Walking into Penn Avenue’s Bar Marco on a Thursday afternoon — hours before the trendy Strip District restaurant is open for business — one is hit hard by the aroma of gourmet meals being prepped: perhaps an amazing sauce reduction or a delicate soup simmering, or both.
Another feast, though, is upstairs in the restaurant’s Union Hall, a gallery and event space which boasts a stunning view of the city and a host of new drawings, collages and paintings by Lauren Braun and Lisa Bergant Koi curated into an exhibit titled “Points of View.”
Braun is a familiar face in Jewish Pittsburgh. Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., she joined her husband, musician Doug Levine, in the Steel City in 2007. The two met on JDate. From 2009 to 2015, Braun worked as the assistant to the director of JFilm. She also taught a course on Jewish Lens photography at J-Site in 2011.
Braun’s art evokes imaginary worlds, cityscapes and interiors inspired by her hometown of Buffalo. It also captures the feeling of her childhood memories growing up in a Rust Belt city.
“I have a really soft spot in my heart when it comes to Buffalo,” Braun said, sitting amongst her works in Union Hall, a former fire house. Buffalo, she pointed out, is in many ways similar to Pittsburgh “in terms of the people and the feel.”
The artist works in mixed media, collage and drawing, bringing to life pieces that are whimsical and industrial all at once. Her work is composed of angular lines, extreme perspective points and dense gradations of pencil marks and squares of color. It is organized around a grid set askew, with colors drawn from the images prominent in the Rust Belt.
“I’m very interested in the color combinations that tie to that, rusted metal, but also the grays,” she said.
Braun’s cityscapes and landscapes are both imagined and remembered.
“They are sort of somewhere and nowhere at the same time,” she said. “I’m pulling from things I remember, but I’m also filling in with things that just kind of pop up. So, it’s a little bit improvisational as I go.”
One piece of note in the Bar Marco show is a tryptic that uses a lot of collage, including pieces of a menu from local restaurant Conflict Kitchen and tea bags that have been opened to disclose “beautiful stains,” Braun explained.
Each piece in her newest series, displayed in “Points of View,” carries with it “its own backstories,” she said, pointing to a work that is dominated by three large vertical images.
“When I was a kid growing up in Buffalo, my grandparents had a sailboat, and we used to go out from a small boat harbor and sail down the channel and off in the distance,” Braun recalled. “I would see three smokestacks, and it was Bethlehem Steel. I didn’t know that at the time. But they were kind of ominous looking and recently I just had that image in my mind, and I’m not sure why or where it came from, but it sort of bubbled up.
“And I was just thinking about the fact that we don’t know what’s in the air, what’s in the ground, what the environmental impact is from those types of plants,” she added. “So, this is what came out of it.”
Braun has been featured in several group shows, including with the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh, of which she is a member. She has also been featured in solo shows. “Points of View” is her first two-person show.
Koi’s abstract paintings serve as an apt complement to Braun’s pieces. They depict indeterminate landscape spaces, through which the artist examines visual perception and the effects movement has on that perception. Koi often makes drawings of the passing landscapes while she travels as a passenger in a car at high speed.
“Points of View,” which runs through April 2, is open to diners at Bar Marco and by appointment.
Braun’s work is currently being used to illustrate the new “Joy”-themed issue of Creative Nonfiction magazine and is also currently showcased at Percolate Art Space in Wilkinsburg in a four-person show called “Now and Zen,” which runs through Feb. 24.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.