BC Art Gallery: Presence/Absence collection

Photo by Amy Leong

Seattle Artist Peter Millett paid a trip to the Bellevue College Gallery Space on May 2 for the opening reception of his latest collection of abstract steel sculptures—Presence/Absence.

The reception began at 3:00 p.m. and attracted a large crowd that included faculty, interior design students, art appreciation students and more. Instead of giving a short lecture and a tour of all the pieces shown, Millett invited everyone to raise questions, thereby starting an interactive discussion on the process of creation and the themes Millett was exploring with these sculptures—age, time and transition.

The first thing viewers noticed when they entered the BC Gallery Space ought to be the meticulous lighting that took Millett and Ross Brown, Director of the BC Gallery Space, hours to set up. “Although all the sculpture is made of metal, what I’m really exploring is light. I’m interested in the way rust sucks up light and the galvanized steel throws off a heavy dull reflection. I like the weightlessness of transparency. And how a soft reflected light can make you think of someone you miss,” Millett articulated in his exhibition statement.

Apart from a sculptor and a painter, Millett has a “little day job” as a freelance news artist for TV stations. He has been doing courtroom sketches for 10-12 years now and being able to experience firsthand cases that are heavily involved in war inspired Millett to put together Presence/Absence. “War is an abstract thing [to many people]. But when you hear people who have been in it talk, it becomes personal,” said Millett.

If you are planning on visiting the BC Gallery Space, be sure to go all the way back and look for the piece named The Presence of Your Absence. This wall piece created in 2008 is made out of mirror and steel is deemed the essence and the “vocal point” of the exhibition. The oval mirror installed reflected light to the wall and fully conveyed the message of Presence/Absence by showing an image that is thought to be unseen.

Another interesting piece shown at the exhibition is The Big Cake. The galvanized steel piece located near the entrance resembled the shape of, as stated in the name, a tall cake and can be interpreted in many ways. On one hand, the vibe this piece gave was so silly and joyful that Millett jokingly said one would expect a bunny in a tutu to pop out from it; on the other hand, Millett viewed The Big Cake in an entirely different light and saw it as a tower in a battle, relating it to toughness and architecture.

“I make sculpture in wood or metal from simple geometric shapes. This language allows me to render experiences I’ve had in a visual and tactile way. With form I search for the essence of the experience. In an abstracted way I can revisit places and reference objects… In some ways my work is like writing music, trying to evoke a feeling from a melody. I constantly rearrange shapes until I find some kind of surprise, something I never expected, some chord that resonates,” Millett explained his artistic concept in an interview with art blogger Lynette Haggard.

Finally, when asked how non-art students can better grasp the meaning behind such abstract art forms and his advice for aspiring art students, Millett’s response to the first question is simple: Be open to how it affects you and always ask yourself one question, “How does it make you feel?” As for the latter, Millett’s personal attitude said it all—“I create to express who I am, I do not create for the critics… I work for myself.”

PRESENCE/ABSENCE is shown at the BC Gallery Space (D271) from May 2-30.  Hours are Monday through Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Friday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Contact Ross Brown at ross.brown@bellevuecollege.edu or call (425) 564-2788 for an appointment or special accommodations. Free to the public.