Throughout the month of October, the Main Gallery of the Fine Arts Center at the University of Rhode Island has been featuring “Locater,” an exhibit which showcases the impressive work of Max Van Pelt, a prolific local painter, sculptor and installation artist.
Van Pelt, originally from Boulder, Colorado, studied studio art and architecture at Dartmouth College, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude. He was awarded the Johnathan B. Rintels Prize for his undergraduate thesis project in sculpture and drawing, and subsequently went on to complete a postgraduate year at Dartmouth, working as an intern and special instructor for the school’s Department of Studio Art. He is currently based in Providence, Rhode Island, where he became involved with the URI Arts Department.
Van Pelt’s work on the canvas, which comprises most of the gallery, mixes paints, pastels and pencils into abstract landscapes crowded with conflicting and coexisting shapes and figures, wherein Van Pelt’s steady hand and strong sense of purpose guides the viewer’s eye through the chaos, transforming what may have been a nebulous and overwhelming piece into an evocative depiction of relationships, individuals, culture and identity. Some of the most striking pieces in this tradition include “Tenor,” which uses colored pencils, soft pastel, gouache, walnut ink, and even coffee, among other mediums, and the eye-catching “279 Miles Deep In The Canyon,” which truly must be seen up close.
Perhaps most entrancing of all are the 3-dimensional pieces, which range from the sprawling web of piano wire, fishing line, steel, wood and yarn known as “Needs,” to the brief, understated flourish of thread and acrylic rod known as “Vasey’s.” Seemingly haphazard, yet never arbitrary, these sculptures see the artist utilizing his background in architecture to evoke and represent ideas about space, both inner and outer, relationships between people, and people in relation to space.
By placing emphasis on the abstract rather than the concrete, Van Pelt seeks to guide the eye and the imagination through the art, and is able to suggest more about people and the space between and within them than one may think. The meaning and revelations that are to be found in Van Pelt’s work are not there in spite of his abstract style, but precisely because of it. A more true-to-life technique would not suit the artist’s intent, and many of the things he attempts here would likely fall flat.
Both aesthetically pleasing and stimulating to the imaginations of those who allow themselves to be lost in the folds and layers of his work, Van Pelt’s work is sure to leave one inhabiting the spaces he depicts, whether they realize it or not.
The installation is open to the public Monday through Friday between the hours of 12:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. until Nov. 10.