Tonight: Explore the Michelangelo-inspired drawings at Imagebox

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There’s something to be said for dirty pictures. At least, that’s the way Richard Claraval looks at it.

Mr. Claraval is an artist who has produced a series of drawings based on the “pre-cleaned frescoes” of Michelangelo. His work goes on display tonight with an opening reception at Imagebox in Garfield.

“My show is called ‘Michelangelo Noir,’” he said. “They are drawings that are based on the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. Photographs taken before it was cleaned in the late ’80s.

“You see, they removed a lot of the soot and patched up a lot of the cracks when they did this. And there was a huge controversy about it because some people think they may have eliminated some of Michelangelo’s own ‘over-painting.’ At any rate, it was really dark and mysterious-looking before they cleaned it, and I always really enjoyed that.”

The grime of time came mostly from the wax candles that burned over the centuries inside the chapel.

“Different people had different takes on it,” Mr. Claraval said. “I really loved the pre-cleaned ceiling. It’s so different now. They eliminated so much and now it’s so bright, so brightly colored. There was a big outcry against them doing it. A lot of artists, including Andy Warhol, told them not to do it, because they weren’t sure what they were removing.”

Apparently, Michelangelo liked to use strong shadowing to make his work dramatic.

“The Vatican wanted it to look bright and pretty, and they’re happy with it,” Mr. Claraval said. “It’s just the art critics who think it might have been a big mistake.”

Mr. Claraval, 61, grew up in Scottdale and now lives in Shadyside. He said he always loved the Sistine Chapel, ever since he saw the movie “The Agony and the Ecstasy” as a youth. Since majoring in art at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, he has made his living as an artist — creating jewelry, sculpting and drawing.

Naturally, he was drawn to the work of Michelangelo. Especially when it was dirty.

“It had these cracks that have sort of a feeling like a storm or something like lightning and dark clouds and things,” he said. “So I took that and did my own pastiches of that. I altered the compositions a little bit and did my own artistic thing with it.

“I’m also a big fan of abstract expressionism. I’ve been kind of experimenting the last five years or so, blending abstract gesture with human figures, especially those of Michelangelo. They’re compressed charcoal, which is a really dark medium, so you can get really deep blacks. I really enjoy strong chiaroscuro, the black and white patterns in work.”

His work has been displayed in a number of local galleries. The show at Imagebox presents 12 smaller pieces.

“[Imagebox] is a small gallery, but it’s a beautiful space,” Mr. Claraval said.

Tonight’s event at Imagebox, 4933 Penn Ave., is from 7 to 10 p.m. Mr. Claraval will be on hand to discuss the work. Additional viewings are scheduled for 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday and Dec. 14.

And the art is for sale.

Of course, once you buy it, you can do what you want with it. You can even have it cleaned by your descendants 400 years from now.

Mr. Claraval won’t mind.

“I would just be happy if somebody would be that concerned about my work that long from now,” he said.

Dan Majors:

First Published December 6, 2013 4:54 PM

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