Internationally known Stowe artist uses Pittsburgh as inspiration


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Every day as customers stop in at Mancini's Bakery in Stowe for fresh-baked bread, they catch a glimpse of a mural at the entrance painted by Fabrizio Gerbino — an internationally known artist who lives and works right across the street.

His wife, Cynthia, said a bus filled with about 40 art lovers from the Oakland Museum of California recently pulled into the parking lot of the municipal building. Local officials wondered what they were doing in town.

Mrs. Gerbino explained they were in Stowe to see the work of her husband.

"I think it says a lot that they came all this way," she said.

Mr. Gerbino's artwork has been displayed at galleries and museums throughout the United States and Europe.

Born in Tripoli, Libya in 1962, the Italian artist studied at the State Institute of Art in Florence, Italy. In Florence, he met Cynthia Lutz, who grew up in Stowe and graduated from Sto-Rox High School.

She lived in Italy for 17 years, where she developed an appreciation for art and fell in love with Mr. Gerbino. They married, and in 2003 moved back to her hometown.

"I worked for the University of Michigan study-abroad program as an administrator, and loved my time in Italy," she said.

The contrast between Florence, a center for Renaissance Art, and Pittsburgh, with its industrial heritage could not be more stark, but Mr. Gerbino soon found inspiration in his new home.

He found beauty in the local factories, steel mills, and even in a recycling plant on Neville Island.

"I am proud to grow up in Florence, and see the great masterpieces, but it was time to start another life," he said.

In Stowe, he also found a patron for his art, Mary Mancini Hartner, one of the owners of the Mancini Bakery.

She made available a closed church that she owned next door to the bakery for Mr. Gerbino to use as his studio.

Built in 1905, the former Pentacostal Church, later became a Presbyterian Church, and was even for a time in the 50's a Masonic Lodge.

The stained glass windows are boarded up, but the large, open interior made an ideal space for Mr. Gerbino, and he doesn't have a long commute to work.

He lives next door to the studio with his wife and 13-year-old son.

Mr. Gerbino often uses found objects that he salvages from factories and industrial sites as a starting point for his art.

An old chain he found at a closed Neville Island cement plant became the subject for a series of paintings, and even a stack of old floor tile in the Woodward Street studio became a point of departure for his art.

He was intrigued by the patterns formed by the glue on the back of the tiles and is currently at work on a series of paintings using those patterns as inspiration.

"A painting is not just a piece of decoration," he said. "It is something more. There is a story behind every painting. I look at the potentiality of the object. The object becomes the painting."

While Mr. Gerbino works in ink, oil and acrylic paints, he also uses materials like steel, iron, and wood in his work.

Mr. Gabino, calls himself an "artisan" as well as an artist, explaining he likes to work with his hands.

In 2012, he had plenty of opportunities to work with his hands when he was part of Factory Direct: Pittsburgh, a project of the Andy Warhol Museum that brought together 14 international artists who worked in residence to create art at businesses, corporate or industrial sites in and around Pittsburgh.

Mr. Gerbino spent four months at the Calgon Carbon Corporation plant on Neville Island alongside the workers.

'I wanted my work to be not far from the people, the workers," he said. "I wanted to be part of it."

The art he created was a series of abstract sculptures using carbon, plaster, and paint exhibited as part of Factory Direct. Besides the Calgon plant, Mr. Gerbino also explored other parts of Neville Island. He used heaps of various metals stacked at a recycling yard on Neville Island to create a new painting.

"They reminded me of mountains," he said.

Closer to home, a pile of gutters removed from his house became a painting.

"When they took down the gutters," he said, "I thought I could do something with them."

The resulting painting looks like a star-burst of blue metallic wings.

While Mr. Gerbino's work can sometimes seem esoteric, he shares a fondness with most Pittsburghers for the Steelers.

"I am a big fan," he said.. He often wears a Steelers knit cap as he walks about his studio. But, he still puts art first.

"Andrew Carnegie didn't build a stadium," he said. "He built libraries and a museum."

 


Bob Podurgiel, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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