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Pittsburgh artist bringing ‘Catalyst’ exhibit to Factory Works Gallery

Factory Works Gallery at the Pajama Factory invites you to its next exhibition, which may conjure up memories for many residents in the region. “Catalyst,” an immersive sculptural installation by Pittsburgh oil painter Paige Hemke Kleinfelder, consists of a series of representational oil paintings of abandoned architectural structures from throughout the industrial region of Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York. The exhibition will run from June 7-27, with an opening reception from 6 to 9 p.m. June 7 at Factory Works Gallery, 1307 Park Avenue, 9-210.

Kleinfelder’s medium is oil paint, which allows for layering that assists in conveying the effects of time on the subjects of her paintings — everyday buildings and structures which serve as physical memories of the cities in which they are located.

“Memory is selective and never replicates the actual event, but the reminiscence is still present and embraced,” she said. “My paintings capture buildings, no longer pristine or functioning, but remaining present and part of the urban landscape through our recollection. Likewise, I seek to provide an outlet for viewers to draw upon their own layered memories through their dialogue with the paintings. Rather than needing the audience to have connections to the specific locations, the narrative created by the paintings recalls similar neighborhoods from town to town.”

Kleinfelder’s interest in art goes back to frequent museum visits with her parents when she was growing up. This interest led her to take art lessons from elementary school through high school, before earning her BA in studio art at Elmira College.

“Although drawn to the more abstract works of other artists, my painting style has always been realistic instead making alterations from reality by enhancing colors and altering the backgrounds to void out some of the clutter,” she said.

Living and working in New Castle, Kleinfelder is best known for her intricate oil paintings of abandoned structures in America’s Rust Belt. She signs her work “Hemke,” and has exhibited in several group shows throughout the region, including: St. Johns College in Annapolis, Maryland; Main Street Arts in Clifton Springs, New York; 171’s Houghton Gallery in Corning; The Hoyt Mid Atlantic Juried Exhibition in New Castle, PA; Butler Art Center in Butler; Lawrence County Annual Art Show in New Castle; George Waters Gallery in Elmira, NY; and Elmira College, where she received her BA in studio art and was awarded the Elizabeth Anne Graham Prize. Last summer, Kleinfelder had her first solo exhibit shown at the Crary Art Gallery in Warren.

Her work is part of several private collections. In addition to her own practice, she is a passionate educator teaching classes at The Hoyt Center for the Arts, where she works as the assistant education coordinator.

Kleinfelder’s exhibition, “Catalyst,” consists of an ongoing body of work featuring signs and buildings. The works started exclusively as abandoned subjects but grew to include relics of older time that are frequently overlooked or replaced.

“The first neon sign I painted was the Peninsula Motel in Erie, which I had grown up seeing on summer trips to Lake Erie,” she said. “My inspiration to painting these types of structures over and over comes from a combination of the aesthetic and the connections to memory.”

The artist said she is constantly on the lookout for interesting painting subjects.

“For all of my noncommissioned paintings, I use only photographs that I have taken for reference,” she said. “Beyond that, I work in my studio arranging compositions and using oil paints to recreate the subjects of my photos on to the canvas.”

The show has a combination of abandoned, demolished, and operational subjects. One of Kleinfelder’s versions of the Peninsula Motel sign, titled “Ten,” will be exhibited in the show.

“It is a small piece, but fully depicting the no-longer-lit neon sign with its strong angles and the sky background interrupted by only a series of power lines,” she said.

A larger piece done specifically for this exhibition is “Gem,” which shows the neon sign and giant arrow that announce the Gem Drive-In Theater located just outside of Williamsport in Linden.

“A little bit of research turned up the original name, The Harvest Moon Drive-In and later the Port Drive-In,” Kleinfelder said. “Although the Gem sign is a fairly recent addition, it stands at the entrance of a theater that is still not in use.”

“A large number of pieces in the show are a little closer to home for me,” she said. “New Castle is depicted in a variety of states — from the up-close empty orange stools at a vacant restaurant to the now demolished pale blue Figuly Building which stood downtown for 163 years.”

Kleinfelder’s goal for the work she creates is to evoke a sense of memory from the viewers.

“I do not think it is necessary to know the exact location or its current state to be able to relate to it,” she said. “Memory is fascinating to me, and my paintings are meant to stand in for the memories that each place holds.”

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