Staring at the title piece from the exhibition "The Patron Saint of White Guys That Went Tribal and Other Works," Nick Bubash grinned.
"It was always odd to me that white guys were coming in and getting tribal art," the professional tattooist said of his work showing a nude male figure covered in Maori tribal designs.
After 40 years in the business, Mr. Bubash, 63, has his first solo museum exhibition at The Andy Warhol Museum. He has been part of other museum shows since 1989, infecting his art with a sardonic sense of humor. It comes from an extensive collection of found objects, around 10,000, which he stores in his studio, both above and below his Robinson tattoo shop, Route 60 Tattoo.
A self-professed "compulsive collector," the Mexican War Streets resident is constantly finding items: at junk shops, on eBay, in the North Side's National Aviary. And then he finds connections between them. A classically trained sculptor and print maker, Mr. Bubash uses the rules of traditional sculpture when assembling his "booty," no matter how abstract it may appear on first glance.
A long rectangular table occupies the majority of the exhibit, replicating the cluttered feel of his studio. Dressed in loose-fitting black pants and a black shirt unbuttoned at the top, Mr. Bubash surveyed his findings, commenting and cracking jokes.
"This one is called 'Honey I'm Home,' " he said, pointing to a small sculpture of a bride whose head he replaced with that of a dragon. He paused, smiling. "It reminded me of my ex-wife."
Another sculpture has Jesus wearing an Andy Warhol wig while playing tennis. Why? Because he thought the pieces fit well together.
"They're not abstract and they're not meaningless. They're just objects that you can have fun with," he said.
Objects are meticulously arranged, much as a sculptor might shape clay. When constructing a sculpture, he starts by gathering items he wants and placing them together. Then he tears the objects apart, adding to them if need be, and reassembles them.
"As soon as you move one object, it influences all the things around it," he said.
Born in Pittsburgh, Mr. Bubash attended Penn State University before dropping out to study tattooing in New York City under tattooist Thom Devita, who became his mentor. It was under Mr. Devita that he learned to blend tattoos with fine art, which has been a staple of Mr. Bubash's own work as a tattooist. He later earned a degree from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
Although he insists tattooing factors into his work "about 5 percent," he admits his day job does more than pay the bills.
"There's an old tattoo coil from an old tattoo machine," he said, peering at a piece called "The Guardian Angels." Later, he pointed to a cage built from old tattoo needles that surrounds the man in "Patron Saint."
Despite the frenzied nature of his work, Mr. Bubash stresses the importance of the basics.
"My mother was a drawer and a painter," he said. "She hammered into me that if you can't draw you don't belong to the club. You've got to learn the rules before you break them."
Watching him walk through his exhibition, you get the sense he can't help himself from tinkering, from rearranging the objects to see what new designs he can make, how they can complement each other in new ways. And he never loses his irreverent sensibility.
"Maybe I should have made this an interactive piece so people could move the stuff around," he said, looking at the table, packed with sculptures, giving it a nightmarish, funhouse quality.
"But then it would've been torn to pieces," he laughed.
'All Through The Night,' Caldwell Linker
A woman named Jen rests on a bucket flipped upside-down after an exhibition at an art gallery. A couple celebrates a wedding. Two teenage girls prepare to attend a high school prom.
These images in the first museum exhibition by Caldwell Linker of East Liberty depict Pittsburgh's LGBTQ community. They have been taken since the artist moved to the city in 2007. A longtime activist who has documented LGBTQ communities around the country for the past 15 years, the photographer wanted to show the quieter, everyday aspects of queer life, such as scenes of friends sitting on the couch or couples going on vacation.
The mostly digital photographs are printed on paper with a heavy metallic sheen. While photos are both staged and candid, the subjects are not asked to pose. Many are of close friends, taken at parties.
Subjects from the queer community "have no interest in assimilating" to mainstream culture, the artist said.
"In some ways the queer community is just like everyone else. But in some ways they're totally different. They're not necessarily trying to fit into a particular mold of people's idea of how one would live one's life."
Though pleased with the recent Supreme Court decision to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, the photographer said this momentous decision would likely have little effect on future photographs.
"For a lot of the people who I am friends with and who I photograph, gay marriage is not at the top of their list. If people start having lots of weddings, I might take more pictures of gay weddings. But I don't see it having a big impact."
Jacob Axelrad: email@example.com or 412-263-1634. On Twitter: @jakeaxelrad.