Like most great art, the paintings on display during tonight's opening reception at the East End Book Exchange in Bloomfield are thought-provoking. Just don't ask artist Brian Gonnella what they mean.
"I'm not the type of person who's going to get into a whole lecture about the meanings of the paintings," Mr. Gonnella said. "Usually, I just ask what they think about it, and then I just tell them they're right."
An answer that has the benefit of being true and practical.
Mr. Gonnella and Masha Fikhman have combined their artistic talents for a monthlong show called "Monologues & Dialogues: A Collection of Singular and Collaborative Efforts." Their work will be on display in the bookstore all month.
You might not be familiar with the East End Book Exchange. Lesley Rains started the business at a bookstall in the Strip District a few years ago and, after some success, moved to a storefront on Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield in November.
"It's a general-interest, used-book store," said Ms. Rains, 32, who grew up in Mt. Lebanon and now lives in Lawrenceville. "We have a range of titles and genres that include fiction and philosophy and cookbooks and kids books. We accept donations and buy books in exchange for store credit."
While large bookstores are closing their doors, Ms. Rains remains optimistic. You might say she's showing some spine(s).
"It's just about being small and having a good selection," she said. "It's a different business model. For example, I pick the books and set the prices, whereas at the monster bookstores, the prices are set by publishers.
"I pick everything that comes in. I am selective. There is a fair amount of curation that goes on. I'm a little bit of a curator, the way an art gallery owner is a curator. You're selective about what you want to put out there."
But she does respond to what her customers want, which has resulted in a growing number of books on religion, art and philosophy.
"I think it does matter what you put on your shelves," she said. "You don't just put books on the shelves and open the doors. The quality of selection matters a great deal. It's not a given that people will come in and buy your books. If you draw them in with quality titles, it makes a big difference."
Another way of drawing people in is to use the bookstore as an art gallery.
"We have a lot of empty wall space," Ms. Rains said. "So I thought it would be fun to essentially rent that out to local artists. It gets people in the door. It keeps things new and interesting and revolving."
She posted the opportunity on the Internet and Mr. Gonnella and Ms. Fikhman both responded.
"We actually both wanted it, but since we're friends, we decided to collaborate," Mr. Gonnella said.
Mr. Gonnella, 26, of Lawrenceville, studied English writing and film analysis at the University of Pittsburgh, but he grew up wanting to be an artist. He describes his work as "classical and pre-modern ... with the vibrancy and emotional stimulus of street art and graffiti."
"What I like to paint and what stays true to the concepts that I like to visualize probably would appeal to the 18-to-34 demographic," he said. "The people staying up late and watching cartoons kind of demographic."
Ms. Fikhman, 23, who moved from Russia to Pittsburgh when she was 6, studied art and architecture at Pitt. Her work "draws inspiration from the human figure, wildlife, nature and outer space to create dreamlike paintings."
Each artist has a few paintings in the show and there are five works that they created together.
Mr. Gonnella said they produced the work by taking turns adding and subtracting, a process that occasionally caused one artist to bristle at what the other brushed over. But the results, he said, are pleasing.
Tonight's reception, which is open to the public, is from 6 to 8 p.m. at 4754 Liberty Ave.
Check it out!
Get a preview of tonight's event!
Brian Gonnella's website: http://www.bgoart.com/
Masha Fikhman's website: http://mashafikhman.com/home.html
If you have a suggestion for something to do some evening, let us know about it and we'll see if we can get some of our friends to join you. Contact Dan Majors at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1456.
This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/