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BY DANIELLE DEBLEY
AUGUST | 2021
At first glance, one would expect Julia S. Powell had been painting her entire life. Her serene, abstract pieces give you a sense of intentionality and talent that have always rested within the artist, now coming to life on the canvas. The reality is, this tenacious lawyer-turned-artist taught herself the techniques she uses today, all while practicing law.
After graduating from Yale University, Powell went on to pursue a degree in law at Stanford University. A few years into her career as a busy, practicing attorney, Powell decided to try something new. With the encouragement of her brothers and friends, she decided to teach herself oil painting; it was her long-time skill as a self-taught watercolor artist that gave others the idea to tell her to branch out into oil painting. “I fell in love with painting; I wanted to do it forever,” says the artist.
It is easy to see that Powell’s self-motivation and hard work paid off. “I feel lucky to have had training as an attorney; I use that part of my past in my present work,” says Powell. “Every choice I have made simply informs who I am now, and that is true about my art too. I paint multiple textured layers, one on top of the other. Every mark, color, and form I add to the canvas is not a mistake, even if it becomes entirely painted over; the texture remains and informs the next layer. Every layer matters, in my work and in my life.”
Powell’s main mediums are oil paint and watercolor. Using a large, triangular palette knife with the thicker oil paints, she brings to life layered abstract scenes of water reflections. A small script liner brush allows light watercolors to grace the page, creating joyful scenes. The layering techniques she so often uses form the foundations for some of her favorite series.
“The first birch painting I made that I loved was painted over a seascape. The first boat I painted was painted over an abstract. The second boat was painted over a field that was painted over an abstract that was painted over a birch. These are completed paintings, completely painted over,” Powell explains. “I began to think of each coat, each painting that failed, as just one step in the process of creating a successful painting. And that got me thinking about life.”
As Powell noticed the world becoming darker and more confusing, she felt strongly that people were being drawn to more calming, meditative, and joy-filled work. “I always wanted my art to act as an antidote to the internal struggles I was feeling years before, but as time went on, I wanted it to become an antidote to all the shocking things that were happening in the world,” says Powell.
Powell’s expressive works have been featured in magazines, collections around the US, Europe, and beyond, and even shown on the TV show The Mindy Project. These achievements have been an encouragement to the painter.
“I think selling my work to international collectors was definitely another big achievement. But my first and most important milestone was being able to support myself as a self-taught artist. And yet there are still so many things that I hope to achieve; international shows, art festivals I would like to be invited to, museum collections – I would love to have ten or so of my abstract water reflections, 60” by 60”, in a warmly lit space with music and chairs for people to simply sit and look. No one could talk. They would just look and their brains would quiet down. Perhaps they’d recall a memory or ease into a lighter mood.”
Powell explains that her abstract water reflections are some of her favorite paintings to actually create. “The process of painting them is so meditative; I’m layering paint over and over and over again. It takes a long time, and pieces can take tons of hours, but the actual process of creating the painting is a mindful exercise," the artist expresses. “Art can be many things; some people use it to shock or to call attention to inequality, and I love that that exists, but my art helps to ease the struggles people are having in the world, providing a safe space,” says Powell.
With that in mind, Powell hopes that her paintings and personal journey can help to bridge the gap she sees in the art world. “So many people think that they don’t know anything about art, but all it is, is what kind of emotional reaction are you feeling when you look at a piece? I want my work to be accessible enough that people of different backgrounds or people who historically haven’t felt comfortable in museums (which are often privileged or white-dominated spaces that make some people uncomfortable), will see my work, that it unifies them and doesn’t make them feel like they need an art history degree to look at art and just appreciate it.”
This talented artist's beautiful and joy-filled pieces absolutely have the ability to do this. We look forward to seeing where her journey takes her. Powell’s determined and upbeat attitude in life and art will certainly make an impact on the world for the better.
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