Friday, June 12, 2009

Installation artist cuts away the excess

Brittany Powell’s unique show illustrates rural life

Express Staff Writer

Brittany Powell created her installation piece from contact paper and a straight-edge cutting knife. Photo by Sabina Dana Plasse

At first glance, the box of straight-edge blades and pile of evergreen-colored contact paper scraps on the floor of the installation room at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts looked more like a home-improvement project than a one-of-a-kind art piece.

"I usually don't do outdoor scenes," said artist Brittany Powell, as she ripped contact paper off the wall to reveal a workman's shirt on a laundry line. "The Center called me to do an installation for this show because they had seen my work in Portland, Ore., a few years ago."

Powell's work is mostly installation projects of cutaway images, which expose the walls underneath and create illusions of life-size spaces. She has used this technique to re-create her childhood bedroom, a doughnut shop, a Mexican restaurant, scenes of horses and a 1940s rural backyard at The Center in Ketchum.

"I try to work within my own failures," Powell said. "I don't draw well, I don't deal with perspective and I flatten everything out."

Finding the profound in the ordinary, Powell began creating her imagery as an art student at the California College of the Arts. Her background and concentration in printmaking proved extremely useful for cutting out images from contact paper, especially for sensing positive and negative figures.

Powell said she is attracted to patterns and shapes, which are very prominent in her installation for The Center's latest multidisciplinary exhibition, "The Rural Vernacular," open through Saturday, Aug. 8. The unique installation reveals a sense of feeling for rural life and culture even though the work is one-dimensional and two-color. Powell's cuts and lines show wind blowing through a clothesline and vines growing and teeming with vegetables and fruits about to fall to the ground.

"When I started this, I didn't know anybody who was doing this," Powell said. "My work is not site specific and most of it is about mass consumerism and products."

Powell said her imagery of backyards is relevant because people are increasingly connected to their yards and gardens, in part because of the economy.

"There is a 40s summer nostalgia to the installation," Powell said. "It is idealized, but hanging laundry is work."

Free exhibition tours with docents are scheduled for Tuesday, July 7, and Tuesday, Aug. 4, at 2 p.m. Regular exhibition hours are from 9 a.m.--5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 11 a.m.--5 p.m. Saturdays in July and August. For Gallery Walk on Friday, July 3, and Friday, Aug. 7, The Center will serve drinks and appetizers and stay open until 8 p.m.

A related exhibition, "Idaho's Fences," will be on display at The Center, Hailey through Aug. 31.

For details, call 726-9491 or visit

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