Painted Bride fuses forms of creativity

The edgy art center in Old City seeks to combine elements of music, dance, theater and art in a socially-conscious effort.

The edgy art center in Old City seeks to combine elements of music, dance, theater and art in a socially-conscious effort.

The Painted Bride Art Center often features works that are eye-catching, unconventional and controversial.

In a building that looks like a giant pre-Columbian jewelry box, with the words “The Bride has many suitors” painted in script, there’s home to contemporary art venue the Painted Bride.

The mosaic of mirror tiles and painted swirls, titled “The Skin of the Bride,” is the work of Isaiah Zagar, one of the original founders and owner of the similarly-styled Eye’s Gallery on South Street.

Workshops are visible from the street through large, rustic windows.  

Hanging in the foyer is a one-of-a-kind chandelier made of a bicycle, hose, shovel and bucket spiked with bulbs, all fused together and suspended on a pulley. Ambient salsa music plays, and further into the building is one of the Bride’s current exhibits, Dignity Transforms, a reproduction of a community renewal project in North Philadelphia and part of the Semilla Arts Initiative.  

Artists Betsy Casañas and Pedro Ospina recreate the residents’ contributions with portraits, around which their works are displayed. Most prominent are the greenhouse and gardener, wheelbarrow truck and its creator and a hot rod hung with wrenches and screws beneath the portrait of a mechanic.

Divided lengthwise by a suspended sheet of chain link fence, the exhibit includes photographs of the project as well.

Casañas’ and Ospina’s individual works are displayed upstairs, the most salient being Casañas’ nude self-portraits. These oil canvases hang frameless on wooden rods like scrolls.  

Among the paintings are intricate webs of wooden spindles, netted and boxed in, created by Ospina. The theme continues with webs of metallic thorns, intriguing and elegantly intimidating.

Ospina’s paintings are textured and reminiscent of Picasso’s surrealism.

By the stairs hang Ospina’s trademark birdcages, featuring totem poles inset with beads and tipped with sheets of nail heads and perches spiked with glass shards.

“When people see the birdcages, they assume it’s Pedro,” said Marketing Coordinator LaNeshe Miller. “It’s a staple of his coming out in Philly.”

On the violet door of the Gerry Givnish Theater is the Painted Bride’s original logo, a geometric black and white bride that takes a second or two to recognize.

Featured inside are often controversial performances in dance, theater, music or any combination of the three.

Upcoming is Scott Turner’s “Becoming A Man in 127 Easy Steps,” about transitioning from female to male. Beginning in December, the show features monologues and aerial ribbon trapeze.  

“We seek to put out stuff that’s more than entertainment,” Miller said. “We like art that speaks to societal and cultural issues.”

Behind the theater, the office cubicles are enclosed in domestic white walls with awning windows, and tribal masks hang throughout.

“I’m looking for work that has some type of social connection and has a high degree of artistic excellence,” Executive Director Laurel Raczka said, when asked how she chooses pieces to be displayed.

Performances are sometimes followed with a discussion between audiences and artists.

“I want art to be accessible to a wide range of people. It’s important to have activities that bring people into the process and speak to the artist,” Raczka said. “People get intimidated by just the term ‘art,’ so it is meant to engage them.”

“I’d like this to be a destination at all times,” she added, “where people can come during the day and talk.”

Bianca Brown can be reached at

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