UNDER WRAPS: Artist says treating Columbus painting as political statement would undermine art

Internationally-known artist Fabrizio Gerbino’s work, “Untitled (Colombo),” is featured as part of the 108th annual exhibition of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh.

"Untitled (Colombo)"


-STOWE-


By Jamie Wiggan


As discussions about removing the Christopher Columbus statue at Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park caught flame across the region last year, Stowe-couple Cynthia Lutz and Fabrizio Gerbino decided to travel across town to steal a glimpse while it still stood.


They arrived in Oakland to find the 30-foot monument shrouded in plastic. Initially underwhelmed, Fabrizio – a classically trained and internationally known artist hailing from Florence, Italy - later found inspiration in a photograph he snapped of the scene.


“For me, I see subject material,” he said. “You don’t see this possibility in every picture.”


Gerbino spent two months translating the photograph onto canvas with his paintbrush, and the finished product, “Untitled (Colombo),” is now on display at the Pittsburgh International Airport as part of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh’s 108th annual exhibition.


“It’s one of my favorite pieces that Fabrizio has done,” said Madeline Gent, executive director of the association. “When you’re looking at it, you’re not even looking at a statue of Columbus...It's the beautification of something that could otherwise be ugly.


Instead of honing in on a particular theme this year, judges simply requested works created during 2020-21, looking for artistic expressions of a definitively turbulent period.

Gent said Gerbino’s painting speaks perfectly to that moment, offering a provocative statement without spelling out his own views.


“Fabrizio’s work kind of lends itself to that question – how do we deal with it?” she said.


“Other people do this and it doesn’t make as much sense as when Fabrizio does it.”


The Columbus statue has been covered since last October, after it was defaced on several occasions during a summer rife with race-fueled protests. The city’s art commission eventually decided to remove the statue on account of the treatment of indigenous populations by Columbus, however, a lawsuit filed shortly after by an Italian-American advocacy group is still working through the courts, placing the process on hold.


For his part, Gerbino insists the painting is not a political statement. In fact, trying to make it into one would be to undermine the art, he said.


“You should leave a little bit of the door open for people to interpret your work,” he said.

“I like this distance between myself and the subject I am painting.”


Leaving the birthplace of Michaelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci for a small, decaying mill town in Western Pennsylvania seems like an unusual choice for an aspiring artist. But in 2003 Gerbino did just that, following Stowe-native Cynthia Lutz back to her hometown several years after they met in Italy.

The move was consistent with an equally cryptic word of advice offered by Gerbino’s teacher after he graduated from the prestigious Istituto Statale D’Arte: “Now, forget everything.”


“The challenge was to have a completely different experience,” Gerbino said of his relocation.

While scores of Italians made their homes in Stowe during the early 20th century, their main contributions to the town came through enterprise and industry – and perhaps food – rather than great works of art.


Gerbino nonetheless draws inspiration from the area’s industrial heritage, having frequently showcased paintings and installations crafted around discarded machinery and other manufacturing holdovers.


Ultimately, Gerbino believes a true artist can find inspiration in any surroundings. For more than a decade, he has made his studio in a small converted church overlooking the original Mancini’s Bakery.


The space is central to his creative process.


“I think of it as my laboratory,” he said. “I wake up in the morning and this is the only place I can be.”


Gerbino’s work is currently on public display near ticketing at the Pittsburgh International Airport. For more information, aapgh.org. Information on Gerbino and his other work can be found at fabriziogerbino.com.


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