5 Questions with Art on the Walls artist Brian Sesack

Brian Sesack is one of the three artists featured in Eleven Stanwix’s new Art on the Walls exhibition program which brings the work of Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council members to unconventional spaces throughout the region. As a self-taught artist, Sesack expresses himself through photography, focusing on creating patterns by interpreting his environment through tone, form, and density. His photographs showcase a wide variety of locations, including a Death Valley National Park scene and a lake reflection from Stonewall Jackson State Park in West Virginia.

Our communications intern recently spoke with Brian to learn more about his art and why he started. (This interview has been condensed for space and clarity.)

A black-and-white photograph shows bare trees sitting in, and reflected in, a river. In the background, and also reflected in the water, are a cloudy sky and a forest of leaved trees
Brian Sesack's "Reflections – Stonewall Jackson State Park, WV"

What made you want to start creating art?  
When I was growing up, my late father was an industrial arts teacher and when he started teaching, he discovered he was going to be a papa. He had a former student of his who was stationed in the army in West Germany, and he gave him money to buy a Leica M3, probably the best 35-millimeter camera ever made. And so my whole life growing up was photographed with that camera and on Kodachrome slides. I never understood that camera, but it was what my father used.

A smiling white man with gray hair wearing black glasses, a blue t-shirt, a tan vest, and a camera attached to a strap hung around his neck
Pittsburgh photographer Brian Sesack

Later in life, as he got older and didn't travel as much, he gave me that camera, and I put it in my sock drawer because it was sacred. It captured my life story and if I broke it, or something happened, I would be devastated. Then one morning I woke up and said to my wife, Susan, “I’d like to start to photograph in black-and-white photography.”

I can remember just sitting on the bed and then taking the camera out of the sock drawer and just deciding to go ahead with that.

How long do your pieces typically take to create?  
Longer than it should. There are times where there's a thematic body of work that arises and that's pretty quick. Then there are times where I don't know what I'm photographing, except there's something there, there's something in the tonal qualities, there's something in the textures, and I'll work that image. I may change positions and I might change lenses, but the downside to photographing with a digital camera, you don't know when to stop. But you have to coach yourself and counsel yourself because the more you shoot, the more laundry you have to do and anything with curating your work is sort of like doing the laundry. I mean, it has to be done.

After a shoot, I will normally let the work set a bit, maybe a month, maybe two months, and then come back to it only because there's that moment where you see something and now you're removed from it. So I would say from shoot to endpoint, maybe three months – only because I left the work sit for a bit.

What have you learned as an artist?  
I found that I need to photograph what speaks to me and I need to work on what speaks to me, and then if it works for you, that's magical. If I can create a body or an image that brings the viewer into it, and there's something magical for them, that's the wonderful part. And then if I can create a story without the written language, that's magical.

A black-and-white photograph showing beams of light coming down from a cloudy sky and falling behind rows of hilly mountaintops
Brian Sesack's "Thru the Haze – Cambridge, NY"

What does it mean to you to have your work displayed at Eleven Stanwix in their lobby? 
You know, it's humbling, I really mean that. If you look at black-and-white photography in the art world, it's a niche within the art community. If something sells, that's wonderful, but just exhibiting is just a great experience. I mean, it provides a vehicle for growth, renewal, and self-expression. So then when the world says they like it, oh, that's a big hug.

Is there anything else people should know about you? 
The experience of being an artist is just magical.

Pablo Picasso said everybody's an artist, that it just gets killed and destroyed as they have to be domesticated in a commercial environment. So if you think about artists, we think about the painting and writing and sculpture, but there are ways of being creative in the work that you do that are of other value in the world. It's what you bring. So art gives me that experiment, that opportunity to expand those boundaries.

But, you know, I'm going to make my artwork for me, and I'm going to try to make it pleasurable for others to see.

Brian Sesack’s work can be seen in the lobby of Eleven Stanwix, which is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and by appointment only on Saturdays and Sundays. All artwork is for sale, and artists receive 80% with each purchase. Learn more at


Artist Profile