For roughly 20 years, Mike Wright has been constructing wooden sculptures out of anything she can find—often from found painted wood. “I walk all over the beaches,” she says. “I also dumpster dive—there’s a great wood dumpster at our transfer station that the guys still let me pick. It is amazing what people throw away that still has some life in it!” Wright’s penchant for making things has deep roots. “I always loved to make stuff as a child. I’d do puppet shows—I’d make the puppets, the stages, the stage sets,” she says. When she first arrived in Provincetown in 1984, she bought a run-down Victorian and transformed it into a bed and breakfast. “That was my art project,” she says.
As she immersed herself into Provincetown, Wright continuously took art classes, including one memorable class with Paul Bowen in 1993. “That was the first time I’d ever worked with wood in a fine art way, and it felt right,” she says. Bowen continued to be a friend and a mentor. “I would go to his studio and he would come here, and I’d ask him technical questions. He was really generous with his time,” she says. There is a relationship between the work of the two artists—a commonality in material, approach, and aesthetic—but you’d never mistake one for the other.
Like Bowen, Wright’s pieces are modernist explorations of color, form, texture, and material. Each piece is part of an endlessly varying equation: one spherical form plus one strong vertical, plus a shift in scale and balance, plus a soft, washed out palette, equals resolution. She works in series, exploring a material’s boundaries. “It pushes me to get more abstract,” she says. She takes cues from early Provincetown modernists like Blanche Lazzell and Lillian Orlowsky. “I honor Lazzell by leaving a raw edge, kind of like a white line. I’m drawing, but in space,” she says.
Wright’s process is intuitive. “I have to let the wood lead the way,” she explains. “I have tried to plan out a piece, but it never comes out how I have it in my head.” The challenge is in letting things happen. Wright’s enthusiasm transcends her process and brings optimism to her work. It is hard to look at one of her pieces without feeling a little bit like a child discovering a new toy.
Wright’s preference for wood is sensual and conceptual. “My senses are really stimulated by wood—visually, the smell, the texture,” she says. “Wood will hold on to whatever it was, whatever it contained. Boats smell like the sea.” Then there’s that unmistakably patina of a worn-out old board. “A human can’t make those kinds of marks—they are just too amazingly beautiful. It is a patina that could only be created by all those years in the water,” she says.
For Wright, found wood is a metaphor for the way in which Provincetown’s history has evolved. “A lot of the pieces I make are related to boats. Using this old, worn-out wood, it’s my way of honoring that history, the fishing fleet and its decline,” she says. “It’s spattered and it’s worn-out and it’s broken.” But ultimately, it is enduring and beautiful.