By Diana Nelson Jones, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
James Simon wasn't sure whose lipstick kiss stained his cheek
yesterday. A lot of people were enamored -- his Uptown neighbors,
his mother, Duquesne University officials and students, his
They turned out about 100 strong in frigid wind chill to cheer
his 9-by-25-foot vertical sculpture in relief on the wall of the
Forbes Avenue garage.
It joins a growing body of work in Uptown by Mr. Simon and
others in an effort to change the look of the neighborhood and
perceptions about what it offers.
At his studio on Gist Street, Mr. Simon created the sculpture
"Uptown Rhythm" in clay, then, from plaster molds, cast it in
concrete. It is a whimsical, colorful cacophony of swaying people,
animals, musical instruments and animated buildings, all topped by
a large parrot and Duquesne University's ornate "D."
Yesterday, he explained the parrot, saying he grew to love
colorful birds when he lived in Mexico and Brazil.
One of the characters in the sculpture is a man on a bike
carrying a turtle in his arms with a baby rollicking on his
"I like turtles," he said, smiling sheepishly.
At the podium, before the art was unveiled, Duquesne University
President Charles J. Dougherty said many campus artworks "are meant
to be reverential, or reminders of our associations with each
other." This one "is intentionally playful" and a bridge between
the university and Uptown cultures.
"It will probably slow a lot of traffic on Forbes, too," Dr.
"It represents the vitality and diversity that has been and can
be Uptown again," said Jeanne McNutt, an artist and a leader of the
Uptown Community Action Group. She has been encouraging Mr. Simon
in his effort to make Uptown known for its public art.
The "Art on Gist Street" initiative that he co-founded with his
friend and neighbor John Fleenor is a response to the presence of
drug dealers and prostitutes.
"It's a depressed area that we wanted to turn into an outdoor
art gallery," he said.
The first attraction was his King Kong sculpture looking out
from a wall outside his studio.
Mr. Simon grew up in Stanton Heights, trained in Italy and
England, and continued to live and work abroad for years before
returning to Pittsburgh five years ago when his father became
"I liked this neighborhood just from driving around," he said.
"It's like I came full circle: My dad grew up on Dinwiddie Street
and went to Fifth Avenue High School."
He said he went to the Action Group to propose "a big art
project in Uptown for Uptown. You have to have a community force to
stop ugly things from happening, but my angle is art, art for the
people, because art is not part of the lives of most poor