Wendy Powell – The Flow between Control and Release
By observing and engaging in the parallels between control and release, Wendy Powell’s stunningly beautiful designs remind us to move both boldly and gracefully through our own lives.
Not surprisingly, in making her “waterprints,” the element of water is key. It is the most unpredictable of the materials to work with and Wendy loves that about it. But she also understands well enough how the water moves and behaves to make predictions and choices about the lines and shapes she leaves on the paper. In this way, her “hand” is in the work, but it’s the water that leaves the mark.
Wendy’s process involves guiding both the water and the paper while respecting their inherent properties. She must have the confidence and restraint to simply coax both elements into their natural connection to eventually reveal their combined intrinsic beauty.
“It’s a practice in giving up control and working with the way things are.
The same could be said about life.” – Wendy Powell
A GDW Interview with Wendy Powell
GDW: Whose work excites you most today?
WP: I am tremendously inspired by 1960s and 70s artist and activist, Sister Corita Kent. I feel completely energized by her bold, vibrant use of color and her uplifting messages. I really respond to the spirit in her work that is both strong and playful. Additionally, she was a great teacher who was able to incorporate living into her making and to allow the uncertainty and adventure of process to be an integral part of her work.
And I think textile artist Denyse Schmidt has found a beautiful balance between old and new, and art and craft. I love her use of color and how she creates patterns that feel both reminiscent and refreshing.
GDW: Do you think there is a different aesthetic to work created by women designers? Might it might be visible in your own work?
WP: I don’t know. If I were to categorize the “female aesthetic” as having softer lines, more color and a slightly more open quality then I would say that yes, my work has a female aesthetic.
GDW: Do you recall any particular experience of your youth that might have influenced you as an artist?
WP: When I was about 8 years old, my grandfather gave me a pattern-design coloring book and for years, it was my favorite “quiet” activity. The spiral bound book had pages of repeated patterns in black and white and I can remember studying it visually for quite a while as I considered which colors I wanted to give to which shapes. This was such a fun exercise because I would imagine what each piece would look like and how the multiple applications of each color in each shape would affect the others and the whole composition. Sometimes it turned out the way I expected and sometimes I was surprised by a certain visual emphasis I hadn’t anticipated.
Your question reminds me of how much of this kind of thinking I do all the time, still today. I love color and I love playing with combinations of colors! I am also quite interested in patterns: decorative (as in textiles), natural (as in flower petals and tree branches), patterns in systems (such as in weather /climate, language, numeric), as well as behavioral (as in the ebb and flow of emotional states). I am drawn to observing these patterns and I am prone to wondering about them: How did they evolve? What purpose do they serve? What do they mean? If I interrupt the pattern what will it look like? What does one pattern look like on top of another? Are there patterns within patterns?
GDW: You’ve recently earned an MFA in graphic design from Vermont College of Fine Arts, which is one of the few low residency programs in the country. Tell us a little about this experience?
WP: I decided to get a Master’s degree because I wanted to gain confidence in my work and an understanding of what it means to me to be a designer. I knew I didn’t fit into a typical graphic design profile in terms of the work I wanted to do (primarily working with my hands) and I wanted to be pushed to explore how to create work that is meaningful to me and to understand how that fits into the larger design context. VCFA was the perfect program for me. I was able to follow my particular interests within graphic design with the full support of a brilliant, totally dedicated and engaged faculty. The low-residency model allows for great flexibility to accommodate different work and family situations without sacrificing academic rigor. I feel that I gained years of experience from the two years I studied at VCFA and I feel equipped to forge ahead in my career wherever it leads me. The people at VCFA helped me transform not only my work but my self within my work and I am so grateful to them!
GDW: If you could design for a specific cause what would it be?
WP: Hmmm… could there be a cause for awareness? I think encouraging people to stop their habitual actions/thoughts and to observe themselves and their surroundings, for even a brief moment at a time, could change the world. I have a lot of work to do in this regard but I see it as a lifelong practice that I return to daily because it gives me a much bigger perspective and reminds me that everything is connected. I think this is one of the reasons the process of my work is so important to me. I try to bring an awareness to how the making unfolds and that keeps it interesting and exciting. I aim to stay present with that before assessing what I have made or how I might want to change it.
GDW: The above work titled Show Me Again was recently selected for the juried exhibition at AVA Gallery in Lebanon, New Hampshire.
GDW: Can you explain the process that leads to your beautifully rich mark making?
WP: What I enjoy so much about the process of making waterprints is that it is physical work. I use my whole body as I fill and transport buckets of water to and from the containers I use and the sink. Once in the containers, I move the paper, water or container to leave distinct types of marks. I am conscious of my own physicality as well as the physicality of the materials I am using. I am guiding both the water and the paper while accepting their inherent properties.
When I am moving the water or the paper in the container I am often simply lost in the movement itself and observing how the water leaves its mark. It is mesmerizing and meditative. When I reflect on the mark more critically, I am thinking about the marks I make in my life, both internally and externally. I consider how the shapes and the various intensities of color are reflections of my emotions and relationships with others. Sometimes I attempt to create what is in my head and at other times I simply watch the image unfold.
GDW: This video reveals the ebb and flow process in the making of Wendy Powell’s incredible “watermarks.”