Discipline: Interdisciplinary Art – multimedia installation, Literature – poetry

James Pelletier

Discipline: Interdisciplinary Art – multimedia installation, Literature – poetry
Region: Winchendon, MA
MacDowell fellowships: 1989, 1990
More: Night/Light

James Pelletier is an artist and poet with a B.A. in psychobiology. He attended The Art Students League of New York in the early 1970s where he studied with Robert Beverly Hale, Vaclav Vytlacil and Jose DeCreeft. While maintaining a studio in the West Village, he made his living from a myriad of jobs including eight years as a periodic distributor for the SoHo Weekly News. He published his poetry in alternative press publications, exhibited his work at several galleries, and created a light installation at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in 1976. That same year he created the first edition of Night/Light, a lightwork that transformed the Lower Manhattan skyline, by utilizing the lighting systems inside skyscrapers, into a work of art. The monumental work took place on the evening of New York City's Bicentennial Fourth of July celebration. It earned Pelletier a commendation from President Gerald Ford. Night/Light can be seen briefly in the 1976 remake of the movie, King Kong.

Considered a pioneer in the field of public art, Pelletier created a citywide sculpture exhibition entitled Balloon Snow in Keene, NH in 1977. The wood constructions, which the artist describes as "optic-illusion-light-time pieces," were inspired by balloon frame construction methods invented by Keene native George Washington Snow. The exhibition was funded by local businesses including Markem Corporation. In 1978, he repeated the exhibit in Battery Park in New York City. The exhibit was funded by Xerox Corporation.

The second edition of Night/Light was created in 1979 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the electric light bulb. The lightwork received national and international attention. In an interview with Grace Glueck of The New York Times the artist said it “is as much about peace and meditation as it is about spectacle." That year Pelletier also presented his performance art work Moondance at the Merce Cunningham Dance Studio, the Museum of Natural History's Hayden Planetarium for the 10th Anniversary of the Moon Landing, and at Bruce Park in Greenwich, CT. He received Lumen Awards for his contribution to the Art & Science of Lighting for Night/Light and Moondance. Lightwork installations include: Winter Light at the World Trade Center; Room Installation at the The Putney Arts Center inspired by A Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi; and another Room Installation at the Center entitled, Maya in 1989. In 1981 Pelletier launched his poetry publication, Matchbook Poems. He has received residencies from MacDowell, The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Yaddo. While at MacDowell he created the Notan Series of light pieces and invented a literary style of poetry inspired by haiku and the short stories of Félix Fénéon, which were published in a chapbook.

In the wake of the September 11th attacks, Pelletier volunteered at Ground Zero for several months in the “Return to Normalcy” effort. He worked with Wall Street businesses and organizations to involve the community in an Art project and a poetry reading. After returning home he wrote Downtown Lower Manhattan. President Carter, The Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and others have praised the work. It is the only poem in the history of Massachusetts to be recognized by the House of Representatives and the Senate. Ken Burns, Pete Seeger, and Kitty Carlisle Hart are among those who have recorded Pelletier’s homage to historic New York. He has organized annual readings of the names of the September 11th victims since 2002.



James Pelletier worked in the Alexander studio.

Originally designed to be a visual art gallery, this facility was built in memory of the late John White Alexander and funded by Elizabeth Alexander and their son James. John White Alexander is highly regarded as a portrait painter and, in the early part of the 20th century, served on…

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