Artist Kathleen Zimbicki offers work in fire sale


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One artist’s plan to destroy her work in festive fashion has brought attention to the sixth annual Pittsburgh Center for the Arts yART Sale.

PCA, a nonprofit that supports Western Pennsylvania’s art community through educational programming and exhibitions, will hold the event from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at the center’s Shadyside campus.

The yART Sale takes an innovative approach to the traditional yard sale and gives artists the opportunity to sell their work and supplies at bargain prices. This year, Kathleen Zimbicki of Rennerdale is celebrating her 80th birthday by selling pieces from more than 50 years of work.

“I really would love [for] the people who supported me to get a good deal,” she says.

The work she doesn’t sell will be burned to ash.

Ms. Zimbicki has long been involved in the Pittsburgh art community. She grew up in a musical family and first pursued visual art as a child when she realized music wasn’t her strongest suit. The budding artist signed up for hobby classes and eventually enrolled at Chatham University, where she found a mentor in the late and much acclaimed painter Henry Koerner.

In her early days as an artist, Ms. Zimbicki mostly worked with oils. She switched to watercolors, however, after her daughter accidentally drank turpentine that was stored in a grape juice can. Her daughter survived and the artist‘‍s smooth transition to a new medium unfolded. 

“I fell in love with the wet-on-wet look,” she says.

Now working almost exclusively with watercolors, Ms. Zimbicki creates landscapes that document her world travels. She also paints happy monsters and surreal critters.

In 2004, her multifaceted oeuvre and her commitment to the region’s art community earned her recognition by PCA with the center’s first Lifetime Achievement Award.

In addition to creating works of her own, Ms. Zimbicki curates exhibitions. She has installed shows at both Fein Art Gallery in the North Side and Studio Z, the South Side gallery she owned that closed in 2003.

This weekend’s sale will be focused on Ms. Zimbicki’s signature watercolor works, which will be for sale at largely discounted prices. “Everybody likes a deal,” she says.

Paintings that usually sell for $160-$1,200 will be available for $40, $80 and $160. She also will have a collection of $8 works that, if not sold, will be burned in the Gordon Raku Pavilion.

Her decision to burn her work was inspired by a conversation she had in September with photographer Mark Perrott at the PCA “Master Visual Artists: Preserving the Legacy” show, which Ms. Zimbicki helped curate. He told her he planned to destroy his artwork so that his family would not have to pay storage fees when he was gone.

Ms. Zimbicki thought about all the work she has accumulated and decided to destroy her paintings by fire.

“We’re going to save the ashes,” she says. “It’s a transformative thing.”

Her colleague David Watts, whom she calls “a showman galore,” will help Ms. Zimbicki burn the unsold artwork on Sunday. In preparation for the big event, Ms. Zimbicki has set aside what she calls a “burn pile” and has tried burning some in her backyard chiminea. She says watching the first work burn was difficult for her.

“I have since taken some out [of the burn pile].”

For the artist, burning the second painting was easier — even fun. She says she did not intend to generate hype, but her plans have nonetheless spread like wildfire. A curator at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, based in Loretto, Cambria County, heard about Ms. Zimbicki’s unconventional plans and proposed for her to have a show at the museum next year.

The artist’s passion is clear, but her path has been anything but straight.

“I’ve just been playing my whole life,” she says with a laugh.

The PCA yART sale will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, rain or shine, at the corner of Fifth and Shady avenues. Ms. Zimbicki’s Art Auction/Burn will begin at 1 p.m. Pittsburgh singer/songwriter Joy Ike will perform at 3 p.m. The event is open to the public, and admission is free. Donations of nonperishable food items will be collected for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Information: www.pca.pittsburgharts.org.


Mary Hornak: mhornak@post-gazette.com.

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