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In new exhibition, Brookline artist Pelle Cass displays ‘chaotic’ time-lapse photography

Artist Pelle Cass poses with his piece “Sneakers–I Sent Paper and Pens." Photo by Rian Nelson
April 23, 2024
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Pelle Cass’s most well known time-lapse photographs feature frenzied scenes of people playing sports or walking in public. Arms extend in every direction, balls fly around, and people cross in and out of frame.

But the 69-year-old artist and Brookline resident would rather not venture out to snap shots – he prefers to be sitting in his home editing by himself.

For his new solo exhibition “Tossed” running through May 17 at Praise Shadows Art Gallery in Coolidge Corner, he engaged in a more solitary artistic process, and he says it feels more personal than any of his other work.

Cass uses time-lapse photography to layer people and objects onto a single image, never changing their location. He captures at least 2,000-3,000 photos in one spot to work with later.

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“It’s kind of letting the camera do the work. So I set it up, and it just records everything that it’s pointed at. And then later I organize it in Photoshop, but I try to make it as chaotic as possible,” says Cass. “Usually Photoshop is used to tidy things up or make things perfect, and I try to make a mess with it.”

A typical photograph will take anywhere from 20-40 hours to edit.

Cass describes himself as an introvert. When his work was featured in a solo exhibition in Hong Kong last March, he opted to stay at home. The gallery wanted a photograph surrounding a location there, so he directed a virtual photoshoot via Zoom at Choi Hung Estate and compiled the piece in Brookline.

The artist was born in Brooklyn, New York, but has spent most of his life in Massachusetts. Cass lives in Brookline with his wife, the writer Margaret Nash Holmes. His work has been exhibited across the U.S. and the world in places like Athens, Greece; Paris, France; and Kobe, Japan. Cass’s photographs are also part of public collections in the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University.

Cass was given free rein to develop new work for his current exhibit at Praise Shadows, a gallery on Harvard Street. He decided to create pieces where he throws objects into the air, photographs them, and then layers them– a one man operation that he says can be humiliating as he is often seen throwing objects in a field for hours.

Gallery visitors take in Pelle Cass’ exhibit “Tossed” at Praise Shadows Art Gallery. Photo by Rian Nelson

“I’m basically a studio artist like a painter. Going out in the world is an effort. I got used to it, but I wish I just worked at home,” he says. “That would be better. That’d be more suited to my personality.”

To create “Sneakers–I Sent Paper and Pens” – a work of black and white sneakers with green soles flying around in a curving pattern, Cass bought two pairs of sneakers on sale and liked how their colorways correlated, he says wearing one of the pairs. He drew inspiration from “​​Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence” at the MFA last year and created a wave shape with the shoes.

“I wanted something human in some of the pictures. That feels like more of a self-portrait to me than the other picture in the show of my face [‘One Guy (Twenty, Three)’],” says Cass. “The ‘Tossed’ pictures are getting closer to autobiography. The more abstract and impersonal they are, they’re actually a little more autobiographical than a picture of a hockey game or something.”

He adds that he used to title photographs in “utilitarian mode,” like the season or place it was taken. Now, he chooses something descriptive, with a feature of his life at the point he was creating the work, like “Orange Balls – I Fell Off My Bike But I Was Fine” – a photograph of bright orange balls bouncing down a hill.

Yng-Ru Chen, CEO of the gallery, says Cass garnered a positive reputation in the art world, prompting her to start planning a show with him.

“When I would talk to people in other cities, people would start talking about his work, and I would say, ‘Oh, he lives in Brookline where the gallery is,’ and everyone would be amazed and really excited because they just thought his work was really thought provoking and interesting and really vibrant,” says Chen.

Cass says he is looking forward to sharing his new work with his Brookline community.

“I’m way more excited [for this exhibition] than I am about most of the things that I do that are further and maybe fancier sometimes. ” says Cass. “It’s nice that it’s literally in my hometown, so a few people will come just because they know me from town. That’s always a different feeling.”

Artist Pelle Cass at his new exhibit, “Tossed,” at Praise Shadows Art Gallery in Coolidge Corner. Photo by Rian Nelson

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