For Clover Powell ’16, “Identity, when it comes to race and color, is something that I really think about a lot.” The topic is the subject of a recent work he created for a studio class, a brief, tactile book made of fabric pages, with a leaf for the cover and bound using “a simple book-sewing technique that I learned in Artists’ Books with [Professor of Art] Barbara Takenaga.” Without text or dialogue, the book details the narrative of an unassuming illustrated character as his skin color oscillates between black and white. At the story’s end, the character is literally torn into his two halves as the pages themselves detach in widening tears.
According to Powell, “This [particular] character has a life-long journey with me, it’s sort of how I represent myself … And so [the tearing] is both figurative and literal, where on one half of the page his skin is black and on the other, white. That struggle to figure out and define who I am based on my race is something that I’ve thought about a lot, and have a lot of experience with throughout my life.”
Concepts of identity are tightly intertwined with Powell’s self-image as an artist. The junior studio art major began drawing at a young age and says that since then “it’s been something that I just do. I don’t even think of it consciously, necessarily, I just love drawing; it’s a big part of who I am. I can’t imagine myself not doing it.”
Though he briefly considered double majoring in studio art and biology, Powell decided his passions truly lay in art, and as such, to “jump full into it.” Still, art can be used as a vehicle to expand upon other interests, and the two can overlap, as they did within Powell’s internship with a biology lab in France during his senior year of high school. “I basically did some experiments with them about cell division, and then made a comic about cell division. It was kind of my first foray into comic making, and what I realized is how hard it was, how involved the actual process was. I came up with, maybe 30 pages in four weeks of working and it was really, really hard and time consuming but I was so satisfied at the end.”
Powell cites the broad range of the comics genre as a major influence on his art, from modern anime to French and old American comics. “I was lucky enough to have a lot of influences from different cultures when it comes to comics.” In particular, he points out the creator of French comic Astérix, René Goscinny and creator of Japanese manga series Bleach, Tite Kubo as inspirations. “I am a big Marvel fan, so Stan Lee [is also an influence], although I have beef with him sometimes, the way he portrays characters.” Outside of the genre, Powell cites Jean Michel Basquiat, Leonardo DaVinci and in particular the linework of Albrect Durer as influences on his work.
“Before high school, I wasn’t really looking at other people’s stuff, I was just trying to find myself, who I was and what I was trying to do. But coming here and taking art history courses, these teachers are forcing me to look at other people’s stuff, and that’s where other people’s influences are coming into play.”
Currently, Powell finds himself straddling the balance between refining a personal style and incorporating the influences of an established artistic tradition to convey a personal message. “I really want to talk about current events, issues that matter to me like the environment, politics and sociology … I like exploring relationships in between people … the relationship that the human race has to one another as well as to the environment.”
“Outside of that, I want people to find my art to be compelling, I want them to feel emotional, I want them to react to it. And I want to create things that are fun, too.”
“I don’t know if I have a clear direction yet, all I can tell you is that I’m really excited.”