Mind her colors.
Display artist by day, Brooke Powell does more than situate things, she exaggerates them. Seven of her impressionistic color caricatures have found a place along the walls of Atlanta’s Taproom Coffee. They are powerful and perfect. She chats with me about them and, beware, there’s a lot of laughing.
Chérmelle: Hi Brooke.
Brooke Powell: Hellooo There!
Her voice, upon the first time hearing it sounds like mine. Laughter ensues, literally for almost the length of a pour-over.
C: Now that my laughing spell has ceased, I contacted you because I saw your artwork from a tweet across twitter and the images held me. I said to myself, ‘I need to talk to her.’ How did you get connected to Taproom Coffee?
B: Thank you. My husband and I love Atlanta and we love coffee. He’s wanted to learn about roasting at home. So, we’ve ben meeting the locals in town, and we were in that part of town and stopped by. We went and there weren’t a lot of people inside at the time. I asked Valerie – whom I worked with, to get the show up – if they planned on getting any artwork out and showed her my work.
C: And, the rest, shall I say… is on the wall, ha. When you first went inside, did something peak you, where you said ‘my art could be here?’
B: We have a tiny apartment, and bless my husbands’ heart, its been covered with my art. And, I love doing it. When we went to Taproom, it was like the opportunity presented itself and the timing was perfect, so I jumped right on it.
C: Did you already have these pieces ready?
B: Two summers ago I had a good start and was doing art over time. But these pieces are about six or seven months old and the newest ones are about three months old.
C: How did you choose the pieces that you wanted to go up? Did your display artist role at your current job impact it.
B: When I got there, deciding how to group them together and what story to tell, which came from my display artist side. Most of the things that I do have the same feel: minimalist background, composition, personal subject matter and its more of a moment or a snapshot so that made it easy to pick the ones that were suppose to go together. I find I always go back to the ones that are simple that have a lot of eye contrasts and not too busy.
C: How you’re navigating the two is epic. Can you share your process in creating these?
B: I start with a line drawing, its usually in graphite. A lot of the portraits – the largest pieces – are ones I did of people that I know. I asked them if could draw their face but change a few things. I also let them know that things will be exaggerated and they say they are okay with it.
C: What are you hoping to achieve in your exaggeration?
B: Its more of me trying to make a character that you recognize and kind of don’t, so I’m looking at it objectively while imagining a scenario and then imagining things for you [the viewer]. I’m experimenting with facial features, from magazines and peoples who faces stand out. Once I see that significant or prominent feature, I go off that and then the rest I make myself.
C: It sounds like the line between a concrete impression and a free form caricature – that’s fun.
B: Its so fun for me because as I’m drawing it and free-flowing it, its like I’m meeting the person when I’m painting, its like they come to life while I paint them.
C: Now, that’s insightful. I absolutely love the power of that.
B: It’s a strange connection I’m having with a piece of paper.
C: I think it’s magical. And, your connection with coffee, do you have a default coffee order?
B: Oh gosh. I have a guilty pleasure. I’m obsessed with caramel. I like it – it’s so awesome and I just want something sweet in my coffee so I get it. You know, a cappuccino with a little caramel.
C: Ha, no judgment. Circling back to your art, I feel that the simplicity of your style with these colors makes it easy to absorb while yet entering me into some kind of surrealistic place. Like this woman, number four, she seems so vulnerable and open, and I feel like she wants to be seen. Who is she; I want to know her?
B: She’s one of my favorites. She’s based off a photo I found online that turned into something else. The colors aren’t perfectly matched to real life. But that’s how I see things. When I started to paint with watercolor, I had a teacher who was awesome. She taught me how to see – that colors aren’t black or white, but just an impression of color and that’s when my color palette came to life. So, I’m thinking but not thinking at the same time. If I see orange, but not really, I go with orange. When I do that and follow that subconscious feeling it looks like I want it to.
C: How do you know when it’s right, when the process for your work of art is done?
B: If you’re doing the right thing, you don’t really arrive anywhere you just keep moving forward.
C: So profound that statement is, and so truthful.
B: If I could go back and tell myself one thing about art, it would be to ‘stop thinking so hard.” That’s when my drawing style and color palette came out and was having fun. I wasn’t thinking about an assignment but just expressing myself. And she, [number four] is beautiful, she’s awkward looking, her face is a little scrawny and something is off but all in a good way – its memorable.
C: As, are you. What is it like seeing your artwork up in a coffee shop?
B: Its really, really cool. It is so satisfying for people to come up and tell their expressions to me, it’s amazing. And, its nice to be a fly on the wall and watch people, watch it. I think my favorite part is knowing that people can discover something about themselves when they look at it and have an experience without ever meeting them, that’s powerful.
C: Powerful, indeed. Speaking of power, what would you say is the power of art inside of the coffee shop, especially now that you’re having your first exhibition in one?
B: I’m tempted to say it’s more valid. You connect with real people. People are less intimidated by the places they go to. I think that starting – as an artist – in a place that people already go to and experience day-to-day relationships, there’s abundant exposure and it’s the perfect soil to plant seed for art work – everyone is open and they are already there. Dillan and I were there having coffee, and this happened – it starts with everyday people.
For more of Brooke Powells’ work visit her here.