Check out the really big faces in Pittsburgh before they leave
When the going got tough, artist Tom Mosser decided to think big. Really big.
Mosser created the Really Big Faces project as a way to spread positivity when the Covid pandemic began in 2020. Over the past two and a half years, he has painted more than 80 5-foot-tall portraits of Pittsburghers ranging from fBill Strickland, Roma community leader and founder of the Manchester Bidwell Corporation, to Angela Blanton, Vice President of Carnegie Mellon University.
The exhibit is being held at the Energy Innovation Center in the Hill District through Friday, July 8.
Although he planned to show a smaller collection of “big faces” in March 2020, Mosser says the delay caused by the pandemic was a blessing in disguise.
“You know those people who used to go out and fiddle on their balcony in New York? It was my way,” says Mosser.
Mosser was inspired by the massive self-portraits of artist Chuck Close and the drawing style of illustrator Bernie Fuchs. He was also inspired by the “drip technique” of abstract artist Jackson Pollock and the color palettes of Pittsburgh icon Andy Warhol.
In addition to their faces, Mosser incorporates aspects of his subjects’ lives into the paintings. PIttsburghers from all walks of life offered their hearts to her on social media. Each portrait subject also gave Mosser additional biographies or photos to display alongside the canvases.
“It’s about the diversity of stories as much as the art itself,” says Mosser. “Everyone has a story, whether it’s a TV presenter or a single mother raising two daughters.”
Due to supply chain issues, Mosser initially struggled to secure large canvases. But he was able to continue painting with the help of local craftsman Andy Petkac, who built frames for the canvases and helped hang them in the exhibition space.
Mosser planned to present the exhibition with 30 pieces at the Spinning Plate Gallery in East Liberty, but the collection soon outgrew the space. When he heard about the Energy Innovation Center, Mosser immediately fell in love with the place. He particularly liked the skylights that line the ceiling of the main hallway and the views of downtown and the north side.
“It was a dream come true, an eye opener really…I’m so glad I discovered this place because it really is a hidden gem,” says Mosser.
Although largely an incubation center for all things technology, engineering and industrial design, the Center has more to offer for its future. Don Evans, CEO of Pittsburgh Gateways Corporation, a business consulting firm that owns and operates the center, said the building will begin to integrate more arts into the space.
“We have never been more energized than when the show opened…It’s another new way to use this historic building…When you bring the arts and sciences together, their synergy can solve problems. problems,” says Evans.
In the future, Mosser hopes the Really Big Faces exhibit will travel as a group exhibit and eventually find a home in a museum or Pittsburgh International Airport. He also wants to hold a second show with even more faces in the future. None of the portraits are available for sale.
The exhibit closes Friday, July 8 with a free celebration from 6-10 p.m. in the main hallway and Covestro Brightspace. Mosser will unveil three new portraits at the event: DJ Kinetik (Blake Kinetik), photographer Jill Farrar and Mayor Ed Gainey.