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Review: New work by C.W. Roelle and Nick Hollibaugh

Wire and wood
By GREG COOK  |  November 11, 2010

WIRED Roelle's Cozy.

C.W. Roelle of Providence twists black wire into dazzling optical illusion magic tricks resembling pen drawings whose lines have wandered off pages and into the air. His show "Lamp Lit" at Craftland (235 Westminster Street, Providence, through November 13) is more evidence that he's one of our most exciting artists.

Roelle's sculpture KBC is a three-dimensional wire birdcage suspended from a two-dimensional wire rendering of a tree branch. Another flat branch runs through the cage. Cute, flat koalas climb on the branches, in and out of the cage. This alluringly surreal vision of a cage overrun by koalas (including a baby koala clinging to an adult's back) echoes and amplifies Roelle's strange, intriguing shifts between flat and three-dimensional space.

This show follows on Roelle's great exhibit at AS220 last year. Maybe it's just me, but here I get a sense of him asking a question that arises when artists figure out how to do something really well: "What's the next challenge?" He goes big in Cozy, a five-foot-wide wire "drawing" of a Victorian lady lounging on (what appears to be) a tiger-skin rug. Roelle is a remarkable draftsman, but this rendering gets confusing because the wires stray from the contours of the forms and the patterns of shadows and colors. Elsewhere he experiments with lighting effects by wrapping his wire inside and outside a lampshade so that new images appear when the light is on. He also exhibits a straight 3D wire rendering of a water tower. It's a handsome piece, but lacks the drama of his works that flirt with three dimensions while being primarily two-dimensional.

When artists achieve Roelle's level of formal virtuosity, the art world often urges them to push further somehow, usually meaning adopting a new style. Partly this reflects the art world's privileging of form over content. Perhaps instead the question should be: "What more can artists say with it?" Roelle's subject is a nostalgic longing for the good old things lost over the past century. This theme is often present in Providence art — particularly works lamenting the loss of our mills. Roelle's old-time devotion to craftsmanship subconsciously speaks to this. Maybe the subject could be brought more to the fore.

Another crafty sculptor is Nick Hollibaugh, whose exhibit "Witness," at Cade Tompkins Projects (198 Hope Street, Providence, through November 14), mulls the architecture of farming. Harvest Temple is a miniature barn set atop three joined cylinders that resemble grain silos, painted three shades of rust red. One sculpture stretches a barn until it resembles a covered bridge and puts it under a gray cloud; another work forms a cross from simple barn shapes, with the arms bending forward to embrace you. Field is a shallow box with a barnlike peaked roof painted three shades of green in the pattern of an American flag.

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 See all articles by: GREG COOK

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