UA honors Akron artist John Puglia

UA honors alumnus John Puglia with the exhibit titled Never Not Working: The Art and Influence of John Puglia.”

By Zaina Salem, Managing Editor

John Puglia created works of art from the beauty of everything around him. Inspired by the sights of everyday life, Puglia shaped a successful career for himself and motivated others to do the same along the way.

The Emily Davis Gallery in Folk Hall will honor the life and work of Akron artist and alumnus John Puglia from July 14 through Sept. 12. The exhibit, “Never Not Working: The Art and Influence of John Puglia” will showcase the work of his peers as well.

Puglia graduated from the University of Akron in 1987 earning a B.A. in Mass Media Communication with an emphasis in film and video production. From high school to adulthood, he worked with a wide range of media including film and video, photography, painting, sculpture, screen printing, and graphic design. He was well-known in Akron for his artwork and also his collaborations with other artists. In 2013, Puglia lost his battle with cancer at the age of 48.

Both floors of the gallery will showcase the exhibit. On the main floor will be a reflection of his art from when he was in school at UA to his later years before he died. His artwork, which is a combination of different media, often exemplifies industrial and urban themes. Most of Puglia’s work in the gallery focuses on Akron’s Arlington Street, the local factory culture and the life of Michael Dokes.

One of Puglia’s closest friends, David Giffels, is a former columnist for the Beacon Journal and current Assistant Professor of English at the University of Akron. The two had become friends in high school and continued their friendship throughout their college and adult life. Giffels described Puglia as someone who had a strong artistic spirit, work ethic, and intelligence.

“He influenced me in many, many ways –probably as much as anyone I’ve ever known,” Giffels said. “Because he kept working and because he kept pushing with his own curiosity, it kept the fire under me all through my life to do more and to be more ambitious.”

Both attending The University of Akron, Giffels recounted the adventures in college he had with his friend. The two would explore downtown, Puglia acting as the leader while Giffels being the more timid one.

“We’d break into old buildings at night, exploring along the canal and through some of the abandoned places downtown,” Giffels said. “He really exposed me to a lot of the parts of the city that fascinated me through my whole life and that I’ve written about. He introduced me to it.”

Puglia’s publication, M-80, will also be featured on the main floor. Puglia began the magazine in 1999 and it continued to publish until 2004. M-80 was a collection of photos and writings by local and nationally distinguished artists, musicians, and writers. Among these artists were the famous Black Keys.

According to Giffels, Puglia was a great leader to others. The Projects Gallery inside Folk Hall was a direct result of Puglia’s leadership. He converted it from a janitor’s closet to an exhibit space, which is still used by students today. Many of his peers referred to Puglia as having a direct influence on them.

The top floor of the Davis gallery will showcase the work of his friends and peers who had influenced his work, one of whom is Andrew Borowiec, an art professor at the University of Akron. Borowiec was Puglia’s former Photography professor in the spring of 1985.

“He was very different than the others –more inquisitive, more imaginative,” Borowiec said. “He was a leader among the students in his class. He was always coming up with interesting new ways to show art and define art.”

Through creative and professional means, Puglia had accomplished much throughout his life. For 10 years, he was director of corporate communications at the Akron-based Roadway Express, now known as YRC. While working at YRC, Puglia dedicated his time to communication strategies, creative leadership and public relations. He was the main designer of one of YRC’s websites, which had won many awards. One of these awards resulted in becoming part of the Smithsonian’s permanent collection.

Later, Puglia became Vice President of Creative Services for Whitespace Creative in Akron. According to the company’s website, Puglia was “a gentle leader, as well as a gifted artist and storyteller who used his own perpetual curiosityto motivate his team.”

Puglia also founded Millworks in 1990, a non-profit arts organization. Millworks had three galleries in which Puglia was the creative director and curator for. More than 50 exhibits and events were organized by Puglia to represent new and old artists from around the world.

“He was incredibly generous as a person but also in the way that he would give other artists space to work,” Giffels said. “It was not so much about his own work as it was about getting other people’s work out there.”

As a student at UA, Puglia traveled to New York City on a School of Art field trip which sparked a lifelong appreciation of the city. It opened up a broader world that was out there for him and was ultimately a life-changing experience. The John Puglia Memorial Fund has been set up in Puglia’s memory so other students can have the same opportunity.

“We thought that if we got a fund set up it will help students financially and help them have that same experience John had,” Borowiec said. “I think it will help his memory live on.”

Many of the works by John’s friends will be sold at the closing reception on Friday, Sept. 12 from 6-8 p.m. All proceeds will go toward The John Puglia Memorial Fund.