Shervin Iranshahr

Pittsburgh City Paper

Shervin IranshahrComment

APRIL 12, 2007 
The Academy of the South Side takes oil painting back to the future.

Looking around a classroom at The Academy of the South Side, a new art school at the Brew House, you won't see the kind of experimental art you'd expect from young Pittsburghers. The classroom is typical enough of the brewery-turned-artist's-co-op: a large industrial space filled with old couches and art materials. But around the artists studying a model from behind their easels, the walls are lined with oil paintings ---- portraits, as well as studies of figures in costume, all in the same realist style. While the models are contemporary, the style, poses and costuming make some of the paintings look as though they could be hundreds of years old. 

That's exactly the the atmosphere Academy founders Tim Meehan, 27, and Shervin Iranshahr, 30, are aiming for. They teach art through strict methods of the sort used in Paris during the early 19th century. "We're coming at it from a totally different place," Meehan says. "We're all sticking to a system that's sort of been passed down forever." 

The Academy offers two classes: portrait painting with live models, and utility drawing, a beginning still-life class that prepares students for painting. The spring session began in late March; a third class, in costumed figure painting, will be offered in the fall. "We're just going to try, as slowly as we can, to take people from zero to feeling confident about drawing and painting," Meehan says. "We're keying the class to a beginner, but people with experience can use it how they see fit." 

Meehan, a Pittsburgh native, met Iranshahr when the two studied this method of painting together in California. When Iranshahr paid a post-college visit to Meehan at the Brew House, Meehan says, "within an hour he was making big plans about moving out here." The two -- Meehan's a freelance portrait painter and graphic designer, Iranshahr a designer -- rented apartments at the Brew House and decided to share their love of art with others. They had planned to start early last year, but held off until support from The Sprout Fund came through this spring. 

Classes are group-taught by Meehan, Iranshahr, Dan Vogel and Yvonne Kozlina; tuition starts at $175 per class for an eight-week session, or $500 for all three. The goal was a relaxed environment with "people who know the system guiding the students and giving them confidence," Meehan says. A second session is planned for fall. "We've been hearing from all kinds of people," Meehan says, noting that they've gotten the word out to a variety of age groups. Tuesday's portrait class is full, with 10 students. While the drawing class has just four students, Meehan says, "We are encouraging people to come and join this class on a week-by-week basis." 

Academy's instructors seem as passionate about their tradition teaching method as if it were their own creation. "We're looking to share inspiration with each other," says Meehand. "We're trying to find inspiring models as well as students ---- just the whole experience."