In the back yard of her home in Provincetown, Mike Wright opens the doors to her studio. Pieces of wood crowd against the walls, loosely organized by color. A white chair covered in colorful abstract shapes occupies the middle of the room. Twelve-foot strips of a boat’s hull are mounted on one wall.
“I’ve had that piece for years,” Wright says. “No one has room for it.”
Eight of Wright’s smaller works will be shown from July 22 to Aug. 4 at the Alden Gallery in Provincetown. Her style is distinct: hunks and slices of painted wood are nailed and fit together, forming abstract conglomerations roughly representative of real-life objects.
“I just go in and start moving stuff around,” Wright says of her process. “It’s kind of haphazard on the creation side.”
She works only with found wood. In the past, she would find fragments of boats washed up along the beach. But times are changing.
“There are no wooden boats left,” she says. She adds that she’s getting older. At 72, she says it’s harder for her to search along the beach. Instead, she’s turned to dumpster-diving.
Wright, whose given name is Michael, describes herself as a cultural anthropologist. She won’t just take any old discarded wood. It must be from Provincetown, she says. And it must have paint on it already. She looks for bits of boats, floorboards, and closet doors.
“It has to have this cultural layer to it,” she says. “Something we’ve lived with. I’m looking for old energy. If you open your closet door a hundred times, you’ve got to be giving it your molecules.”
Wright says she has always been drawn to hands-on art. Growing up in Baltimore, she attended Catholic school for 12 years. She sought out after-school ceramics classes. In 1967, she went to Towson State University to become an art teacher.
“I got a reputation for being crazy,” she says of those early years. “I was always building big things.” She recalls setting fire to her college campus quad after a botched fireworks project.
After graduation, she taught art to young children. Then she was hired as a graphic designer for the Moran Printing Company. For years, her innate sense of shape, color, and design allowed her to rise in the field — even becoming the head artist and designer at KBH Graphics in Baltimore. But she says she didn’t love it.
“It didn’t feel right,” she says. “I got really tired of trying to be perfect.”
She moved to Provincetown in the 1980s and ran a bed and breakfast, called PLUMS, at Pearl and Bradford streets. In the ’90s, she sold the business and turned back to her art.
“Living in Provincetown,” she says, “I’m part of the art continuum.” She says she feels a duty to learn about and learn from great Provincetown artists of the past. Sometimes, she’ll recreate a painting in her own style — making it three-dimensional. Reimagining painted still lifes in sculptural form particularly excites her, she says. She becomes “a hybrid of painter and sculptor.”
For her show at the Alden Gallery, she’s looked back at two modernist painters: Juan Gris and Blanche Lazzell.
Gris’s 1917 work Still Life on a Chair stood out for her, Wright says. She holds out a book of Gris’s art. In the painting, opaque, blocky blue, orange, and black shapes intersect and overlap each other on a white chair. The art looks strikingly similar to Wright’s style.
In the studio, she picks up a small white chair, just under a foot high. As in the painting, blue, orange, and black wooden shapes connect and overlap on the seat.
She’s made four small still lifes on chairs and one life-size one. All satisfy the eye with their balanced designs, clean lines, and bold colors.
Inside her home, three more pieces hang on the wall, two of which are reinterpretations of Blanche Lazzell’s Painting VI and Painting XII.
For Painting XII, Wright works in Lazzell’s thin, curving white lines. Circular pieces form a continuous flow from bright orange to blue to black. On the front, a black-and-white smudged key sits as the centerpiece — reminiscent of key-like shapes in the original Lazzell painting.
She explains that her wooden sculptures borrow certain standout parts of their respective inspirations.
“I use poetic license when I decide what to use,” she says.
In both the process of wood-finding and creation, Wright looks to the past. But while her art relies on old energy and ideas, it has its own vibrant new life.
“I’m taking history and making it something new,” she says. “I’d like people to think I’m one of the best recyclers around.”
The event: An exhibition of works by Mike Wright and Paul Kelly
The time: July 22 to Aug. 4; artist reception Friday, July 22, 7 to 9 p.m.
The place: Alden Gallery, 423 Commercial St., Provincetown
The cost: Free