Colours, sensations, emotions. Joanna Powell finds beauty when she touches the materials she works with. You will never find two exactly final pieces, but you will be able to experience pure freedom through the ceramics, the paintings and the drawings. And, with apparently no function, they teach you the holy importance of enjoying the unique aura of handmade work.
How would you describe yourself as an artist?
I’m an idealist, I follow my heart and put all of myself into the work. I am committed to the intangible and intuitive aspects of art. Through the things I make, I give people some insight into how I see. I believe that all objects contain energy that embodies a feeling. I am interested in the way an object is made over time, how it can evolve over several days and change direction completely. My work is a response to my daily life. If something silly is happening it goes into the work, if I’m struggling it goes into the work. For me, making is to understand my past, examine the present and to hope for the future. One of my favourite things to think about is “the future is for wasting time.” It’s silly, isn’t it?
What are your major inspirations?
Colour, the outdoors, my dad, my everyday experiences, plants, painters and paintings, and sensations that come from beautiful days, for instance, how the sun feels when it hits my skin and when the wind is blowing through the trees just right.
Do you consider humour important in your work?
I believe humour is integral to the work. I play all the time in my head with misunderstandings of language that I experience on a day-to-day basis, which comes out in the work. I feel humor is just as important as embarrassment in my work. I sometimes feel like I don’t fit anywhere and would just as soon run out into a field until I can’t run anymore. This anxiety, it’s a human feeling that is awkward, strange and funny all at the same time.
Do you have a favourite object “to struggle with”?
I feel like I struggle with everything I make. Some things are made fast and seem way too easy. This is where I question if they are good or real. As I’ve continued on this path, I’ve come to terms that everything is different and I try not to judge things happening in the studio too quickly, and to let them live.
Do you have some piece that you have regretted to sell?
I do. It’s a cup with an abstracted orange surrounded by plaid that is just magnetic and truly wonderful. The piece I wish I had the most was damaged in return to me. It was an urn I made for my mom. She’s still alive, I just made it thinking about her and how beautiful she is. I hate knowing that it no longer exists.
You wrote that you would pretend not to know something so then you could think about it again in a new way. When was the last time that happened?
It’s on a daily basis. I pretend so that I can break more rules. I don’t like to follow rules. I think it’s against my will. It’s more of this habit of playing dumb so that I can hear how someone explains something they know and I can compare notes secretly.
Back in 2012 you had an exhibition called The Night was like Fire. Tell us about that night and that fire.
The Night was like Fire was an exhibition about a personal ritual of catharsis. I was thinking about how, at night, possibility feels infinite, but the sun always rises and puts the moon to rest. There is a sense of urgency at night where the glow of neon signs and streetlights are almost better than the sun. Growing up, my brother and I would play all night in the streets outside the house while my parents were sleeping. We had that dual feeling of being free but protected, knowing that we could always just go inside the house and climb into our beds. In the exhibition, there were a series of ceramic vessels meant for one to be experienced as a progression. The two large basins were meant for washing the skin. Next to them was a pile of utensils meant for consuming and so forth. The stage for the objects was a 7’x11’ black painting that represents the infinite moment.
How is going the teaching experience so far?
It’s going well, it’s definitely an adjustment going from being a long term resident artist at The Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, Montana, where I was solely focused on making my work and surrounded by nine other full time artists, to being an artist-in-residence and teacher in a university setting at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. My ideas for work are already shifting living in the Great Plains region of the United States. It’s exciting.
What is your professional relationship with social media?
I’m not that big of a fan of social media. Even the term “social media” is a turn off. I’m more interested in face-to-face interactions. I’m on Instagram and Facebook but it’s more about posting things I find interesting than self-promotion. I believe the studio is a private place and I don’t agree that we need constant contact with other people via the Internet. I post things here and there happening in my studio but I am conflicted about the whole idea. I sometimes wish we could go back to when then internet didn’t exist, we would be better conversationalists.
What can we expect of your work in short term?
Currently I am working on a self-portrait series. I am braiding hair, making wigs, painting and making vessels for an exhibition coming up in March in Kansas City. I’ll have to wait and see where this all goes.
And where do you see yourself in ten years from now?
It’s hard to think about this, ten years seems so far away – but it’s really not. I hope to be travelling and have a home in a place I love and a studio to work in. I tell myself each day just keep making and showing work and good things will come. Also eating good food and exercise is important.