Dual Nature

Philipstown sculptor inspired by yin yang

David Provan, the visiting artist at the Garrison Art Center, says his first encounter with the Hudson Valley came from looking at Hudson River School paintings. 

David ProvanPhotos provided

David Provan (Photos provided)

“I thought: ‘This must be artistic license, because it looks like heaven,’” he says. In 2007, the vision was confirmed when he moved from Brooklyn to Philipstown, where he and his wife, Ann, also an artist, have studio space.

Barely Not Impossible, a solo exhibit of Provan’s sculptures, drawings, paintings and mosaics that continues at the art center through Nov. 5, is not a retrospective, he notes, but a selection of work from the past decade, as well as two new pieces. 

Provan’s work has been shown in galleries and museums in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, London and South Korea. He has completed several public art projects, including a permanent sculpture installation for the Herald Square subway station in New York City in 1996.

He works in various media but primarily makes abstract sculpture in welded steel, bronze, wood and clay. He will present two workshops — one for families on Oct. 21, and one for adults on Oct. 28, both with waiting lists — to demonstrate how he creates maquettes, which are cardboard sculptures that he finds helpful in figuring pieces out, particularly when he’s planning on making a piece in metal.

In his artist’s statement for Barely Not Impossible, Provan writes that he has, through his art, “tried to construct objects that model and resonate with that world that lies just beyond our understanding.”

This quest can be traced to his youth. He grew up in Northern California and graduated from high school during the war in Vietnam. He joined the U.S. Navy, flying on electronic reconnaissance missions, at the back of the plane. Four years later, when he was discharged, he stayed the summer in Japan, working as a carpenter, “reading about Buddhism, taking yoga, no longer eating meat and questioning my decision to go to Vietnam. I needed a new way of living.” 

When a clerk told him the Navy would fly him either to California or New Delhi, everything changed. “I went to India and Nepal for two-and-a-half years, including a year in a Tibetan monastery.”

From there, Provan traveled overland through the Middle East and Europe before returning to the U.S. to enroll at Yale, where he earned a degree in painting and architecture. He later earned a master of fine arts from the Royal College of Art. 

“During my last year in London, I developed my own voice,” he says. “I still use some traditional elements, like color theory and application, but other than that my invention comes from outside of art school.”

Nearly all of his work deals with yin yang and the duality of the universe. “Two things come together and produce a third; that pattern goes through all of my work,” he says. “For instance, a series called Life Continuity diagrams a person’s life from birth to death. Doing this diagrammatically is a way to visualize someone’s life, and also the continuity of life, generation to generation. Another called The Great Ongoingness is modeled on a Tibetan knot.”

Provan likes making “succinct, structurally contained objects, things like little icons or altars to the great mystery. I make these objects as acknowledgment and homage. Sometimes I have an idea of where I want to wind up. Once I see it in three dimensions, I can enhance it.”

The Garrison Art Center, at 23 Garrison’s Landing, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. For more of Provan’s work, see davidprovan.com.

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