More Time for the Skyline

Art installation of Pittsburgh skyline as large cut-outs with black and white patterns projected on them

Spirit Lounge Pittsburgh 200th Birthday Celebration

Back in January, we posed the question is the Pittsburgh skyline that distinct? No definitive conclusion was achieved but it became clear that we’re dealing with an extremely popular subject. In only the few months since, we’ve seen new examples of the same profile appear over and over–in art, in industry, in history. Here are The Orbit’s favorites:

Spirit Lounge‘s 200th birthday party for the city was an orgy of Pittsburgh in-joke goofballery. The flashing, multi-color downtown skyline diorama looked great in all of its phases, but especially this high-contrast, two-tone number (above)–amazingly with just one building’s profiles caught on the bias. Hats off to whoever put this great display together.

Airbrush painting of the Pittsburgh skyline seen from the North Side

Warhola Recycling, North Side

Warhola Recycling would have to include a North Sider’s view of the city. The big touch points are all there: PPG, Fifth Avenue Place, Point State Park and its fountain–even one of the party boats on the river. This mural, airbrushed on the big steel doors on the side the building, is a great example of the skyline potentially popping up just about anywhere.

fantasy skyline with various Pittsburgh elements included

Energy Innovation Center (former Connelly Technical Institute), Hill District, c. 1930

The depiction of Pittsburgh in this arched doorway mural from the old Connelly Technical Institute is terrific in a number of ways. First, it’s just very much of its time–a pseudo-realistic depiction of the city in full industrial might: a place of buildings reaching to the skies, bridges that can ford any span, industry cranking out…stuff, and glorious rolling green hills as far as the eye can see.

But it’s also a perspective that doesn’t actually exist–and never did. The painting is a fantasy view of Pittsburgh combining real-life entities (downtown’s Gulf Tower, the Panther Hollow Bridge in Oakland, steel mills, farmland) plucked out of their actual habitats and re-combined in a close-shouldered collision. It’s like a regional greatest hits album that lacks any cohesive flow, but still sells because it’s got all the good stuff people want to hear.

city skyline painted on concrete tennis practice wall, Pittsburgh, PA

Garland Parklet, East Liberty

This skyline, painted graffiti-style in a park in East Liberty, is almost so abstract that we can’t count it–it could be Anytown (O.K. any city), U.S.A. There’s no recognizable Gulf Tower or U.S. Steel Building, but the central point is arguably Fifth Avenue Place’s giant hypodermic needle. They’ve also got a generic bridge in there, though it doesn’t really look like any of the “three sisters” suspension bridges. In any case, this blogger thinks it counts. Plus, it ended up on the backstop of a tennis practice wall in East Liberty, which is a pretty neat place to turn up a city mural.

Pittsburgh skyline mural painted on cinderblock building

Red Star Ironworks, Millvale

Excuse the weird cropping here, but there was a glass block window and a competing mural to work around. The entire front of Red Star Ironworks’ Millvale workshop has been painted as a giant tribute to big dudes working with hot steel. The split pair of Pittsburgh skylines that bookend the mural are really just a decorative afterthought. But they’re still there, and you won’t have any trouble picking out the now-familiar key players.

mural on brick wall including the downtown Pittsburgh skyline

Mural, Art All Night 2016, Lawrenceville

We could have filled an entire post–maybe several–with depictions of downtown Pittsburgh entered into this year’s (or any year’s) Art All Night. But we went with the one that will go down with the ship: a mural painted directly on the brick wall of the 39th Street Arsenal Terminal building that ain’t long for this world. New condos await, right there at the foot of the 40th Street Bridge, but they’re not going to make it into this skyline.

Art All Night 2015 Round-up

warehouse in Pittsburgh where Art All Night 2015 was held

Outside Art All Night’s home for the last couple years

Art All Night.  That most democratic of all one-day, all-night, anything-goes art “happenings.” It’s one of the reasons The Orbit took up shop in Lawrenceville some fifteen years ago and, at least for the moment, it’s still going strong.

This past weekend was Art All Night’s eighteenth year.  We were there seventeen years ago for event #2 in the former G.C. Murphy’s on Butler Street (now Rent-a-Center).  Back then, that medium-sized retail space was over-large for the hundred-some pieces of artwork that walked in the door and the couple hundred event-goers there to check them out. The art was hung, as I recall, on old Murphy’s pegboard, before the advent of the now-standard OSB and 2×4 panels.

