Nature in the Square: Richard Goulis completes a trio of organically-inspired sculptures

"I nurtured these trees for more than a decade and then cut them down and turned them into art!" -Richard Goulis

Richard Goulis with his sculpture, "Condemned"Our 2019 season of sculpture comes to a close with the latest addition to LaSalle Square, Richard Goulis’ Condemned.

Goulis is a multimedia and performance artist who has been a fixture on the local art scene since he first arrived in Providence in 1980 to study at RISD. He has been performing with Big Nazo puppet troupe since 1987, is a founding member of Empire Revue, AS220’s monthly variety show, and contributes to NetWorks, a video art project that documents Rhode Island’s creative community. Despite his prolific artistic output, however, this sculpture is Goulis’ first public installation since 1983.

Condemned is more than a decade in the making. Twelve years ago, Goulis planted two trees in his backyard six feet apart. As they grew to a height of about four feet, he began bending them toward each other, tying their branches together with velcro and string. Over the course of a dozen springs and summers, they grew to twelve feet and became entwined in a graceful embrace.

That was when Goulis began his next phase of turning trees into art. He bound the leaves with wire and coated the entire surface – leaves, branches, trunk – in a thick coat of polymer resin. After the coating had cured, he cut the two trees at ground level and built stands to make them transportable in their original configuration.

The irony of the act is not lost on the artist. “I nurtured these trees for more than a decade and then cut them down and turned them into art,” he exclaims. “It was a difficult thing to do because I loved the process of training them into position each year and seeing them grow. I felt a little sad at first, but I realized that the power did not diminish when I cut them. They transformed, helping me to create a powerful statement about how we control our environment sometimes at the detriment of ourselves.”

Our final sculpture installation of the year completes a trio of sculptures in LaSalle Square that draw their inspiration from nature. Across the street, at the corner of Fountain and Empire Streets, stand’s David Boyajian’s Cotyledon, the artist’s take on the process of seed germination. Bookending the other side of the block, at the corner of Empire and Sabin Streets, is Mike Hansel’s Collusion, a more industrial-looking piece that nonetheless explores the artist’s fascination with “machines that can manipulate organic things” and the ways that “sometimes biomorphic forms start to take on mechanical characteristics.”

The common themes among these three sculptures were not necessarily premeditated, but the confluence of organic inspirations is a happy accident that we can all continue to enjoy throughout the fall and winter.