Bill DeBernardi’s figure painting show coming to the Art Gallery

Artist's Statement
The paintings in this exhibition are an extension of a particular direction in my work that has been evolving over the past 10 years or so. I have been concentrating on the figure in natural everyday environments. By isolating each figure or perhaps multiple figures, these “snapshots” of mundane life experiences allow me to examine the many nuanced aspects of the people that we all casually cross paths with. While this could perhaps be perceived as people watching taken to an obsessive level, it allows me to see patterns in behavior, gesture, anatomical structure and social ritual that I find fascinating.The paintings are not portraits of the people that inspire them. Often, the end result does not even look that much like the person in that sense. I start with photos randomly taken in various environments. Once I see a figure that intrigues me, I do a series of drawings to identify and distill down the subtle aspects of that figure in a search for what it is that attracted me. As the drawings develop, they take on an identity that is not only about the original person but are also influenced by other people that I may have seen or known. There is a dialogue between the original photo and my life experiences that help produce the final image. -- William DeBernardi

Life-size paintings of the garden-variety populace of the United States is the theme of artist and college professor Bill DeBernardi’s one-man show during November in the Art Gallery at Penn State New Kensington. “An American Festival #55 (Stale)” opens Nov. 4 and runs until Nov. 29.

DeBernardi’s exhibit features two large, head and torso figures complemented by a collection of smaller paintings of ordinary people going about their daily routines. The show is an expansion of his 2012 exhibit at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art in Ligonier, Pa.

“The paintings are of figures in everyday settings -- festivals, tourist attractions, street scenes, etc.,” said DeBernardi, associate professor of art at Carlow University in Pittsburgh. “One section of the exhibit will feature a series of figures arranged like a crowd scene.”

Working in oil, considered the ideal media for depicting figures, DeBernardi’s classic figure-painting style pre-dates the emergence of modern humans. Since the discovery of cave paintings, believed to have been created during the Neanderthal period more than 200,000 years ago, the human form has been the predominant artistic subject. It has been depicted in a variety of styles, from Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” to Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” to Andy Warhol’s “Four Marilyns.”

“Obviously, my work is rooted in the realist tradition. However, style is not something that I ever think about,” said DeBernardi, whose painting and drawing repertoire includes gouache (opaque watercolor) and pencil and charcoal. “I choose this presentation because it is the best way for me to express my personal vision. If I felt that doing abstract paintings or installation would express my ideas more clearly, I would use that approach.”

DeBernardi attended the New Kensington campus for two years before completing a bachelor's degree in fine arts at Penn State University Park. After earning a master of fine arts degree from Indiana University Bloomington, DeBernardi returned to his original campus as an adjunct instructor.

“I taught a drawing course and a two-dimensional design course,"said DeBernardi, who was raised in the borough of Hyde Park in Westmoreland County. “It was a good experience to teach in a liberal arts university, and it helped me hone much of my approach to how I teach now.”

DeBernardi brings his show to New Kensington at the behest of his former instructor and now colleague Bud Gibbons, professor of visual arts and director of the Art Gallery at the campus. Both teach art, both are award-winning members of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh and both have exhibited at the Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. DeBernardi credits Gibbons for inspiring his interest in painting.

“I had started as a student at Penn State New Kensington in 1974, and I believe that Bud had just started as an instructor,” said DeBernardi, who resides in Pittsburgh. “He had a big influence on my early college art education. I had been drawing for much of my life and began painting seriously once I entered college. “

DeBernardi’s work has been shown in regional and national exhibitions, as well as internationally in China, France and Venezuela. He was chosen to exhibit in the international invitational exhibition, “Justice/Peace,” in Changchun, China, in 1995. His paintings are in private, corporate and museum collections throughout the United States and in France, Italy and Venezuela.

A member of the Carlow faculty for 12 years, DeBernardi is chair of the Art Department. He was promoted to associate professor in 2007. He teaches courses in drawing, painting, design and printmaking.

A reception for the artist is slated from 6 to 8 p.m., Friday, Nov. 8, in the gallery. The exhibit and reception are free to the public. Gallery hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and noon to 5 p.m. weekends.

For more information, contact DeBernardi at or visit

Media Contacts: 

Bill Woodard

Work Phone: 
Home Phone: 
Cell Phone: 

Alumni and Public Relations Specialist

Last Updated October 30, 2013