OUTER CAPE PORTRAIT / The Salvager
MIKE WRIGHT / SCULPTOR / PROVINCETOWN
I’ve been making sculpture with old found painted wood for 30 years now. In the early mid-90s I would be walking on the beach and trying to search for my materials like the old salvagers used to when there were wrecks washed up on the beach.
After major storms in the winter, I would hike out and find these great pieces of broken up old little boats and things. Maybe a shape would catch my eye, or the quality of the paint that was left on it after the wood’s been floating around in the sea and scrubbed by the waves in the sand and the salt. It had to have a patina that was exceptional, something that I could not create.
That lasted awhile. And then something changed. The wooden boats of the fishing fleet had disappeared. I had to resort to a different way of collecting. I drive a circuit around Provincetown in my Jeep, and I look between buildings and find what was the old funky Provincetown.
Now, there’s another element, too: dumpsters. One day, I drove past what was Robert Motherwell’s house, which was being renovated by a new owner. The dumpster had just arrived, and there were some wonderful blue pieces of wood in there that Motherwell had painted himself. I asked and begged if I could please go into the dumpster and pick out some pieces of this fabulous Motherwell blue.
Motherwell blue really is like a piece of the sky. It’s just soft blue, but very vibrant. I try and add a little Motherwell blue and sneak it into all kinds of things that I create.
From years of collecting wood, I’ve got a good supply still, but it is starting to dwindle. The thing that I’m noticing now is that the dumpsters don’t offer much in the way of colorful painted wood. When the artists owned a lot of the houses, they would paint everything – the floorboards, the cabinets, the closets and doors, so you could find lots of fun colorful wood in the dumpsters. But that seems to be changing now that houses are renovated and the renovations are getting renovated. There’s what I call the “beiging of Provincetown” where the wood colors are white, brown, gray, beige.
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As an artist, I believe that I will always be driven to make something. To be making. So, if I pass 10 years out, will I still have enough materials? Absolutely. Yeah, that would be a wonderful goal: to just keep making until the end.
I live in Provincetown with my partner Sheila McGuinness and my two Boston Terrors, I call them, Kibbe and Kami. Life is good. I can’t be in a better place than I am right now. I am making art, eating vegetables from the garden, looking at my dahlias, and walking my dogs on the beach.