a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Artist gaining perspecitve

WASHINGTON, Pa. – Shelbie Jones studies the large portrait she is sketching from a magazine photo of a popular female rapper, stands back and notices a problem with the proportion.

“Something doesn’t look right here. I think it’s the eyes,” the 16-year-old Washington, Pa., girl says while working in a studio above an Italian restaurant in her hometown.

Her teacher at Washington Community Cultural and Arts Center, Jeffrey Katrencik, agrees and uses his hand and fingers to measure off the facial proportions in her sketch.

“You have the eyebrow down too tight to the eye,” said Katrencik, who is mentoring a half-dozen young students at WashArts in downtown Washington.

“I think it’s OK,” he said before encouraging her to draw in the hair and shadows to round out the features of the beautiful British singer and songwriter known as M.I.A.

Shelbie follows his instruction, saying she doesn’t get this kind of careful observation at Washington High School, where her art classes usually involve craft projects.

“For two hours here I’m getting individual attention from a serious artist,” she said. “It helps.”

Katrencik laughs at the thought of being called serious, although he has built an impressive resumé in the Pittsburgh art scene.

The Houston man was born into a family of artists, a son of a coal miner named Joe whose wife convinced him to enter art school. Joe Katrencik, whose parents were Slavic immigrants, then began a second career painting murals in local bars and hunting scenes on campers.

Jeffrey Katrencik earned his bachelor’s degree in drawing in 1985 from Carnegie Mellon University before obtaining a master’s in multimedia technology at Duquesne University four years ago. He earned a teaching certificate at Carlow University and also studied at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. He also teaches digital design online for the Art Institute.

He dabbled as a substitute teacher for a stretch, but found himself uncomfortable “bossing kids around.”

While hesitating to “pigeon hole” himself by labeling his art style, Katrencik said he considers himself a modernist.

“I like to twist things around,” he said.

Some of his work involves portraits of nude women, and in one piece he grossly over-exaggerated the woman’s muscles. It’s done in pen and ink, and swaths of silver glitter.

To put it mildly, he doesn’t produce hunting scenes or those featuring Indians, art that he says would find a market in Washington County.

“That’s the dilemma with some of (my) stuff. It limits where I can exhibit. I don’t want to cater to this area too much.”

He also dabbles in political art, painting a couple colorful portraits of former President George W. Bush. One was drawn of Bush with hot pink outlines and walking in a blaze of yellow flames. It has an empty cartoon “balloon” pointing to his mouth.

It’s mocking Bush’s “unclear agenda,” Katrencik said.

He also has a book cover illustration featuring Bush and two other politicians being hounded by an angry mob. A public school is burning in the background in the cover of “No Bad Schools,” a critique of American education policy by Ron Sofo and Bill Renko.

One of his more visible works can be found on a large wall at the East Parkway Bus & Ride lot in Wilkinsburg. It features a colorful montage inspired by his painting of Joe Magarac, Pittsburgh’s mythical “Man of Steel.”

Legend has it Magarac was made of steel to protect steelworkers and eventually melted himself down for products to build a new mill.

Katrencik painted the folk hero on a lark in shades of blue, green and black, assuming Joe would be a popular subject among artists competing for the public murals. Turns out, Katrencik was the only competitor with such an entry.

“I’m very much a free spirit,” he said.

(Caption: It would have been much better had Shelbie been on the other end of my camera lense, but, that is Katrencik teaching drawing at WashARTS)

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