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The Unity of Spirit

by Steve Desroches

Constance Black sits in the Hawthorne Gallery at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM) on a chilly April night made warm by the vibrant work on the walls and the smiles of those who came to celebrate the artist.  Black arrived in Provincetown in 1950 to study under Henry Hensche at the Cape Cod School of Art, and since that time she has shown an incredible ability to explore and adapt and  to funnel the potential energy of her artistic mind and inspirations to a kinetic force in every style she’s worked in over her long and still flourishing career.  With Constance Black: Towards Abstraction, an exhibit of new work currently at PAAM, an artist’s vision of art as the connective tissue of mind, spirit, and nature captures the essence of abstraction as clarity.

Constance Black’s The Fall, 2013, acrylic and paper collage on Bristol board

“To me the point of abstraction is to cut away all of the other concerns and just deal with light and color,” says Black. “The world is color.”

Curated by Elisabeth Pearl, the show features mainly collage with paint and the recurring theme of a circle, or some semblance of a roundish shape, floating through vibrant colors. While several paintings pepper the show, acting as a reminder and example of the amazing breadth of talent Black has shown over decades of work, this show snaps to life.  It embodies the crackling energy of an artist whose sense of  internal inspiration is a renewable resource as she looks within to emit that which she seeks from the world around her. There’s a definitive quest, but one that is calm; one that has embraced the struggle.

“It’s like a meditation,” says Black. “It’s a precious moment where the world jus t stops for you.”

A key component of Black’s life and work, as well as the exhibition, is her Baha’i faith. Founded in 19th century Persia, the central tenants of the faith are the spiritual unity of humankind, that there is unity of God, unity in the central beliefs of all the world’s religions, and that all humans are created equal. Many years ago Black learned about the Baha’i faith from a much older friend who lived on Point Street. The woman hosted regular gatherings for the small Baha’i community on the Outer Cape in those days, and it was over that time that Black began to make the connections between the various aspects of life for herself, realizing that that interconnection enclosed everything in a circle. Everything is everything; it’s all connected. There’s no separation.

Circles, Pyramid paper collage by Constance Black

“It’s always been the background for my life,” says Black. “Always going towards the spirit in art.”

This aspect of her work played heavily in Pearl’s curatorial work as she assembled the show, though she does admit she followed Black’s lead on selecting the work. The collaboration created a spirited show, literally, as that is such a focus of Black’s work and Pearl is interested in artists who pursue the marriage of spirituality and art.

“I find it interesting how an artist can be influenced by philosophy,” says Pearl. “Her work does not just have a decorative value, but a philosophical orientation.”

Perhaps there is no purer example of an artist who has opened her mind and heart to all that Provincetown can provide for stimulation of creativity and imagination than Black. Pearl adds that Black essentially always did what she wanted to do, pursuing new ideas with gusto and exhibiting a certain fearlessness in taking on new artistic challenges.  Black bought a home here in 1953 with her late husband Carl for $6,800.  That winter they burned some of the furniture that came with the house to keep warm. She managed to maintain an art career while raising three children, all whom live elsewhere in the country. While she does bemoan the rising cost of living here, which prohibits artists from having the stability that she and her husband had, what enchanted her about Provincetown is still here, she says.

“I fell in love with Provincetown from the beginning,” says Black. “It’s a wonderful place to live. The community; I know wonderful people here. I lived away, in Washington, DC, for a while, but I was always homesick for here when I wasn’t here. It’s a beautiful place for artists. It’s a happy place to live. We’re all fortunate to be here. It’s changed a lot, but it’s still always Provincetown in that way that makes it special.”

Constance Black: Toward Abstraction is on exhibition at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum through Monday, May 30. General admission to the museum is $10 (free with membership). Black and exhibition curator Elisabeth Pearl will present a gallery talk on Saturday, May 7 at 1 p.m., which is free and open to the public. For more information call 508.487.1750 or visit


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Graphic Artist

Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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