Even in its embryonic state, this blogger-to-be was hooked.  We bought our house right up the hill a year later and I was volunteering for the event the year after that. My contribution has dwindled to just the big build-out day, but my conscience won’t let me not show up at all.

Art All Night is in the weird position of being a victim of its own success.  The elephant in the warehouse-sized room is that the event won’t be around forever; Lawrenceville is just running out of the kind of giant, vacant real estate that can still accommodate thousands of visitors. This year’s building is slated for (at least partial) demolition and redevelopment, which is sad, but also makes perfect sense.

industrial warehouse interior with paint slingshot targets

Paint slingshot targets

I didn’t take any big group shots of the thousands of people who packed the massive five-bay industrial building where the event took place this (and last) year, nor did I try to capture any of the many performers (some 40+ musical acts, dance, improv comedy, live painting, a guy trying to set a world record for human beat-boxing, etc.) or wacky crowd figures (Abe Lincoln, “The Cowboy,” the rubber men, guy with Christmas lights under his furry coat, etc.).

There are many great things about Art All Night, but ostensibly, the event is about the thousand-or-so objets d’art that manage to make their way into the space that afternoon and up on the panels, or along the walls, or spilled along the floor for the world to see mere hours later.

There is great art, for sure, but in the shotgun blast of raw expression, joke art, quirk, deviance, desire, and beauty that is rushed onto the particle-board panels, it’s the ones that scream the loudest that seem to make the event the most memorable.

It is in that spirit that I thought I’d just feature some great examples of what we consider “classic Art All Night”–whether that speaks to cliche or repetition or simply some base human mode of expression is up for debate. Presented are individual examples of this year’s entries and the various itches they scratch.  Enjoy.  I know I did.

artwork of Pittsburgh skyline in cut paper

Pittsburgh skyline

painting of steel worker with steel mill in background

Steel mills/steel industry

painting of two football players on the field

Sports art/Steelers

painting of Jerry Garcia with a glowing third eye

Skip a little rope, smoke a little dope

line drawing of intertwining pipes

Time to wash the hands (again)

This is nothing to those halcyon days of the early oughts when a guy could cover an entire 8′ x 4′ display panel with an imaginary city, complete with all transit routes and street names, mapped out on graph paper and executed in mechanical pencil.

artwork showing challenges and options for women today


Under-represented this year were the big poster boards loaded up with (literal) ripped-from-the-headlines newspaper clippings (another casualty of the death of print!).  These would often be accessorized by a top layer big message: WAR? or Progress? or Justice? There were some nice sentiments on the evils of bearing children (one complete with a dangling flaccid condom), but it just wasn’t the same.

sculpture of human torso with world map glued to it

Maps/torsos OR “That’s not my belly-button!”

assemblage artwork including a baby doll's head

Doll head/parts assemblage

The doll parts genre this year was impressively (if disappointingly) tasteful. Typically there are numerous crude entries, oft splattered with red paint, grafted in vulgar ways to stray objects, etc.  Sigh.

artwork with tiny clown heads on sticks in jars with mysterious liquid

Science art/tiny clown heads on sticks in jars with mysterious liquid

I love the pseudo-science entries–and this was a fine one–but the genre lacked quantity this year.

two large-size sculptures of robots

Big robots

Artwork with a mannequin dressed like a queen in a clothes washing machine

Mannequin/English royalty/appliance-related

painting of Spock from Star Trek

science fiction

Spoke from Star Trek rendered on an Etch-a-Sketch


sculpture of zombie hand and grave stone in dirt

The evergreen: Pittsburgh loves zombies

painting of female monster eating a human head


painting of woman in her underwear removing a long black glove

Naughty ladies (and the men who like them)

This year’s naughty/nudie art count was way down from any previous event.  In fact, the normally stocked “porn art” entrants must have just sat on their flesh- and boudoir-colored paint cans this year, as there was nary a stray wang or cooter to bat an eye at.

painting of a strange part chicken/part egg creature

Which came first: the chicken or the … ah, jeez

sculpture of woman's head and hand surrounded by silver foil


I heard a number of people remark that it felt like the total amount of art was down from previous years. Maybe that’s true, or maybe it’s just the way the space and panels were used. Either way, my remarks above definitely include a lot of sentiments around missing some old friends.  Ah, well, maybe next year.