Terry Powers’ latest body of work, I Conquered Weakness by Giving in to it boldly rejects the heroic role of the painter – a myth that has been in slow decline since the male-dominated heyday of the 60’s ab-ex movement. Instead, Powers’ recent works function as lattices – paintings woven from strands pulled throughout the various histories of the medium. Regarding quotation, Thomas McEvilley put it in his 1991 essay “Art History or Sacred History”, “Emphasis on the fragment and the politics of the fragment is an iconographic denial of transcendent or heroic selfhood“. McEvilley argues that we find ourselves sifting through a milieu of myths related to modernist notions of progress rooted within our art historical discourse. Quotation, restaging, and reenactment function as a means to break apart and restructure a historical narrative that until recently has been seen as a linear ascension to a particular pinnacle, in effect obliterating that naive heroism that comes along with such a foolhardy climb.
Let us not forget that appropriation as a device often comes flanked by a range of cynical discussions regarding the death of painting, or that there are no new paths to forge within a medium that dates back millennia. As an artist Powers couldn’t be further from these positions and instead should be seen as a kind of mega-fan, re-performing the budding adolescent rite of plastering a bedroom with collages of one’s favorite musicians or celebrity crushes. It should also come as no surprise that Terry Powers serves as a professor within a few painting departments around the Bay Area – furthering this labor of love. To hear the artist wax poetic about the confidence embodied within a few decisive moves by a painter such as John Singer Sargent, it becomes evident that Powers’ works could never be confined as purely intellectual or informational but instead should be seen as a celebration to the highest degree.
Within the confines of the canvas, Powers operates as if in a kind of turpentine-fueled art historical drag performance – shifting identities, styles, and paint handling at will. References to one figure are cut out and placed in front of another background, with shadows and highlights rendered in a manner so as to provide a strangely believable sense of space and depth. It’s as if the figure in one painting, pulled from a 1958 David Park composition and cut off at the waist, has the same sense of distant and contemplative agency as in the original painting yet simultaneously is barely the thickness of a business card. Within this space there’s a strange comfort felt as we see familiar faces from painting’s past living and breathing amongst others in heretofore unfamiliar quarters, and then we’re hit with the unsettling reality as we find ourselves anthropomorphizing a thin existence of a figure in a two-dimensional world.
References (per painting, from left to right)
1. Status-Model: Erich Heckel, Denise Kupferschmidt, Doctor Duck, Willem de Kooning (background)
2. Contract-Model: Frank Auerbach, Unknown comic (background)
3. Mother-Sister: Richard Diebenkorn
4. Status-Model 2: Luc Tuymans, Rebecca Morris (background)
5. Contract-Model 2: Night Porter (drawing from a character in the film), A. R. Penck (background)
6. Status-Model 3: Clip Art Penguin, de Kooning (background)
7. I Conquered Weakness by Giving in to it: David Park, David Park
8. Mr. Difficult: Unknown comic, A. R. Penck (background)
9. Contract-Model 3: Alex Katz
10. Contract-Model 4: David Park, Richard Diebenkorn