By Rory Axelrod “Pipefitters, Porn and PBR,” a new exhibit by Northeast Ohio artist John Puglia, explores the world of the pipefitters in Akron’s rubber plants during the ’70s and ’80s. While fondly reminisced about as the “good ol’ days” when jobs were plentiful and the American Dream seemed obtainable, this was also a time of hard work in tough conditions. Unbeknownst to most, this grind-’em-up mentality of the work developed a sort of tick in the employees, a need for escape — not just from their jobs, but perhaps also their families, homes and real life. For the city’s pipefitters, that hideaway was found beneath the factories and Akron streets. A hedonist break from reality, filled with cheap whiskey and cigarettes, 8-mm pornography, poker, prostitutes, pot, secret tunnels, graveyard shifts and steel-toed shoes, to paraphrase Puglia. Some might call it a crude way to get your kicks, but I say it’s the only pure way to have any fun — a foraging for the fruits of the gods because they are forbidden, but tempting in their beauty. And that’s the thing: beauty is the endgame of all vice. Whether it be getting wrecked on booze and drugs to forget the bleak, boring points of life, or lust for the blinding ecstasy of banging (or as Margaret Atwood put it so eloquently, “that temporary oblivion of sex”). For Puglia, who was growing up in Akron at the time, the rubber plants and the stories concerning the work and nonwork activities that went on in them were a part of his childhood folklore, only true to life. He recalls waking up in the morning, and smelling the rubber in the air and wiping the soot off of cars. “Growing up in Akron, the rubber factories were a big part of my life as a kid,” Puglia said. “Neighbors, relatives, they all worked in factories. It was in my blood.” He explained that as he grew up he heard the stories from the factories and when in college became closer to them as he worked in a small rubber facility. This instilled in him a strong understanding of the working class, a subject Puglia often chooses as a result of familiarity. “For four years, I got to know the guys there,” he said. “Heard the stories, saw the images and took photographs. Some of the paintings are derived from those photos I took in college. Beyond that, the older I got the more stories I heard.” In 1990, Puglia opened the Millworks Gallery in a former Goodrich building. It was here that he set up a studio in the old pipefitters’ tunnels, which gave him ample resources to explore and draw inspiration from. “It was literally miles of tunnels, crevices and pipes,” he explained. “Everything was kind of left there from whenever that part of the factory closed down. I really got a lot more up close and personal with the subject matter as far as the environment.” In the early ’90s, old factory workers would attend gallery shows so they could visit their former workplace. It was during these moments that Puglia said he would get even more stories from those who lived the tales directly, as they came in and described their work lives. “I had guys telling me stories about all kinds of crazy stuff,” he said. “But I’ve heard it from so many different people that I’m assuming it’s true. That there were tunnels that led to whorehouses and bars. Supposedly, these guys would go on break and go underground to smoke, play cards, drink, whatever else, and then go back up.” The artwork, which comprises multiple mediums, is derived from both the images Puglia took, the stories he’s heard and his firsthand experiences. However, they do not focus solely on life in the tunnels but also the neighborhoods, hangouts and bars the workers lived in and frequented. Puglia’s “Pipefitters, Porn and PBR” opens Aug. 4 at the We Gallery, located at 20 N. High St., Akron. During the reception, If These Pipes Could Talk (If These Trees Could Talk) will be playing a set to help mark the occasion.