I caught up with Clover Powell ’16, one of the Record’s cartoonists and visual artist par excellence, to see what recent projects he’s been working on since the paper published an “Artist Otherwise Known As” feature on him a year ago.
As an artist, Powell tends to divide his work into two spheres: the cartoons he draws for the Record and his own, personal creations. In the first, he tries to catalogue what he describes as “the political nature of everyday interaction,” expressing that while he wants his publications to be humorous, they should never seem ridiculous or extreme. The “dark side” of the cartoons, according to Powell, lies in their political component and in drawing attention to particular issues at the College.
Despite strong opinions on issues such as financial aid and student loans, Powell currently seems most enthusiastic about his personal art and that of other studio art majors. He identifies a trend where art majors’ obligations to their classes sometimes require them to move in a certain direction, when an artist may surprise himself or herself by deviating from that very path. So in the spirit of propagating non-academic art, Powell has been piloting a student works program for the WCMA gift shop that mounts art majors’ work on notecards and puts them on sale.
Spending some time in the gallery at the W.L.S. Spencer Studio Art Building with Powell’s latest work, one can without a doubt see that the senior has done his own words justice by creating whimsical drawings of a variety of anthropomorphic animals.
Most of the drawings are done in black ink on small pieces of cardstock whose size makes his attention to detail all the more impressive. In one piece, he has drawn a rhinoceros standing like a human being, holding a boom box on one shoulder, and dressed in a flat brim hat and hooded sweat shirt. Although the rhino’s face is plain, Powell has painstakingly drawn a design of interlocking squares, circles, triangles and several floral and sidereal shapes that cover the entire surface of both articles of clothing. A goat in a seated posture wears a similar outfit. On even smaller pieces of paper, he has a business-casual duck looking in the mirror, presumably on his way to work, a gecko and a cat sitting at a café, a ram spinning a basketball on his hoof and a few wolves ice-skating, sky-diving and playing the trumpet. He’s also done several variations on the same subject: a floppy-eared rabbit, standing on two legs, of course, leaping around the page in an acrobatic representation of motion. But make no mistake: although Powell has drawn mainly animal characters, they appear nearly entirely human.
My personal favorite work in his exhibit is a drawing of a hitchhiker in a scarf, bowler hat and withered blazer with his suitcase behind him and his feline companion sprawled out on the ground next to him. While not as intricate as some of the others, Powell’s tasteful pen strokes show the wear on the man’s clothing and suitcase exceptionally well. Even though this is not the kind of art that would move someone to tears, and in some ways resembles children’s book illustrations, one feels the need to take it seriously. Another work shows a rhino walking into a basement littered with spilled beer cans saying, “Really?” with a perfect look of annoyance stemming from his eyebrows and eyelids – which are made up of only a few miniscule pen marks. In addition to Powell’s animal series, he has also done pencil portraits of people looking down at their cellphone or laptop screens, demonstrating an equally impressive capacity to draw candid human subjects in a position where we find ourselves all too often.
For Powell, the act of drawing involves focusing on the craft and most importantly, “not trying too hard.” He prefers to start by exploring a technique or subject matter and then arriving at a more abstract, thematic end – a mindset made evident by his meticulous pen strokes and fractal designs.