Students from the Pittsburgh School for the Creative and Performing Arts enjoyed an opportunity to hear from two Pittsburgh VIPs on Tuesday: painter Burton Morris and Mayor-elect Bill Peduto.
Three dozen CAPA students took in the Morris exhibit at the Heinz History Center, which includes more than 100 of his works. They were also tasked with the responsibility of choosing one piece to hang in the mayor’s office, once Peduto takes over on Jan. 6.
“We’re going to take down the pictures of the mayor shaking hands with all the famous people, we’re going to take down the awards and everything else, and we’re going to turn the office into an art gallery,” Peduto told the students over lunch.
Peduto said he also plans to display artwork from CAPA students in his office or in a nearby conference room.
Peduto said he and Morris have been friends since they attended Carnegie Mellon University together in the early 1980s.
“I’ve had an opportunity to watch his career take off from the very beginning. I’m very proud of him,” Peduto said. “It’s great to be able to see someone from Pittsburgh capture the international stage like he has.”
Peduto said he still has some old fraternity fliers designed by Morris, and called those his “retirement account.”
Morris, who has completed commissioned works for the Academy Awards, the Olympic Games and Major League Baseball, talked to the students about what it takes to make a career in the art world.
“My parents always taught me to believe in myself and follow my passion,” Morris said. “To be an artist, you really have to have it in your heart, really have a passion. I do this for love, but you also have to be smart enough to create a business of it.”
Morris said his pop-art style has been heavily influenced by the work of Pittsburgh native Andy Warhol, and by comic books and cartoons.
Although the students at Tuesday’s event are all studying literary rather than visual art, they said they found value in Morris’s words.
“Even though we’re not visual artists per se, it’s inspiring to see someone who took an art form that they really love, that’s often said you can’t do a lot with it, and clearly he’s done some amazing stuff with it,” said freshman Arwen Kozak.
Kozak and her friends Leah DeFlitch and Lily Buchanan said they hoped Morris’s painting depicting characters from "Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood" would end up on the Mayor’s office.
“He’s sort of like a symbol of Pittsburgh,” said DeFlitch. “When you think Pittsburgh, you think Mister Rogers.”
In the end, after hearing feedback from the students, Peduto ended up choosing the image Morris designed for the “One Young World” conference, held in Pittsburgh last year.
The exhibit Poptastic! The Art of Burton Morris will be on display in the Heinz History Center until Feb. 23.