Jeff Jarzynka was in his 40s when his father was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Leaving his job and helping to care for his dad changed Jarzynka’s life in more ways than one. And the experience led him, ultimately, to open Pittsburgh’s newest commercial art gallery, one focused on showcasing local talent.
ZYNKA Gallery, in Sharpsburg, hosts its inaugural opening reception Saturday. The paintings, sculptures and more include offerings from 17 Pittsburgh-based artists, including Vanessa German, Brenda Stumpf, Mia Tarducci, Terry Boyd, and Scott Hunter. The exhibit, “Current: The Now of Art in Pittsburgh,” is also a partnership with The Andy Warhol Museum, to help mark the Warhol’s 25th anniversary.
Jarzynka, now 51, grew up in the North Hills and studied painting and graphic design at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He loved fine art, but moved into graphic design and marketing to pay the bills; along the way he also became an art collector. Then his father became ill.
“Walking that journey with him really made me sort of reevaluate my own life and appreciate how precious and short life is, and if you’re ever going to do something, it’s time to do it,” Jarzynka said.
His long-time dream was to found a gallery. Drawing on his local and national contacts, he started by curating pop-up exhibits for hotels, corporations, and local nonprofit venues like the Mine Factory, in Point Breeze, and Artists Image Resource, on the North Side. He also worked as an art consultant. In January 2018, he began seeking a permanent, brick-and-mortar venue. He found it in Sharpsburg, in a 1,400-square-foot space that was formerly part of the St. Vincent De Paul thrift store.
Sharpsburg has resonance for Jarzynka. It was where he had attended St. Mary Church as a kid, and where his grandmother had lived for a time. The former mill town of 3,300 on the Allegheny is also right across the bridge from Highland Park, where he lives.
“It’s always been part of the fabric of my life in some way, and just seeing some of the interesting things that were starting to happen with the a lot of the new businesses and breweries, it just seemed like a good spot,” he said.
Jarzynka’s business prospects might seem less obvious. While Pittsburgh is home to many artists, it’s not known as a big art market. Many local visual-art galleries are nonprofits; collectors of contemporary work are not numerous, and in recent years, commercial galleries have seemed as likely to close as to open.
Jarzynka, however, expressed optimism.
“I have to make a living doing this,” he acknowledged. “But … I had some really great success in just the short time of doing the pop-ups and just general art consultations that I’ve been doing over the last four or five years, which encouraged me to the point of actually thinking there is an art market here, and with hopes of continuing to develop that market."
He said there are enough Pittsburgh-based artists to support his focus on them.
“I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen quite the level of talent that is here and working in Pittsburgh,” he said. “And I almost felt it was an obligation to open this gallery, because I think there is such a lack of opportunities for artists to get exposed and seen, and I wanted to be able to show the quality of work in a quality gallery.”
Jarzynka’s close ties with the Warhol can’t hurt. He said he and the museum share a common interest in advancing contemporary local artists. A portion of the proceeds from any sales from the inaugural exhibit will benefit the Warhol.
In an emailed statement, Warhol executive director Patrick Moore wrote: “We are honored that a group of local artists have come together to inaugurate the Zynka Gallery and also support The Warhol. In turn, the museum is delighted to see another space join the growing network of opportunities for Pittsburgh artists to show their work and build their careers.”
ZYNKA’s debut show has no explicit theme, and ranges across media, and from emerging to established artists. “The one thing that really unites them is their true passion and dedication to their work,” Jarzynka said. “It really comes through in the quality of the work that is shown.”
Other artists in the show include Atticus Adams, Judy Barie, Gavin Benjamin, Isabelle Brourman, Jamie Earnest, Michael Lotenero, Joaquin Navarro, Travis Schwab, Jonathan Shapiro, Su Su, Stephen Tuomala, and Michael Walsh.
Jarzynka said most of the artists are expected to attend the Nov. 16 opening reception. The show will remain open through year’s end, with gallery hours Thursdays through Saturdays and by appointment.