There’s an undeniable wallop of art that fills a wall, a whole room, or even an entire landscape with its presence. But there’s also something captivating about a painting that fits in the palm of your hand.
Just in time for the holiday season, when thoughts of stockings and things to stuff into them start occupying to-do lists, galleries in Provincetown and elsewhere on the Outer Cape are mounting shows featuring small-scale art. Most of the works are paintings or mixed-media pieces that take up the barest minimum of wall space. Nearly all of them punch far above their weight in terms of artistic expression.
At Berta Walker Gallery (208 Bradford St., Provincetown), “Mini Masters” features works by two dozen artists. (The title refers to the size of the works in the show and not, alas, to paintings by child prodigies or creative people of short stature.) There’s a lot to enjoy here, including Lucy Clark’s shimmering abstracted studies of tidal pools and Donald Beal’s sweeping postcard-sized views of Provincetown skies. Some artists play with the scale of the works they usually create: Deb Mell transforms her large totem-like sculptures into small playfully surreal figurative paintings, while Elspeth Halvorsen’s multimedia assemblage Alone condenses a three-dimensional metaphysical landscape into a folding triptych approximately the size of an iPad. And Robert Henry applies thick ribbons of paint to diminutive square canvases to create entire worlds of texture and explosive color.
Landscapes aren’t the only thing to get the miniature treatment. At Schoolhouse Gallery (494 Commercial St., Provincetown), Stephen Wells exhibits pocket-sized paintings of objects that might literally be found in an actual pocket: mostly keys, but also pocketknives and manicure scissors and hand tools like pliers and leather hole punches. Wells came to painting via a decade-old framing business, and there’s something about the way the objects in his paintings are depicted — spare, unadorned, and neatly compartmentalized — that speaks of his other career.
Likewise, the subjects of Felipe Ortiz’s paintings at The Captain’s Daughters (384 Commercial St., Provincetown) are objects we see every day without really looking at them: light poles, which Ortiz depicts silhouetted against irregular patches of vibrant color. The poles and the wires that connect them become compositional elements that divide the amorphous backgrounds into distinct shapes. But the poles still remain recognizable as the ubiquitous objects they are, which in turn makes us regard familiar objects and the built environments in which they appear with renewed attention.
The Provincetown Art Association and Museum (460 Commercial St.) is also getting into the spirit of smallness with its Members’ Small Works exhibition, the last in its annual series of shows featuring work by PAAM members. Submissions are limited to paintings less than 20 inches long or wide. PAAM explicitly ties the show to holiday shopping by allowing purchasers of art to take their acquisitions home with them immediately instead of having to wait until the exhibition closes on Jan. 8.
In Wellfleet, Jeff Soderbergh Gallery (11 West Main St.) will be exhibiting small works by artists using reclaimed materials (including wood and butter boxes) over Black Friday weekend. And farther up Cape, the “Small Works” exhibition at Garvey Rita Art & Antiques (213 Main St., Orleans) also looks to address any art-related gaps in your gift list. Measuring just eight inches square, Rick Fleury’s exquisite oil on copper The Race: Race Point, Provincetown captures something very big — the infinitely subtle range of tones and light in sky and sea — more evocatively than many works several times its size.
There’s an obvious reason why galleries are showing works like this this month: it’s art that’s easy to wrap, relatively inexpensive, and perfectly sized to stuff in a stocking (depending, of course, on the size of the stocking).
But maybe there’s a more existential reason, too. In a world where so many immense things —war, political strife, economic uncertainties, pandemics — feel beyond our control, there’s something reassuring about something beautiful you can hold in your hand.
Or maybe it’s simply because there’s just something intrinsically appealing about Tiny Beautiful Things. Which also happens to be the title of a play by Cheryl Strayed that’s opening at the Provincetown Theater next week. But that’s another story.