News Column

Art Review: 'Mildred Sidorow: The Color of Sunshine' at Christine Frechard Gallery

July 17, 2014

By Kurt Shaw, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

July 17--On display at Christine Frechard Gallery in Squirrel Hill, the exhibit "The Color of Sunshine" features over two dozen brightly colored abstract paintings by Mildred Sidorow.

"Those viewing the show should have a feast of color," says the spunky artist, who, at 95, has a passion for painting that shows in her vibrantly colored abstract compositions, each filled with bold, geometric shapes, patterns and even a figure or two. None is titled, simply numbered.

"She views it as something she has to do," says her daughter, Simone Rubin, also of Squirrel Hill. "She actively paints nearly every day."

Rubin says her mother has been painting since age 20, and, so far, has created over 400 paintings. "She started out doing watercolors originally, then moved on to using acrylics," Rubin says. "This is the first time she has shown in Pittsburgh."

That's really saying something, considering one of Sidorow's paintings is in the collection of Hofstra University, Long Island, New York, as well as several private collections. Sidorow has lived in Pittsburgh for nearly 15 years, ever since moving with her husband from Oceanside, Long Island, to be closer to Rubin and her family.

Born and raised in Johnstown, Sidorow spent her professional career teaching English at Johnstown High School and Cochran Junior High School, also in Johnstown, after graduating with a degree in education from the University of Pittsburgh in 1940. Largely self-taught, painting was an avocation she pursued for pure pleasure.

Rubin says that all of her mother's paintings begin the same way: "When she starts a new canvas, she doesn't have any preconceived ideas. She just starts."

But, even though she paints nonobjectively, some themes do arise. For example, several canvases read like cityscapes, where apartment buildings, billboards, shops and even people are present.

Sidorow says these were inspired by her trips in and around New York City.

"Traveling over the bridges to Manhattan, whether driving into the city or onward to Pennsylvania, what I saw there was just overwhelmingly beautiful," Sidorow says.

Many of these paintings combine figures and buildings, as well as a few unexpected surprises.

"She has this distinctive hand shape that pops up in her paintings from time to time, especially in her cityscapes," Rubin says.

Sidorow says the addition of familiar shapes and figures help define the overall composition of each painting, even though the process begins as a natural flow of color on canvas.

"I really don't think about it," Sidorow says. "It's a question of the color that I first put down on canvas, and then I take it from there. I sometimes think maybe I should do some houses, or make a shape of a certain color. I usually put a little person in because some of my paintings can be horizontal or vertical."

After working on a series of five or six pieces, Sidorow says, "I feel I ought to try something else."

"I believe that I have to continue experimenting, not just have one simple form and live with that," she says. "Many artists have that, but it's not acceptable for me."

This need to experiment has not gone unnoticed. "What I've observed over all of these years is that she would kind of fall into a series," says her daughter. "Maybe the five or six paintings will be very bright colors, so on and so forth. And then, all of a sudden, I'll see white with a black circle."

In the back of the gallery, a series of black-and-white paintings attests to this. Based on the shapes of eyes, particularly irises, she describes each as "visual poetry." "Thank you, Walt Whitman," Sidorow says.

Some, with their spiral shapes and thick, texture-laden patterns, are reminiscent of aboriginal art. They are evidence of an active mind and open spirit -- the spirit of a painter who has no desire to ever stop painting.

"I get in my paint clothes every day," Sidorow says, "and that's the day I'm going to paint, because I live with optimism."

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at


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