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How the art gets made: Pittsburgh filmmaker documents painter at Homewood studio

Three people work on a large white canvas.
David Bernabo
Three images of Zoë Welsh work on a painting in "Point of Beginning," a film by David Bernabo.

This is WESA Arts, a weekly newsletter by Bill O'Driscoll providing in-depth reporting about the Pittsburgh area art scene. Sign up here to get it every Wednesday afternoon.

Everybody knows what artists do: They make art. But what that process actually entails can be a bit mysterious to the rest of us.

A new film by one local artist about another looks to demystify artmaking, at least a little. In “Point of Beginning,” David Bernabo documents painter Zoë Welsh, at work in her studio at Radiant Hall, in Homewood, as she creates a few of her large-scale mixed-media works.

Much of the 46-minute documentary is simply Bernabo’s camera watching Welsh as she tears up blank newsprint, arranges it on a 6-foot-square canvas that’s lying flat on the floor, and alternately coats the surface with thick white primer, adds more paper, and mixes and brushes on pigmented paints. Occasionally he superimposes multiple images of her at work on the same canvas.

Welsh, a 2016 graduate of Tyler School of Art, in Philadelphia, has exhibited works in local venues including Union Hall in the Strip District, Concept Gallery in Regent Square, and at New York’s famed Chautauqua Institution. Bernabo, a veteran filmmaker, was looking for a structurally straightforward project and thought of Welsh, whose work he admired for its scale, multimedia nature, and compelling blend of abstract and representational imagery.

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He shot the meditative film on a series of Saturdays over several months, from February to May of this year. He said he learned a lot about how visual art is made — at least, Welsh’s.

“I guess I didn’t realize how involved each piece was and how deliberate every decision is,” he said.

Bernabo, also a musician, said Welsh’s process of keeping an artistic destination in mind while allowing the route to be largely improvised reminded him of composing a piece of music. “Everything you lay down informs the next step,” said Bernabo, who also composed and performed the film’s minimalist musical score, on standup bass and pitched metals.

Bernabo’s filmmaking, meanwhile, is informed by yet another of his experiences, as a podcaster. The narration in “Point of Beginning” shuns talking-head interviews in favor of brief, casual, voice-over conversations between Bernabo and Welsh, about things like what colors mean to her, and her preference for abstraction.

“Point of Beginning” premieres with two screenings here this week. The first is 8:30 p.m. Fri., June 20, at Union Hall, 2216 Penn Ave., in the Strip. The second is at 7 p.m. Sat., July 1, at Bottom Feeder Books, 415 Gettysburg St., in Point Breeze. Both screenings are free.

Bernabo said Welsh is unlikely to attend: She recently gave birth, completing a pregnancy that is partly documented in the film.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: