San Jose, CA
Potent childhood memories, those treasured experiences, often become the matrix of an artist’s work. So it is with Harry Powers who as a very small child saw a native American ceremonial dance around a bonfire at night. The intensity of watching the drama of flickering light and shadow, coupled with the presence of the proud focused dancers gave Harry a first glimpse into the passionate world of the imagination.
He spent his boyhood years camping and fishing in the wilderness of Idaho with his father. He grew up watching the starry night sky slowly orbit its ancient path. Existential questions of the beginnings of time, the fluid development of the earth’s surface, and man’s place on this planet must have spun in his dreams.
The intense and private childhood impressions grew over time to a deeper connection with some understanding of history, cosmology, and geology. These interests, aligned with the compelling fascination of light and shadow, have energized his work in various ways and materials in drawings, paintings, photography, and sculpture.
During his early adult years Powers learned photolithography, traveled via the US Navy to South America and Italy. Meanwhile he gained a deep and lasting love of literature, classical music, and opera. He earned an undergraduate degree from San Jose State College, now University, where he taught for thirty years. He earned a graduate degree in painting and art history with a strong focus on the relationship of art and architecture from Stanford University.
He began working with mosaic, concrete, and stained glass in architectural settings, concerned with the expression of the play of light on relief surfaces. When introduced to acrylic plastic he discovered vibrant qualities of refraction, color transmission, and light reflection as he began an intense productive period of using it to fabricate sculpture. These works were weightless structures of floating colored light, seemingly as much painting as they were sculpture. Eventually Powers stopped working with plastic due to the toxic effects of the fumes and solvents.
Teaching in England was a vital experience which enlivened his interest in primal cultures as he visited Neolithic, Iron Age, and Roman sites. A trip to Venice and Florence reawakened his love of Renaissance art and architecture. Later, while conducting sculpture workshops in Australia, Harry explored the ancient rock paintings in the Kakadu area which became the inspiration for a large body of bronze and aluminum sculpture, paintings, and wash drawings. While an artist in residence in Provence, France, Powers’ interest in antiquities, both objects and the land, was reinforced.
In content, Powers’ current work ranges from expressing the dignity of primal cultures, to references of Renaissance structure, and allusions to contemporary astronomy. He feels a resonance among these ideas/images. His aesthetic choices still echo those long ago childhood experiences of dramatic lighting and the mysteries of the timeless night sky.
What did the Fellowship or Laureate mean to you at the time you received it?
The Fellowship provided money to buy a large air compressor for my studio. It has been powering tools there ever since. It was a godsend.
What do you do now? Has your art evolved or changed?
I work each day in my studio on painting and sculpture. I think the work is constantly evolving. I continue to be deeply interested in primal cultures and cosmology and find rapport between them. They feed my imagination. I have been artist in residence at institutions in England, France, and Australia which gave me opportunities to study many neolithic sites. I continue to have strong feeling for the quality of the materials I use for their own sake. My back has requested more painting and less sculpture. To see my works, go to the albums on my website: www.harrypowers.com
What is one piece of advice you would give to an emerging artist?
Most of all be true to yourself and your concepts. Do not think of merchandising while you are working or it will surely compromise the quality of your work. If something sells later it is gravy but do not make work for the purpose of sales or you become an uninspired mechanic.
Briefly, how would you describe the state of the arts locally, as well as national and beyond?
Locally not nourished.