The artist who stayed behind

Olneyville Stories
By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  August 25, 2011


I meet Peter Glantz ( in front of the faded Atlantic Mills complex in Olneyville and we walk around back. Past the broken glass and graffiti, up a small flight of metal stairs, and into his work studio.

He's been in this building for eight years, he tells me. But his roots in the Providence underground art scene stretch back to 1994 when he came here to attend Brown University.

I knew Peter back then: bushy dark hair, wide eyes, guileless smile; in thrall of art and play, love and theater, the spectacular and the strange. And it is evident, as we sit down to chat about the arc of his career, that he is still animated by the same passions.

"It's just like being a cat and wanting to play with string," he says. "I don't know how to stop it."

But if the motivation is the same, the playing field is much expanded. Peter, 35, has managed to turn his odd, joyful art into a career of national reach.

Last year, he wrote and directed a music video — a combustible animation of flying monsters and flashing billboards — for Andrew W.K.'s "I Want To See You Go Wild."

Afterward, Andrew W.K.'s people asked Peter to co-direct "The Most Interesting Show In the World," which toured 17 cities with the musician, contortionists, and a third-generation Italian circus performer who put his head, via handstand, in dangerous proximity to a circular saw.

Peter is "just one of those creative people whose mind doesn't know any limits," Andrew W.K. told me.

In June, Peter helped Internet darlings OK Go develop new video for their live performances. And a quirky animation series he co-captains with indie singer and Brown graduate Becky Stark — "your heart is a prism," she croons, after a delightfully goofy cartoon of a heart refracting light — is soon to be incorporated into a national television show, he tells me.

It is, in some respects, just the latest aftershock of the Olneyville arts scene that stretched from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s.

Peter has, in effect, gone national with the same bright energy he employed as co-director of Power of Salad (2003), the highly regarded documentary on noise band Lightning Bolt, and as impresario of the sprawling avant-garde trutheatertheater collaborative. And he is hardly the only artist of that era who has taken a Providence sensibility to a larger stage.

But his story, he suggests, is a bit different than the others'. While dozens of his contemporaries drifted out of town as the scene came to a close, pushed by development pressures here and pulled by high ambition there, Peter remained behind.

And he is still a little wistful about what happened to the city he knew. At the end of our time in his bare studio — a computer, a red table, a makeshift green screen — he holds up copies of two newspapers.

On the cover of a recent Providence Phoenix: Andrew W.K., who spent some time in the Providence underground and came back a couple of weeks ago to headline AS220's street festival Foo Fest.

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