Michele Provost at The BankRI Pitman St. Gallery

Michele Provost, Gallery Night Providence
“Michele Provost: Mixed Media Paintings on Paper,”January 8 through February 4, 2015. The branch is located at 137 Pitman Street in Providence.  Hours are Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sunday noon to 4 p.m.  For more information, contact www.bankri.com or call 456-5015, ext 1330.

Michele Provost makes her home in a tiny bungalow filled with books and a collection of colorful fabrics and exotic furniture from far flung locales. Her Pawtucket studio, a expansive space she shares with photographer/husband Jeff Silverthorne, is another matter entirely. The space is divided into two distinct areas. Silverthorne’s is packed with his photographs and an odd collection of props he uses in his most recent series – discarded Christmas trees painted pink and grey, yards and yards of multi-colored fabric, furniture, old paintings and taxidermy squirrels posed here and there around the room.

Provost’s has a more austere quality.  Colors are muted and quiet.  Several paintings in varying stages of completion vie for wall space. Drawings layered with subtle colors and connected by exquisite line cover every horizontal surface.  There is a tree branch or two, several balls of yarn and string, dried flowers and bubble wrap, but not a prop in sight.

Provost never took art lessons as a child and sort of “found art on her own.”  She put a portfolio together and showed up at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. They accepted her into their studio arts program and Provost began what would become a lifelong career in painting. She married her first husband and had three children, and all the while kept painting, juggling marriage, motherhood and a full time job with her passion for paint.   Throughout her life, Provost’s one constant is painting.  “It is the only thing I do that is never boring,” Provost states, almost as an afterthought.

For years, she made paintings of drapery, lost in the line and mass as the material pooled and swelled.  Then she made paintings and drawings of shrubs and trees.  Later she took as inspiration those hanging balls of string and yarn, fascinated by the intricate lines weaving their way around, up and down and in and out.   Now dream-like vignettes of flowers and greenery combine with memories of places she has visited on her travels.

The current paintings attempt to capture how we remember our experiences in a semi-conscious state.  These paintings don’t use traditional perspective or linear story telling. Scale is arbitrary.  Colors muted.

She hones her vision down, simplifies what she sees to a kind of bare bones approach.  Everything you see “doesn’t have to be in one painting, sometimes it doesn’t have to be anywhere at all,” Provost states.  As stripped down as these paintings and drawings are, they manage to convey deeply rich environments, both mysterious and practical, dark and light, cerebral and intuitive. There is an enigmatic quality to her painting that speaks to the everlasting call of the landscape, its beauty and mystery and power to hold us against all odds.

Provost, in her artist’s statement, explains her painting ethic:  “Juxtaposing tensions and relaxation, guiding the eye from clue to clue, depicting interiority, the straining to describe and comprehend the ineffable, the ceaseless seeking to find the memory of that momentary flash of perfect clarity, the attempt to recognize that which “we haven’t the subtlety of heart to see”[Pynchon], the paintings become visual metaphors for the process of thought, understanding and the substance commonly referred to as life.”

The BankRI Galleries are curated by Paula Martiesian, a Providence-based artist and arts advocate.

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