Inside the Studio
Neil Powell’s Juxtapose of New and Old
What are the major themes you pursue in your work?
My work explores new social, cultural, and political narratives through themes of relatedness and identity; who am I and how do I fit in? By juxtaposing the new and the old new art from old book covers voices across time speak to one another, thereby opening avenues toward meaning. I like to encourage the viewer to enter a disparate world of language, typography, and illustration styles that captures the eye and demands it to move back and forth among layers looking for signals, signs and clues. I aim for my art to culminate in a visual treatise on the recycling and renewal of popular culture.
How did you first get interested in your medium, and what draws you to it specifically?
I ve had a life-long obsession with old books and it s led me to discovery them as a unique art medium. Most of the books use in my art are damaged, tattered and torn, discarded and banished to the $1 shelf or garage bin. However, I see these books as little gems. Many have covers that were created with production processes that are no longer in practice. Most carry a heavy patina from all those years passing through the hands of multiple owners. In some ways, I feel my work rescues these books from destruction, giving them a second life in a different context to a new audience.
How has your style and practice changed over the years?
What excites me about book covers as a medium is there isn t anyone I ve found that s exploiting them in the way I do. There s no guide or example from which to follow no place to turn to where I can go, Oh that s how you do it. I own my process and that s pretty exhilarating. Book covers aren t easy to work with. The cutting can be difficult and quite physical. Through trial and error, I ve amassed a small arsenal of tools that allow me to manipulate the medium and develop techniques for building my pieces.
Can you walk us through your process? Do you begin with a sketch, or do you just jump in? How long do you spend on one work? How do you know when it is finished?
I sketch a lot, so I begins there. Those sketches are then scanned and taken into the Illustrator where I make a very precise drawing to scale. During this part of the process I ll play with color and make decisions about design details. From there I print the drawing out and mount it thin plywood. If the design is a cutout, as in the case of a flower bloom or typography, then I make a form two identical pieces separated by wood struts. Now I m ready to start applying book covers to the surface. I generally don t know what books I will use beforehand, as I prefer to let that part of the process be spontaneous. It s much more surprising that way. My pieces are quite time intensive, taking anywhere from 1-4 weeks to complete depending on size.
What was the best advice given to you as an artist?
My mentor in school once told me to Put away that which you love. , meaning if you spend too much time admiring or idolizing someone else s work, it can result in frustration and potentially will hold you back.
Prefer to work with music of in silence?
Music plays a big role in the development of my art. It s playing constantly. I find it enhances my creative output. Wordplay is an important part of my work, and will quite often get ideas for pieces and/or titles from music.