Galleries Cate McQuaid

Seeing the heavens in a cut of wood

“The Scholars Stone (The Walls of the Cave Were Paved With Stars)”
“The Scholars Stone (The Walls of the Cave Were Paved With Stars)” Image courtesy of YELLOW PERIL

PROVIDENCE — James Weingrod had been depicting the cosmos (and perhaps trying to find his place in it) in paintings, sculptures, and installations for years. Then a maple tree was cut down in his yard, and he recognized galaxies in its burls and rings.

His earthy, mystical exhibition, “For the Trees Contained the Entire Universe They Inhabited,” at Yellow Peril Gallery, sees the heavens in a cut of wood. Conflating macro and micro is an age-old theme easy to make into a trite hash, but Weingrod pulls it off thanks to his inventive, intensive process.

He dries the wood in a kiln and covers it with phosphorescent pigments, resin, and more. The pigments, which come from algae and plankton, imbue his slabs and chunks of wood with an otherworldly light best viewed in the dark.


I visited on a sunny day, when one work, “The Scholars Stone (The Walls of the Cave Were Paved With Stars),” was artificially washed in purple light. But even when I cast a shadow, the worm-eaten, cavernous piece, craggy as the traditional Chinese contemplative object for which it is named, starry flecks of blue, purple, and green glinted within the crannies. There’s something comforting in seeing sparks light up the gullet of the earth.

The two-dimensional works, painted on aluminum and on wooden slabs, more closely resemble astral fireworks or pools of microscopic life. Even when they’re not glowing in the dark, they have much to offer. In “Blue Giant,” Weingrod fills a hole in a tree slice with vibrant, powdery blue. A milky haze circles it, occasionally parting to reveal the warmth of wood and the rhythm of its rings.

“Blue Giant” might depict a rare star (as the title suggests), or a luminous cell. But it also looks like an aerial view of a lake on a cloudy day. In between heaven’s vault and single-cell habitats lies our own scale, where we find landscape. In Weingrod’s wood works that is always implicit — in the tree right in front of us.


JAMES WEINGROD: For the Trees Contained the Entire Universe They Inhabited

At Yellow Peril Gallery, 60 Valley St., Providence, through Aug. 4. 917-655-1497, www.yellowperilgallery.com

Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.