a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Artists peform surgery on skull masks

A fractured skull sculpture, "Bro," by Specter Studios artist China Horrell. (Scott Beveridge photo)

By Scott Beveridge

PITTSBURGH – One never knows what creativity will inspire when artists are given a fresh sheet of canvas on which to express their individuality.

It’s another thing altogether when they are handed the same 10 pale fractured skull masks and then asked to transform them into art for a gallery show in Pittsburgh. No doubt fake plasma will flow from at least one of the movie-prop quality masks produced locally at Specter Studios.

“There’s a little something here for everybody,” said Kim Lyons, marketing director for the artist factory.

She is wearing a black and white furry cape to greet visitors at the studio’s Friday opening reception for the mask modification show at ModernFormations gallery in the city’s scruffy Lawrenceville section.

“If you’re into the Halloween blood and guts, there is some of that,” Lyons said. “If you want something romantic looking with roses, there is some of that, too.”

It’s difficult to get romantic over that skull, which has an embroidered rose across its forehead and stitched cobwebs over it jawbone. Titled “Bitches get Stitches,” the work of Leigh Ferraro certainly stands out in the pack if that’s even possible because hers' is situated beside a skull buried in a freaky sculpture shaped like an ice cream cone.

The two-day show, Osteotomy: Mask Art by Specter Studios, is a ghoulish testament to the fine quality of the talent at this business, which strives to give local artists a place to sustain their crafts in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh pediatrician Scott Tyson and his partner, Mark Marsen, purchased the struggling business in 2004. It has evolved into a factory at a former plumbing warehouse in the city’s Sharpsburg section with 17 full-time employees who also hand make masks of such creatures as zombies and frightening clowns. The best-selling item is a half-mask of the big bad wolf with a bloody red tongue appearing to lick its lips.

This is the second attempt by Specter Studios to promote the work of its employees at a fine art gallery, and another show is planned for October. The company is considering asking Pittsburgh artists it does not employ to take on the challenge to decorate a skull mask for the next show timed for the Halloween season, Lyons said.

“It’s amazing what you will get when you give 10 different artist the same palate and they come up with 10 so uniquely different pieces,” she said.

Surely she is speaking with that mask over there in mind, the one with glowing eyes, blood dripping from its ugly yellow tongue and bat wings sprouting from its ears.

"Transistus Fluvii" by Michael Passafiume, another artists at Specter Studios (Scott Beveridge photo)

(This show has its final run from 8 to 11 p.m. today at the gallery at 4919 Penn Ave.)

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