The Art of W. David Powell
What does the W in your name stand for?
I see you are starting with easy questions. William.
Do all the things you do flow through your art practice of thinking and making? and/or are you thinking of it but maybe not doing it 24/7?
While everything I do is not truly applicable to my art practice, much of my life revolves around it. I am fortunate that my day job as a college art teacher focuses my thinking on the formal aspects of art making and design, so even when I am not making my personal work, a lot of my waking hours are spent in conscious thought about ongoing and gestating projects.
Do you know why you are doing what you are making visible to many others? Where does the urge come from, you think?
I am a maker—a creator. I supposed that I am wired that way. I don’t believe it is a rational decision. As you express it—it is an urge.
You are gifted and talented and do you see yourself as unique as well? How do you see yourself today as an artist?
Thank you. I do not see myself as truly unique. I am constantly reminded by other artists, as well as by writers and scientists, that my quests are not unique, but have elements of universality.
How do you see the role of the artist today? Does it differ from the ancients?
The truly ancients had elements of ritual and tribute that dominated their art. As patronage became a part of the process, perhaps this was somehow subjugated. I suppose my art is coming from a place that the surrealists were investigating… that of being a conduit for the unconscious and “invisible forces”. I have no firm definition of the artist of today. The art world is very wide open now. There seem to be so many personal and subjective directions for creation that it is both vast and mercurial.
Do you believe artists have a responsibility outside of themselves and towards their culture in any way?
Culture seems global now—and corporate. I have no debt to it. Community seems more appropo to creating meaning and change, but in my fine art practice I am not engaged with either in a conscious way. It is just not the way I think or work. I also have a design practice. In that area community is important. I work with performing arts organizations and a coalition of philosopher farmers in Central Vermont that have vision and purpose.
Does living in Vermont have any influence on how you go about your practice and making? if so or not, then how? or why not?
My Vermont home studio provides me with a quiet, undisturbed setting for making art without the distractions of an urban environment. I don’t make Vermont art. I just make art.
What lead you to using Photoshop? I know you collage, draw and paint but why is it predominantly your medium now? Do you think this will change?
I was an early adopter of the mac platform in 1984 and Photoshop when it became available. I seldom draw or paint and digital imaging plays an increasingly minor role in my current art production. To a large degree I have gone retrograde and have returned to a medium that I used in the past, traditional cut and paste collage.
Do you think your work would have an entirely different ‘reading’ if it were completely painted or drawn?
Since my images are appropriated, yes. The physicality and tactility of the original source materials inevitably enter into the reading.
Does the subject matter of your work come from your experience(s) lived, examined and reflected and then you weave it around a focus and/or are you conceptually driven first which you then seek your visual content after? Could you elaborate on how reflection, experience, collecting imagery and composing come together for you in your artistic practice?
In my current mode the collecting comes first (and is ongoing), the random associations come next and the reflection comes after a number of pieces from similar sources come together. The work is not predetermined. It would then become merely illustration. My work in drawing and painting feels overdetermined and interest me less.
Your work is akin to the field of remixing as opposed to creating an ‘original’ from no external sourcing or a personal narrative from scratch that doesn’t ‘collect’ and reconfigure into new contexts. I think your work weaves both but would you say your overriding critical concerns about where humankind is heading with ‘progress’ at the helm is more important right now? Can you explain your creative methods and strategies and those relationships to the content of your work?
The illusion of “progress” crops up over and over again in the work. I just can’t help myself.
What other artists, visionaries, thinkers and tinkerers are you dialoguing with?
I have a group of collage artists who I talk with fairly regularly. They all live pretty far away, so I meet with them less frequently that they meet with each other, but it is always stimulating. We call ourselves the Rio Blanco Riders and we consist of Varujan Boghosian, Peter Thomashow, Marcus Ratliff and me. On the periphery of this group is a young artist named Ben Peberdy who I met at Vermont Studio Center. He has a great mail art project going. We have been showing together for a couple of years now. Other collage artists that I admire and correspond with are Todd Bartel, Michael Oatman and Lou Beach. I cannot communicate with the dead, but if I could I would add Max Erst, Hannah Höch, Raoul Hausman and Ray Johnson to the list. I also greatly admire Wangechi Mutu, a collage artist who I see as the heir to Hannah Höch’s feminist approach to the game.
What impact has the Vermont artistic community had on you? Do you slide right into a sense of belonging with it or is it a challenge to see yourself growing here? or is it both or is ‘place’ not important for your work to thrive here, you could be anywhere flourishing?
For many years I felt like an outlier in the Vermont artistic community. The community is now more progressive and has many more farsighted contemporary practitioners. Thriving is a tricky question. While Vermont is a great place to make art, both the market for art and the institutional support of it are out of synch with the vibrant artistic community that now exists in the state.
It would be silly to blame sales and the viability of a career on the location since its a tough art market now all ‘round, but I think that the artists who reside in Vermont who are making a go of it are not doing it here in this state.
Many of the images above come from a book on Powell’s paper collages. The writing below reads like a manifesto to me and shares his thoughtful energy around image-making in the cultural machinery we live in today.
All images are the property of W.David Powell. Please visit his website if you wish for more information.http://faculty.plattsburgh.edu/Wdavid.Powell/
Stay tuned for next interview with artist Lisa Kippen.