CAPA students help to select pop artist's piece for Peduto's office

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Burton Morris, whose pop art has taken him around the world and allowed him to befriend celebrities as diverse as Mr. Rogers and Kanye West, visited the Heinz History Center Tuesday to visit with art school students.

The Pittsburgh native, accompanied by more than 30 students from Pittsburgh's Creative and Performing Arts High School, walked through a retrospective of his drawings, paintings and three-dimensional works on view through Feb. 23.

The show, called "Poptastic!" features more than 100 artworks, including vivid Heinz pickles, a Poparazzi poster he created for the 76th annual Academy Awards and a drawing of Absolut vodka that brought him national fame. Now, he's working on art for the 2016 U.S. Open golf tournament at Oakmont Country Club.

One of the artist's friends from his days at Carnegie Mellon University, Mayor-elect Bill Peduto, dropped by and told students that he still owns some fraternity party posters Mr. Morris drew back in the 1980s.

"I like to refer to those as my retirement fund," Mr. Peduto joked.

Tuesday's tour was CAPA students' second look at Mr. Morris' work. They paid an earlier visit to find inspiration for a literary arts project that entails documenting, mapping and photographing youth culture in various neighborhoods. What they gathered has been packed into a time capsule and will be sent to one of three high schools in Tokyo. The project is a collaboration with The Andy Warhol Museum and the Mori Museum in Japan, said their teacher, Mara Cregan.

From boyhood, Mr. Morris was obsessed with drawing and later studied wood engravings. The gift of a rapidograph pen helped him draw with greater detail.

"I broke my femur when I was 3 1/2. They put me in a body cast. For three months, all I could literally do was watch TV and draw," he said.

He has spent the past two years battling colon cancer, telling students that the experience was "a little rough." The colors and positive energy in his work, he said, "helped me stay upbeat."

Mr. Morris has been working lately on portraits of celebrities, or rather, their bedside tables. After meeting and interviewing people, he depicts their personalities by what would be found next to their beds. So far, he has met with fashion titan Ralph Lauren, comic book master Stan Lee, musician Kanye West and actor Tim Allen. This is a continuation of a series he did that featured the bedside tables of Mario Lemeiux, Andy Warhol and Mr. Rogers; all three are in the exhibition.

The artist and his second wife, Sara Firestone, live in Santa Monica, Calif. They are the parents of 4-year-old Ava and are expecting a second child in March, about the time Mr. Morris celebrates his 50th birthday.

After a discussion with students during lunch, Mr. Peduto took the advice of Donovan Petri, a 17-year-old senior at CAPA. For his city hall office, he chose Mr. Morris' painting called "One Young World," which shows a tall tree with the city's Downtown skyline.

"It showcases Pittsburgh in a light that is not industrial anymore," Mr. Petri said.

Marylynne Pitz: or 412-263-1648.

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