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Reader, turn the page. It’s not that I don’t admire my prose; I’m as vain as the next writer. But if there ever was an art book where text might be superfluous, this could be it. If there ever was an artist whose work so completely and wonderfully said, “Enjoy me, drink deep with your eyes, immerse yourself in the sheer pleasure of looking, let color flow over you,” that artist is Stephen Rolfe Powell. Van Gogh once noted that “color expresses something by itself,” and in discussing another painting, wrote that he had “tried to express the terrible passions of humanity by means of red and green.” While Powell is too joyous an artist to believe that humanity’s passions are limited to being “terrible,” we could otherwise position him in full sympathy with Van Gogh’s thoughts. Many creatures on Earth have eyesight, and some have eyesight more precise and powerful than that of humans, but no other species looks about so regularly for some kind of psychological and/or emotional sustenance. To take the most obvious examples, there’s something coded deep within us that has us look with interest toward a sunset, mark the colors of autumn, take pleasure in flowers, garb our bodies with dyed garments. Color delights us from cradle to grave, it grooves some optical pleasure zone that seems almost beyond language, and it is everywhere celebrated in the almost irrepressibly vivacious glass sculpture of Stephen Rolfe Powell. Other art mediums concern themselves with color and light, but at the end of the day these are, in fact, glass’s special trump cards. Within it color and light can suggestively interweave in and around each other, real color, real light, real interpenetration, shifting, changing, and endlessly cross-pollinating. Powell is clearly among modern glass’s most nuanced seekers after the eternally sensual and elusive mysteries of light and color, whose upbeat and energetic pieces have for over two decades bubbled and blistered and popped and erupted in fugues of chromatic suggestion. Powell, I would argue, is one of the most accomplished color field painters at work today, despite the fact that he neither paints nor makes color fields. Instead, Powell is one of those extremely rare individuals, an artist who thinks in hues, who makes the eye dance, and whose work provides globular prismatic bursts and an almost giddy tintinnabulation of tincture. I’ll confess— there are moments when Powell’s work actually makes my pulse quicken, when I get caught up in abstract rhythms that seem relentless and surprising, when he makes color hover right at the fissure between order and chaos, when rows of color start to wobble and meander, as if they want to break free of the vessel they adorn (they never quite do, though!), both of and not of their form. Yes, the vessel, the form. The pointillist play of Powell’s arabesques of color is always energized and reinforced by the shapes they come to sheathe and define. This publication is terrific, but you will not have experienced Powell’s work until you see it in three dimensions, move around it, look at it from different angles. Generally speaking, one could divide Powell’s mature career into two major phases. Symmetrically shaped vessels that stood upright with a straight and vertical neck at their top marked the first period, from the 1990s until around 2002. Beginning in 2003 Powell began to delve into asymmetrical pieces, often bringing the neck down to the level of the base, having it support the vessel itself. More recently he has been moving the neck out into space at an angle, sacrificing symmetry for something more visually compelling. But we can employ the word “vessel” to describe them all, some vestigial connection to the shape and function of a vase, with a neck, body, and base. Powell’s objects retain a hint of functionality while literally getting tugged into another zone, both acknowledging a tradition and stretching its limits. All of his approaches employ a similar procedural strategy to get color to pool upon his surfaces, and it is Powell’s consummate command of that strategy that is his signature skill. Heat causes this inspired congealing of color and form—heat and the materiality of glass. Powell’s vehicle for this pageant of wonder is his very individual employment of a murrini technique. Murrini are small bits of glass, almost like beads, sometimes as tiny as a seed, sometimes...


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MARC Record
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