Warning: Images May Disturb

Mask, Russell Steven Powell oil on canvas, 18x24

Mask, oil on canvas, 18×24

SOMETIMES I FIGHT with a painting, and sometimes it fights back. “Mask” began as an abstraction, then morphed into something liquid: a stream, perhaps, or a river, cascading over unknown natural and manmade objects. Oversized, seed-like pods wait to sprout in rich, silty mud.

Water and seed pods are familiar themes of mine. Still, I was dissatisfied.

I still am, in a way. Something felt off from the outset. But I kept adding and revising, until suddenly it announced itself finished. Done. The painting called my bluff. No more moves. No more manipulation. Checkmate. Deal with it.

The result can be innocuous — or messy, ugly, ambiguous, or subversive, depending on one’s perspective. Like many of my paintings, planes merge and collide, volume is variable. The message may be dark or quirky; seen one way it is inscrutable; another, uncomfortable. Seed pods turn menacing; flat, steely eyes beneath an arched eyebrow, above a blunt, muffled nose, hiding a deeper truth.

I want every painting to be beautiful. But I know when I am defeated.

Bleeding Heart, Russell Steven Powell oil on canvas, 20x16

Bleeding Heart, oil on canvas, 20×16

Similarly with “Bleeding Heart” and “Muzzled.” From the beginning they felt beyond my grasp, and would not surrender to my will. They ended up that way, no matter how much I tinkered, no matter how hard I tried, becoming more pronounced, and more complex, but not more beautiful.

The paintings took my initial impulse and twisted it, ignoring me the way plants move themselves around my gardens or creep beyond my carefully drawn borders without my intervention. Bee Balm throttles Globe Thistle. Beard Tongue and Rose Campion claim lawn. Behind their surface beauty is a fierce battle for dominance, for survival.

These paintings are done, exhausted, worked over in a vain effort to disguise, disown, or transform them but still part of my record, loathe as I am to admit it.

Painting over them would be an act of cowardice, a form of self-denial. Part of being honest with myself is acknowledging when things do not work out as I expect. We all have secrets. Not everything is pretty.

Muzzled, Russell Steven Powell oil on canvas, 12x16

Muzzled, oil on canvas, 12×16

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