'Bob Qualters: The Artist in Action': two Pittsburgh filmmakers portray the Pittsburgh artist


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When nude women appear in Robert Qualters' paintings, their Rubenesque presence can be absurd, comforting or playful.

In "Sine Peccatum," a Latin phrase that means without sin, a woman relinquishes her cares and daily transgressions during a relaxing bath. In "Orangutan Dreams," a buxom red-haired lady strides through Squirrel Hill's business district with her hands on her hips.

And, in "The Dance," naked ladies twist Saturday night away during a gathering at a former Elks Club.

If you visited Mr. Qualters' West Homestead studio, you might find him painting a live nude woman who is zaftig. That's one of the projects he takes on in "Bob Qualters: The Artist in Action," a 31-minute documentary that allows viewers to spend time with the 80-year-old Squirrel Hill man, who can quote William Blake's poetry in one breath and curse like a salty silver-haired son of the Mon Valley in the next.

Written, directed and produced by the Point Breeze duo of Joe and Elizabeth Seamans, the film will be shown at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Pittsburgh Filmmakers Melwood Screening Room in Oakland. Admission is free. Afterward, a reception will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. at Borelli-Edwards Galleries, 3583 Butler St., Lawrenceville.

Mr. Seamans has produced numerous documentaries for the PBS "Nova" series. His wife, Elizabeth Seamans, is an independent filmmaker who co-wrote 100 scripts for "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" with the late Fred Rogers. The couple devoted nearly a year to the Qualters film, but this is hardly their first foray into the art world.

Mr. Seamans produced "Duaneland," which focused on Duane Michals, a contemporary of Robert Qualters who also grew up in the Mon Valley and lives in New York. Mrs. Seamans produced a documentary about local sculptor Tim Kaulen called "The Journey Is This."

While they work in different media, the filmmakers and Mr. Qualters are equally passionate about the visual, and that shared interest helped them build a rapport. Mrs. Seamans insisted that the documentary give viewers a strong sense of experiencing a day with the artist in his studio. She conducted all the interviews and structured the film.

"Joe and Bob hit it off. The level of communication between these two men was really wonderful. Stylistically, the animation is 100 percent Joe Seamans," Mrs. Seamans said.

In an early scene, Mr. Qualters walks past the door bearing a sign that says: "Bob Qualters Creates Here." His 12-by-20-foot studio is inside a former elementary school that's the headquarters of a business called Sign Creators. Dressed in a red corduroy shirt, old slacks and white New Balance tennis shoes, Mr. Qualters sits in front of the canvas, dipping his brush in acrylic paint and occasionally wiping it on his shirt.

With the filmmakers, the artist returns to the landmarks of his boyhood and adolescence in Clairton and McKeesport, including a visit to his old elementary school. As Mr. Qualters surveyed the view from the top of a hill, Mr. Seamans waded into a tangled mess of undergrowth to shoot from below.

"I was afraid that any minute he was going to break his neck. He's absolutely committed," Mr. Qualters said.

On his memory-infused canvases, the artist has painted Downtown's City-County Building, an East Liberty bus stop, Doughboy Square in Lawrenceville and the Panther Hollow Bridge. Mr. Seamans photographed these locations in black and white, then used an Adobe computer program called After Effects to animate the colorful canvases. This detailed thoughtful approach gives viewers a clear sense of just how much color Mr. Qualters adds to his work.

"His work is unmistakable," Mr. Seamans said.

Mr. Seamans made more than 1,000 photographs of Mr. Qualters painting on an inkjet print of the film's final frame. Then, he made a movie that played 30 of those images, one for every second.

"The result is a seamless transition from the video of Bob exiting the door to Bob painting on the video," Mr. Seamans said.

Besides the screening, a retrospective of Mr. Qualters' work, with more than 60 paintings, prints and drawings, is on exhibit at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts through April 20.


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

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