Julia S. Powell’s oil paintings, teeming with lively brushstrokes and mottled with vibrant color, depict scenes that can’t be found anywhere on Earth, but carry the essence of the natural world within them.
Powell lives in Maine for one month every year, enveloped in New England’s rich wilderness. She passes her time exploring, taking pictures, and absorbing the imagery around her. The elements which are essential to her work are also essential to the Northeastern landscape: wood and water.
Powell paints many iterations of her chosen subjects, experimenting with composition and colors each time. Birch and Ironbound are examples of such work, each series comprised of ten or more approaches to the focal theme. Over time, she plans to paint hundreds of paintings of the same subject, spanning many years of study and capturing the evolution of her technique.
Yet rather than trying to create realistic renditions of these subjects, Powell is more concerned about conveying the feelings she experiences when surrounded by nature. “As soon as you enter the piece, you are transported to some kind of place outside, in nature,” she explains. “I try to navigate a line between realism, abstraction, and impressionism, because I think a realistic painting doesn’t actually transport people the way this mixture does.”
While there is a place in Maine called Ironbound, where a series of rock formations meet the sea, there is no place along its coast that provides the vistas of Powell’s Ironbound series. Maine’s Ironbound has black rocks that meet the dark greens of the north Atlantic. Powell’s Ironbound have coves of clear blue water reflecting brilliant rock faces of misty white-gray, gold, pink, and rich cobalt.
Ironbound 3 departs from her fondness of thick, layered paint, and form cliffs where the paint is scraped away and etched by palette knife, the white of her first coat peeking through. The effect reveals rock formations reminiscent of the bark in her Birch series. Meanwhile, Ironbound 6 features a sun-kissed cliff face that appears almost jeweled. Inspired by the warm hues of the Grand Canyon, Powell juxtaposes the fiery western desert with lush forestation and deep blue waters of the Eastern coast.
Powell’s work seeks to highlight environmental issues without overly politicizing the subject. From her perspective, among modern world conflicts, environmental concerns take a backseat in our everyday attention. Meanwhile, the planet is melting. By contemporizing landscape painting, Powell brings the subject of nature into modern appreciation, in hopes of capturing the viewer’s attention long enough to consider what we may have to lose in the world we inhabit.
Ultimately, Powell wants to create a connection between the viewer and nature that can’t be accessed through any other perspective—not even our own eyes. Through her paintings we can experience not only a representation of its beautiful features, but also the emotional experience of being surrounded by nature, lost somewhere between the sea and the sky.
Wednesday, May 25, 2016: Puloma Ghosh