Painting Perspectives

Butter Eggs, Russell Steven Powell oil on canvas, 24x18

Butter Eggs, oil on canvas, 24×18

BLUE IS AN APPROXIMATION, yellow a generalization. Things rarely are exactly as they first appear. One person’s row of crowded, yellow seeds is another person’s field of eggs, or flag of the United States of Corn. Monochrome is mostly a fiction. Perspective is everything — one reason I hesitate to title my paintings.

I usually begin in one of two ways: I choose a subject and try to capture how it makes me feel (rather than precisely how it looks), or else I simply begin painting and see what emerges, like a photograph in developer.

I admire painters who accurately render what they see in exquisite detail, and I will work on improving my drawing skills and brushwork until the day I die. But personally I do not aspire to literal representation. I prefer to use my brush to interpret what a particular scene or object means to me, rather than replicate what my retinas see.

Untitled, Russell Steven Powell oil on canvas, 24x36

Untitled, oil on canvas, 24×36

I CANNOT STAND to waste the paint remaining on my palette, and that is the genesis of some paintings. Canvas thus primed, a stream-of-consciousness flows through the medium of my paintbrush, and I hold on for the ride, trusting in the destination. Colors merge, shapes are added, ideas form and re-form, and through this mysterious alchemy a painting appears with curious links to my past and present: a fifth-floor hotel suite, perhaps; water, 1950s television, Rhode Island beach, cloth-like cube with soft edges. It always rings true, but nevertheless is a surprise.

Yet perhaps you see a window shade where I see sunburn. Tone and stroke, like smell, work on us in powerful but inexplicable ways, transporting us instantly, beyond our will. A fraying red sweater, a childhood railroad trestle, an insect trail, a workplace ceiling evoke an emotion, a powerful experience, a meaningful time of year or day. I continually search for those moments in my own life, however obscure, and hope they become evident to you, or at least trigger an idiosyncratic response.

Cube, Russell Steven Powell oil on canvas, 16x20

Cube, oil on canvas, 16×20

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