Artist David Ludwig's life unfolds at Greensburg Art Center


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A single work by artist David Ludwig invites a discussion -- of color and form and craft, of quietude and intensity. A roomful switches the conversation to the infiniteness of possibility, as is the case at the Greensburg Art Center where "David A. Ludwig: Structures" will be exhibited through Friday.

His wall reliefs are a blend of sculpture and painting, and typically a viewer responds first to their overall appearance. With more study, what appears to be a minimalist aesthetic reveals tactile complexity and an emotional quality.

The many works in "Structures" further illustrate a decades-long commitment by the artist to explore formal variance through alterations of a master shape -- the square. That, combined with paint and surface choices, result in vastly differing personas.

"He was investigating relationships in space and form," said Barbara Jones, chief curator at Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greensburg. She is also curator of "Structures" and was life partner of Mr. Ludwig, who died last year.

It is unusual for a small arts center to take on such challenging work, and it's to the organization's credit that it did so. Mr. Ludwig had committed to showing in the center's 2012 exhibition calendar and Ms. Jones honored that commitment.

She expanded the original exhibition concept to a retrospective that is also a memorial. More than 200 people attended the show's opening reception in March, and 19 works have sold. Most are for sale, and priced very reasonably, a conscious decision by Ms. Jones to allow friends and admirers the opportunity to own one.

Mr. Ludwig was an educator on both academic and populist levels, who taught at Saint Vincent College, Latrobe, and at Westmoreland County Community College, Youngwood, but also revitalized the Westmoreland Art Nationals exhibition, which is held annually at WCCC and at the Westmoreland Arts and Heritage Festival. Response to the exhibition has been positive, including from a gathering of people who attended a talk citing parallels between Mr. Ludwig's artwork and contemporaneous scientific theories given by Kathleen Dlugos, associate of fine arts program director and associate professor of art, WCCC.

The pieces exhibited encompass four decades and range from contemplative, near black works (leaning to purple, brown, etc., dependent upon surface and subsurface treatments), that exude interiority, to vibrantly colorful, almost extroverted pieces. Surfaces may be matte or glossy, each treated monochromatically, a fluid marriage between exterior and interior.

Mr. Ludwig, an Indiana native who earned degrees from Indiana State University and Tyler School of Art, Temple University, Philadelphia, was first a painter, and that is evident in his heightened attention to color, its effect and its placement. Employment as a model builder for a Philadelphia architecture firm influenced his turn to constructing three-dimensional plywood "structures," as he referred to them. These he painstakingly finished with rice paper skins. If one was scratched inadvertently during shipping or at a gallery, it couldn't be patched. The entire surface had to be redone to comply with his standards.

The endless potential comes from Mr. Ludwig's manipulation of the wooden surface, dividing it into quadrants, halves, bowed or slanted. The curves and flips in the material appear easily achieved but come from an intimate knowledge of the characteristics and limitations of the medium. Flow, tension, the reflection or absorption or light and the role of shadow all contribute to distinguish each piece.

Mr. Ludwig began his process with black-and-white drawings from which he selected those to build 2-inch maquettes of, each finished with the care of a final work. Next came a half-dozen 18-inch square incarnations, part of the process but also completed works on their own. They make up the bulk of the exhibition. Finally, he constructed majestic 5-foot square works, four of which are exhibited.

The backs are as finished as the fronts, and the artist custom-made cardboard boxes for each. Their sides reflect a numbering system he devised to keep track of contents.

In the middle of the gallery, Ms. Jones stacked some of the boxes to form a grouping of pedestals for an additional nine works. The contrast to the pristine artworks presented on white gallery walls caused her to wonder whether Mr. Ludwig would approve.

The exhibition pieces move from dignified blacks and calm sky blue to a wall of jaunty works in a range of bright colors that are nonetheless harmonious with one another, to more recent works with protrusions rising from the wood.

"At the time of his death, David's work had taken on a playful quality," Ms. Jones wrote for the exhibition text, "investigating how found objects could be transformed when attached to his geometric structures."

One would think that he most certainly would give a wink to the center stacks.

The Art Center is at 230 Todd School Road, Greensburg. Admission is free. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and until 9 p.m. Wednesday. Information: 724-837-6791 or www.greensburgartclub.org.

artarchitecture

Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas: mthomas@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1925.


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