New book is indispensable aid to appreciating evolution of artist Robert Qualters


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Dreams, memories and stories all figure into the artistry of Robert Qualters, a warm, erudite man who is celebrating 80 years of living and working in front of a canvas.

A trifecta of celebrations began Feb. 7 with the opening of an eye-popping show at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts in Shadyside. Both a retrospective and a collection of his greatest hits, this is a showcase of 68 artworks, including collaborations with photographer Mark Perrott, artist Nick Bubash and two poets, Gail Ghai and Jane McCreery.

Here is a prime opportunity for art lovers to appreciate brilliant canvases inspired by Pittsburgh's distinctive architecture and sensuous topography. Curated by art historian Vicky A. Clark, the show runs through April 20.

The first in-depth analysis of the artist's work appears in a new book, "Robert Qualters: Autobiographical Mythologies" (University of Pittsburgh Press, $29.95). Ms. Clark devoted three years to the project, creating a publication that is an indispensable aid to appreciating Mr. Qualters' evolution from Carnegie Institute of Technology art student to a member of California's Bay Area Figurative movement of the late 1950s, when he was influenced by Richard Diebenkorn.

In clear, conversational prose, Ms. Clark provides solid scholarship while contextualizing the people and artistic movements that shaped Mr. Qualters, who was born and reared in the Mon Valley and lives in Squirrel Hill.

Besides being a pleasure to read, this is a beautiful book to behold with first-rate design, 88 high-quality color reproductions and 15 black-and-white images.

The University of Pittsburgh Press has maintained its tradition of producing beautiful art books. The book's predecessors include "Thaddeus Mosley: American Sculptor" (1997), "Installations, Mattress Factory, 1990-1999" (2001), "Samuel Rosenberg: Portrait of a Painter" (2003) and "Luke Swank: Modernist Photographer" (2005).

In this book, one of the earliest photographs is a striking image by Mark Perrott showing Mr. Qualters in a jacket and jeans, an elfin smile on his face and a Duquesne steel mill looming behind him. The artist grew up amid this hulking industrial landscape, weaving it into his work while also transcending it.

A 31-minute documentary written and produced by Joe and Elizabeth Seamans, "Bob Qualters: The Artist in Action," plays in the conference room at the Center for the Arts. A special showing of the film will be at 6:30 p.m. March 20 at Pittsburgh Filmmakers Melwood Screening Room in Oakland, followed by a reception at Borelli-Edwards Galleries in Lawrenceville.


Marylynne Pitz: mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648.

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