By Nico Regoli
Staff Writer & Reporter
New Kensington, PA – Friday, Jan. 22, 2016, will go down a proud day in New Kensington’s history, as several of its citizens braved the cold, snowy roads, packing the house for the New Kensington Art Center’s opening night.
Originally a Career Training Academy building that had been one month vacant, local real estate agent, Marvin Birner brought together the 950 Fifth Avenue location’s owner, John Reddy, with New Kensington Camera Club president and professional graphic designer, Don Henderson. After some discussion, a deal was reached, and the Camera Club was loaned the building for four months, completely free of charge, for them to turn into an art gallery.
The Center debuted with its very first Art Night, granting a platform for the Camera Club’s members and other local artists to display their work for the community to see and purchase.
Such artists included 28-year-old medical worker and Valley High School and Penn State alum, Anton Bachman, who showcased his unique, digital prints of celebrity faces made entirely out of geometric shapes.
“This style of art, I call it ‘Trubism,’ based off of kind of an enhancement or an offshoot of the style of Pablo Picasso or Georges Braque of Cubism, where the figure is fragmented and seen from different angles simultaneously,” Bachman explained. “However, in this instance, the characters are still recognizable, thus more to their true self.”
Along the celebrities Bachman featured in his prints were music legends Jim Morrison and David Bowie, film icons Audrey Hepburn and Darth Vader, basketball “King” Lebron James, Pennsylvania legends Andy Warhol (whom Bachman shares a birthday with) and “Mister” Fred Rogers, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Bachman’s personal favorites, however, were prints of Picasso himself and Brooklyn-based African American artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Providing the music for the night was local entertainer, Jimbo Jackson, lead vocalist and guitarist of “Jimbo & the Soupbones.” Starting out his entertainment career later than most, Jackson can teach the New Kensington-Arnold community that creativity and self-expression has no age limitations.
“[I] bought a guitar at 35 years old and that sort of started everything, just learning to play the guitar,” said Jackson. “Then the singing came and once I sang a song, people liked it, and it snowballed.”
In terms of his musical range, Jackson thinks he can “play Mary Had A Little Lamb on any instrument ever,” but considers himself to be more of an entertainer than a well-rounded musician.
“It’s about being yourself, and communicating with an audience for me, more so than technical ability. I just don’t give a damn about stuff like that,” he explained.
What Jackson, along with the Camera Club and the other artists at the grand opening did give a damn about, however, is bringing New Kensington and Arnold back into the spotlight. And the way they intend to do so is through art.
“It [art] is life itself. Without the arts, I think humanity would be stagnant,” said Tommy West, a community activist, artist, photographer, and videographer who recently entered retirement.
“If we can create something cultural that all different walks of life can participate in, I think that’s the best way to start,” West said.
“Art, it’s the keystone. It drives people to the area,” said Bob Carney, of the New Kensington Camera Club and photographer from Deep Creek, Maryland, who grew up in New Kensington.
“Everybody appreciates art and different mediums will draw different crowds,” Carney explained. “With drawing a different crowd, the diversity of that crowd helps give vision to a community, and hopefully open up more doors for people that see that it becomes more viable.”
“To me, it [art] means community,” said Joni Marcy, another member of the Camera Club and the unofficial face of the event. “I like to share what I take with the public, with the community, and I like to bring people together that are doing different things. To just be creative together and learn from each other.”
“We have a rich history here [New Kensington-Arnold] that’s almost being lost, because that part of our area isn’t shared with one another,” said Jackson. “I look at it [the Art Center] like a jumpstart for this town. It is a reset button that’ll give us a fresh start or some start. Not so much fresh, but some start, and I think it’ll bring us [the community] together.”
Considering the opening night saw a full house, despite the worst weather conditions possible, it’s safe to say the New Kensington Art Center is off to a great start of uniting the community.
The Center’s next scheduled Art Night will be Friday, Feb. 5 from 6 to 9 p.m. More information can be found on the New Kensington Art Center’s website, www.nkartscenter.org, and on its self-titled Facebook group.