C.W. Roelle explores three dimensions at AS220's Project Space
By GREG COOK  |  July 15, 2009

roelle main

Every artist aims to develop a trademark look. Most carve out an individual style within the usual tried and true playing field — a certain way with paint, a certain slant to their photos — but C.W. Roelle has accomplished the rare feat of staking out his territory off these beaten paths.

He creates astonishingly three- dimensional scenes by turning simple black wire into something resembling pen drawings floating in thin air. He lures you in with his subjects, usually curious Victorian-looking dreams — like his ornate six-foot-tall portrait of a pair of seated ladies in long flowing dresses with a couple dancing behind them that was exhibited in the "NetWorks 2008" show at the Newport Art Museum last winter. But his ultimate subject may be the nature of three-dimensional space itself.

"Not Just Women In White Dresses," Roelle's show at AS220's Project Space (93 Mathewson Street, Providence, through July 27), is his most accomplished and bewitching yet. Roelle deploys the forced perspective that creates the illusion of depth in theatrical sets in works like How to Enjoy the Paper, which shows a gentleman in an armchair reading a newspaper out on a lawn. Roelle suggests depth in the lawn by "drawing" the blades of grass larger as they would come toward you in space — and then bends the wire up and out toward you so that it actually does reach out into space.

Roelle's sculptures revel in the tension between the way the "drawing" creates the illusion of space while the wires create an actual shallow sculptural relief. The lines fascinatingly, bogglingly switch back and forth between a flat drawing and a three-dimensional sculpture, and seem to shift again each time you see the piece from a different angle. There's no doubt about Roelle's ability to "draw" this way or to invent alluring scenes. Whether his works are great or not tends to rest on their sense of space and the specificity of his rendering.

In How to Enjoy the Paper, the lines define the specific contours and shadows of the man, the chair, the grass. It looks a bit like paint-by-number diagrams. But at times, Roelle fills space with lots of noodling squiggles that in their regularity feel generic. And when the work becomes too flat, like the six tree vignettes in Winter to Spring 1977, or all three-dimensional, like the fully sculptured mini-bridges, the flat-versus-dimensional contrast evaporates and his work looses its spark.

Roelle's best piece here is The Flock Cage, which features an angel holding a bird cage out from the gallery wall as a flock of birds escapes out the bottom of the cage and flutters around it. It's a magical scene amplified by how it's crafted. The cage is sculpted in full three dimensions; the birds are flat and all occupy the same plane parallel to the wall. The angel is flat and perpendicular to the wall so that it only appears when you view the sculpture from its side. This play of space — the 3D cage versus the two contrasting flat perpendicular planes — makes his work crackle.

1  |  2  |   next >
  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Visual Arts, Sculpture, Newport Art Museum,  More more >
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   SEEING ANEW  |  July 09, 2014
    The aim of the RISD Museum’s eight newly renovated galleries for its permanent collection of fashion and Egyptian and Asian art seems to be “quiet contemplation.”
  •   BRIGHTNESS AND DARKNESS  |  June 25, 2014
    Constellations of mirror ball clouds dangle from the ceiling on pink cords at the center of the room and slowly rotate and sparkle. You’re invited to peer though weird, lumpy crystal-telescope-things.
  •   FIGHTING THE POWER  |  June 18, 2014
    It was around 1983 when Providence artist James Montford and a friend posed as photographers to check out the Ku Klux Klan rally in Norwalk, Connecticut.
  •   'VERY PROVIDENCEY'  |  June 11, 2014
    “World building” is an idea that percolates — perhaps unconsciously — through the visionary end of the Providence art scene.
  •   HISTORY LESSON  |  June 04, 2014
    The portrait of the sculptor Nancy Elizabeth Prophet (1890-1960) that emerges from the small exhibit “Delicious Sensation of Rightness,” at the John Brown House, is fuzzy.

 See all articles by: GREG COOK