree - depth and meaning beyond the commonplace.

Shames does so with 21st century techno tools - a computer, a monitor, a printer, a digital camera, a flatbed scanner and lots of ink. She also uses artists' tools of old -acrylic and oil paints, cords, block carvings, tape and photographs. She then mixes the virtual work with the real so that it becomes unique style.

What style is that?

Shames' brown eyes widened. She paused, then giggled like a bubbly teen. "21st Century."

Having Shames explain her work is like trying to corral a droplet of water.

She's fluid like water naturally is. So is this exhibit. The three rooms - the Anima Room, the Prayer Flags Room and the Branching Room - aren't still lifes or period pieces.

"It's the overall feeling of life and being alive and vibrating," Shames said

They are of the moment, moments she managed to capture during this past year, and connections that she made.

"So much of this is about play. When I am working one thing leads to another," she said.

What it's led to is an exhibition that when written about may seem esoteric, but when viewed isn't. Visitors needn't know anything about art, said Shames who earned a master of fine arts at the University of Michigan and teaches art classes at Carlow College and the center.

They only need to feel and make a connection between themselves and their environment, she said.

The first room, the Anima Room begins with the clover sprouts. Always curious, Shames put the sprouts on the scanner and used it as if it were a microscope enlarging the sprouts to human size.

She also took close up digital photos of the Queen Anne's lace, as the weeds bloomed and as the flowers went to seed.

"Everything is based on the same structure, but each one is different," Shames said. The artist in her followed with. "They are so much like people."

From the enlarged images Shames made prints, paintings and carvings, and a sculpture of wood, yarn and wooden skewers depicting Queen Anne's lace at seed. She named the sculpture the Invasive Alien, because years ago, Queen Anne's lace was a carrot, and is now considered a weed.

She did the same with a pomegranate - photographing, scanning, painting it in oils and then letting it mold. Shames made her connection. "It started to look like the universe. Like a supernova," she said.

An old pair of sheer white curtains and a flesh-colored iris are at the core of the Prayer Flags Room, pieces that sprung from Shames' interest in the intricate Tibetan Mandalas and Prayer Flags Buddhist monks create.

"I like the metaphor of curtains, because it's like something is being revealed or veiled," she said. "Like you're seeing the surface, but there is always something more."

Shames photographed the iris and displayed the iris image on the computer monitor. She then taped a piece of the curtain on the computer monitor and painted with acrylics over the lights images of the iris that showed through. It's her form of computer screen painting.

She did this 16 times over. Some were opaque and some were translucent. Shames hung each painted curtain piece on a clothesline in her backyard on Pine Street, which lead to her using a video camera to document the curtains as they moved in the wind from morning till dusk, all of which are part of the exhibit.

"The message that comes through is that paint is like prayer," Shames said.

The third room, Branchings, is her favorite, perhaps because it is her most recent. Its roots are in a maple tree in the home she's shared for eight years with her daughters, Lisa Langhorst, 10, and Heidi Langhorst, 8.

The tree was planted in her neighbor's yard. This spring, the neighbor decided to have the 30-year-old tree cut down so more light would shine into her yard, Shames said. She remembered the many days she'd spent with her daughters on the hammock beneath the tree. When the tree was cut down this spring, the neighbor gave Shames its branches. .

She went to work. She peeled the bark from the branches, then delicately carved the wood, used a hand drill and then pieced the branches together with a chain links. From those branches came three sculptures - Joy, Radiance and Blooming. Underneath each is an array of mirrored tiles. The light breaks through and creates shadows. Again, Shames took photographs and made more digital montages. Again, she made a connection.

"Trees are like the circulatory system of your body," Shames said. In her catalog Shames wrote: "We are so tree like. Nestled within the boughs are an infinitude of sacred spaces."

Perhaps others will see the connections Shames makes. Perhaps each visitor will make their own. All will be moved.

(Shames' Emerging Artist Exhibition runs through Nov. 6. For information about the fund-raiser and gallery hours, call (412) 361-0813 or go online at www.pittsburgharts.org.)

ęBeaver County Times Allegheny Times 2005