By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
UPDATE: Painting featured is Jareth the Goblin King, oil and 24 karat gold leaf, by Rhonda Libbey
As September turns to October, society’s collective mind turns to the spooky season of Halloween. It is a time the imagination can run wild, making it a favorite time for lovers of the fantastic.
Panza Gallery & Framing in Millvale will be hosting a fantastic Halloween special of its own with “As The World Falls Down,” an open call exhibition for all artists in the tri-state area.
Panza Gallery was opened by Mark Panza in 1986 as both a framing shop and a space to feature local art. His daughter, Jennifer Panza, conceived of and organized the upcoming exhibit, inspired by Jim Henson’s 1986 fantasy film, Labyrinth. The film is a coming-of-age story where Goblin King Jareth, portrayed by David Bowie, and 15-year-old Sarah, played by Jennifer Connelly, fight for the soul of Toby, Sarah’s infant brother.
“I’m a child of the ’80s, and I’m a huge fan of the film Labyrinth,” Jennifer Panza says. “I’ve always had this dream of having a grand Halloween art show and ball, all rolled into one.”
With that idea in mind, she found an ideal collaborator to bring the concept to life when she reached out to the Pittsburgh Society of Artists, who were enthused about the concept and willing to assist in recruiting talent.
“[Pittsburgh Society of Artists] wanted to help me promote it, and they also spread the word to their members,” she says.
As part of the open call, artists were to take inspiration from not only Labyrinth, but also from legendary creators of fantasy illustration.
“The artwork is supposed to be fantasy-based but inspired by the work of Brian Froud and Jim Henson,” Panza says.
In keeping with this theme, the art submitted thus far runs the gamut of subject matter and medium. Visual artist Bill Karaffa, an exhibition chair at Pittsburgh Society of Artists, entered a painting inspired by the “helping hands,” a mass of disembodied hands that direct Jennifer Connelly’s character through the film’s titular labyrinth.
Jim Henson’s influence is also deeply evident in the submissions, particularly that of Christine Fondi, who crafted an original puppet in Henson’s style for the exhibition.
Some were even compelled to create outside the bounds of stationary art pieces. Multimedia artist Ethan Michaels submitted an original animated short, inspired both by Labyrinth as well as M.C. Escher’s famous painting, “Relativity,” known for its endless staircases.
“As The World Falls Down” will close with a celebration inspired by one of the film’s later scenes, a scene from which the exhibition also derives its name.
“Towards the end of the movie, there’s a big masquerade ball that Jennifer Connelly’s character is in,” Panza says. “There’s a song playing by David Bowie in the scene called ‘As the World Falls Down.’”
Guests for the Masquerade Ball are to attend in costume, with the best outfit winning an award. The ball will also feature live music, a DJ, and caricature artist Jack Puglisi. All this is to spread the spirit of the Halloween season, and remind us of the continued influence of artists, past and present.
“I hope that people find joy in this like I do,” Panza says. “For me, it’s about a feeling of nostalgia, and I hope people get that feeling, too.”