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  • Carolina Alamilla

Artist Duo BUFF’s Collaborative Surface

BUFF, the Pittsburgh-based artist duo of Ivette Spradlin and Lenore Thomas, uses photography, printmaking, and collage to turn blemished city surfaces into art. Carolina Alamilla explores how their mixed-media collaboration adds toas well as emphasizesthe beauty of these spaces.

BUFF Pittsburgh Ivette Spradlin and Lenore Thomas
Illustration: The Pittsburgher / Images courtesy of BUFF

Photographer Ivette Spradlin collects images of cracked cement walls, weathered bricks, and shoddy paint jobs. Lenore Thomas is a printmaker. Together, the women make up the artistic duo BUFF in what can best be called an “intuitive collaboration” that uses photography and mixed media to respond to old, buffed-out facades. Their collaboration is a mutual conversation between the walls’ resemblance to color field paintings and the artists’ shared desire to add to the printed image. BUFF not only creates a deeper appreciation for weathered buildings, but they also suggest a likeness to reclaimed graffiti. Spradlin’s framing honors the softness found in the paint’s muted tones, while Thomas responds to the images with subtlety and playfulness through screen print, thread, and collage. The BUFF artists are not necessarily concealing but brightly responding to already found layers.

One can’t help but think of blemishes and the idea of “covering up” when viewing BUFF’s mismatching paint meant to conceal graffiti art. Yet in the case of these buildings, there is no blending, just a prominent patch of color. The area that building owners intended to hide becomes the focal point of the new creation. BUFF responds to these patches by adding new layers to the printed image with personality and playfulness, thus furthering the physicality of buffed buildings. In contrast with the harsh walls, Thomas injects color and femininity with punchy bright green screen print or a sweet pink running stitch. When questioned on the feminine touch on tough exteriors, Spradlin responds, “Our work aligns with a more non-binary sensibility…that both the masculine and the feminine can and do exist simultaneously and harmoniously.” This gendering (or non-gendering) is a natural, unintended by-product of the partnership, recognizing that these prints are primarily rooted in formal aesthetics. Like Spradlin and Thomas’ previous collaborations, BUFF remains true to the creators’ evolving selves as female artists using experience of the landscape and personal interaction to dictate the outcome of these images. The physical layers presented in the artworks, and the intangible layers of identity, gender, personality, and experience that find their way into the process and in the final image, remain constant in their work as individual artists and as intuitive collaborators.

BUFF invites the viewer to question what is found versus what has been added. What interventions have been done to the wall? What has been applied to the physical print? The texture found on both surfaces, wall and photo, answers a sweet riddle for the viewer. Similarly, the interventions made to the image surface reflect the artists’ flexibility and readiness to work together. Spradlin’s trained background as a photographer and Thomas’ mixed media printmaking skills grant each of them space to create with individuality. As a result, BUFF presents facades weathered with history and familiarity but with injections of the artists’ ever-evolving humorous, bold, and sometimes subtle selves.

BUFF will be exhibiting their work in September 2022, at Harlan Gallery in Seton Hill University and in October 2023, at Unsmoke Systems, Braddock, PA.

You can follow their collaborative work on Instagram @bufffoto and their individual artist websites: and

Carolina Alamilla is an artist, educator, and curator. She resides in Pittsburgh but continually daydreams of her summers in South Florida, filled with mango wet hands and Spanglish storytelling. You can find her online: @littlesoul__

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