As we continue our look at the artists of INFLUX, we feature Providence artist Kurt Snell who gives a new twist to one of the most basic forms found in nature: the helix. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’ll find this intriguing sculpture on the corner of Empire St. and Fountain St.
Artist Profile: Kurt Snell
As an artist, designer, and woodworker, Kurt devotes all of his time to large-scale sculptural fabrication for public spaces. For many years, Kurt spent his artistic energy painting with oils on canvas while working his day job as a fabricator and woodworker for interior designers and retailers. “I did all these really hands-on physical trade-type things for work and then I would go home and I had my art, which was painting.”
At some point over about a 12-year period of time, his painting and his woodworking began to blend together and Kurt’s focus shifted to creating sculpture with wood. “For a long time whenever someone would say ‘sculpture,’ I’d picture someone chiseling away at stone or doing ceramics and stuff like that… it never really dawned on me to even attempt sculpting with wood. Once I started experimenting with that, I realized there’s so much you can do.”
INFLUX project: Pentagon Helix
Kurt’s enthusiasm for public art translates well for The Avenue Concept’s mission of bringing new and provocative public art to Providence. His work “Pentagon Helix” gives a new twist to this universal form in nature. “I love exploring ideas with wood and the helix as an organic shape is something that I’ve been playing around with on a small scale for a long time. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel, but just give the helix my own interpretation.” There are a myriad different ways the joints of the pentagon can be constructed, as well as endless color options.
Composed of pentagons of varying size, the sculpture is constructed around a central support post from which the pentagons, made of 4” x 4” (un-pressure treated) beams, twist and undulate to create the form and sense of movement of the sculpture. Kurt’s background as a painter can be seen in his choice of color gradients in the wood stain he chose to use that range from dark at the bottom to gold at the top, representing light.
An evolution of process
Kurt approaches a work like “Pentagon Helix” with an idea, but prefers to let the process evolve as he goes. “The challenges of the physicality of it will sometimes dictate the direction it goes,” he notes. To create this work, he used a chop saw and a new material called Fast Grab with lag bolts to join the beams and make it indestructible. “It needs to be durable,” says Kurt.
A woodworker by trade, Kurt prefers to keep things simple when it comes to fabricating sculpture. “I like just basic cuts and miter joints—that’s pretty much as complicated as I get.”
“A big thing that appeals to me about public art is that it’s interacting with the elements.” He explains, “For years, I did just oil paintings and it’s such a sterile environment in a gallery. No one’s going to touch it or climb on it and the lighting, for the most part, is going to be the same…. But with something like this, our in the public realm, you have no control over how people and even nature will interact with it—and how it will change depending on the weather and the light each and every day.”