ZYNKA Gallery, Sharpsburg. Photo courtesy of Jeff Jarzynka.

Painting was Jeffrey Jarzynka’s first love, and he sought it out everywhere he went. But his career took him in other directions.

“I was very good at what I did — marketing and advertising and design — but it didn’t fulfill me,” recalls Jarzynka.

At the same time, he says, “I was walking a journey with my father. He had contracted terminal cancer and over the course of those two years and spending time with him, it made me rethink and reassess everything, career-wise. It was time to do something else.”

He started curating pop-up art exhibitions using everything he had learned about marketing and design and he started to see some success. It soon occurred to Jarzynka that having his own permanent space for art would be even better.

This led to Zynka Gallery, which is opening in Sharpsburg on Nov. 16 with an exhibition titled, “Current: The NOW of Art in Pittsburgh.”

“Premium Soda Crackers,” mixed media sculpture by Vanessa German. Courtesy of the Artist, Concept Art Gallery, Pittsburgh, and Pavel Zoubok Fine Art, NY.

The opening exhibition features work by 17 Pittsburgh-based artists: Atticus Adams, Judy Barie, Gavin Benjamin, Isabelle Brourman, Terry Boyd, Jamie Earnest, Vanessa German, Scott Hunter, Michael Lotenero, Joaquin Navarro, Travis Schwab, Jonathan Shapiro, Brenda Stumpf, Su Su, Mia Tarducci, Stephen Tuomala and Michael Walsh.

The Andy Warhol Museum, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, is a key collaborator for the project.

“We were very much thinking alike,” says Jarzynka. “I put together this group of 17 artists — a nice cross section of some of the best and most interesting art created in Pittsburgh currently, from a variety of different artists with different backgrounds in age, sex, politics, medium and style. The one consistent thread is that while some are more emerging and some are more established, they’re creating artwork at a very high level.”

The show’s title, “Current,” has multiple meanings.

“Being on a river town in Sharpsburg, it certainly relates to being near or on the water,” says Jarzynka. “The electrified nature of presenting something new and exciting also speaks to an electrical current. And most specifically, current being ‘of the now’ is the most important thing.”

Though the works include different styles and mediums, they “still feel like they belong together,” he says. “It’s not going to feel like a stall in a flea market. There will be something that will feel connected or familiar with either the shapes or colors or language of the pieces.”

Pittsburgh’s art scene can’t be summed up simply, Jarzynka notes, but it does seem to be reaching a crescendo of sorts as local artists achieve success and new artists seek out Pittsburgh as a home base.  “People from other cities come knowing that they could have a more affordable living here,” he says. “Artists typically struggle with that, in creating their art and their brand.”

Many of the artists in this exhibit have been working hard at their art in Pittsburgh for many years.

“Pittsburgh is a hardworking town. It always has been. Not necessarily rolling up their sleeves and sweating in mills, but being really passionate about the art that they’re creating, and really focused on it, and really making it their lives,” he says.

“Pink Landscape” by Joaquin Navarro. Courtesy of ZYNKA Gallery.
“Pink Landscape” by Joaquin Navarro. Courtesy of ZYNKA Gallery.

This hard work locally has led to a national profile for several artists in the exhibition, including Vanessa German.

“She’s constantly traveling and exhibiting nationally,” Jarzynka says. “The piece of sculpture I’m showing is $40,000, for example. Artists are finding good fortune in Pittsburgh and beyond, by being based here in Pittsburgh.”

To find the right home to host shows like this, he looked all over the city. He considered East End neighborhoods known for their galleries and thriving arts scene. But nothing felt right until he saw a story on the evening news about the St. Vincent de Paul organization consolidating some of their charity shops.

“They were doing that story from the thrift shop in Sharpsburg, which was one of the neighborhoods I was interested in,” says Jarzynka. “As that story was airing, I’m literally texting my realtor — ‘You need to get me into this property ASAP.’ So he did.”

In many ways, it’s the right fit.

“My grandmother spent the last 10 years of her life living in the senior high-rise in Sharpsburg,” Jarzynka says. “I spent numerous hours attending mass at St. Mary’s Church. Sharpsburg has always been part of my life in some way.”

It’s also a place that’s seeing a lot of new investment.

“There’s two very well-known, nationally-recognized breweries, a two-story distillery that’s about to open down the street, Pittsburgh Winery is supposed to be opening a tasting room two doors down from me,” he points out. “There’s a new vegan ice cream shop, and I think Red Hawk Coffee is opening up very soon. What I like about it is that it still feels like it has retained the authenticity of the neighborhood.”

Jeffrey Jarzynka. Photo by Jack Wolf.

Along with the former St. Vincent de Paul building, Jarzynka also bought two adjacent parcels on Main Street.

“904 Main Street will be the gallery, and I have renovated two wonderful apartments above me,” he says. “The larger, corner storefront is vacant and I’m looking for a tenant to join in the developing neighborhood of Sharpsburg.”

His goal is not just finding a tenant, but finding the right one. So far, he’s turned down offers from a vape shop and Boost Mobile.

Instead, he’s seeking “something that continues to advance the development of the neighborhood,” Jarzynka says. “My hope is that Sharpsburg maintains and retains much of its own character and personality. And that’s what I hope to bring to the neighborhood with my gallery and the addition of these apartments. And whatever tenant moves in next door.”

Michael Machosky

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.