When I first heard of Mark Powell’s work a quote from Atom Egoyan popped into my head, ‘My parents taught me to believe that through the creative act, we’re able to transcend and give a response to desecration.’ Art, according to Egoyan, is a response to desecration. Yet, although the rigid English lecturer in me finds the notion of the defacing of historical documents reprehensible, Powell’s work is quintessentially the opposite of this ideal and remains immensely gripping. ‘I see this as preservation of history, Powell explains, ‘I recreate and reuse these discarded documents and create something that is both new and historical’.
The medium of document artefacts has been reanimated by Powell using Bic biro and create an augmented history. Faces of the elderly and birds in flight emerge from history through his art, creating living memorabilia. ‘Elderly people represent a life lived. You can see it in their faces, that they have a history’, he told me. ‘And there is a sense that they have travelled through history. The birds in my work create a sense of literal travel, travel from A to B’.
Powell’s art is a combination of lucid portraits and documents from modern history; from a London news print dated 1767, to a Scottish letter from 1827 and an Italian newspaper from 1922. People who know of his work send him pictures of their parents and grandparents to use in his drawings. He uses these images to create an aesthetic correlation between portrait and document, ensuring the title of the piece connects with image and document.
The irony of using a writing implement to draw on historical documents is not the ultimate reason Powell has put down the paint brush and adopted a common Bic pen. The idea is that even with the simplest tools one can be creative. But the foreshadowing of his drawings with the context of historical writing enlivens our understanding of the work. You become fascinated with both the origin of the document and ironic penmanship of Powell.
Drawing on History will be at the Hang Up Gallery in Stoke Newington until the 1st of September 2013.
Hang Up Gallery:
56 Stoke Newington High St, London N16 7PB
020 3667 4550