Washington State Magazine

Spring 2006

Spring 2006

In This Issue...


Ghost Towns of the Anasazi :: For the past three decades, WSU archaeologists and their students have been searching the Southwest with tools ranging from trowels to computers to uncover the story of a vanished people. by Hannelore Sudermann

Bridging Two Cultures :: A small school district radically retools to serve its Hispanic students. by Hannelore Sudermann

The Secrets of Sweet Oblivion :: What happens in our brains when we go to sleep—and what happens to us if we don't sleep enough—are questions that keep this research team up at night. by Cherie Winner


{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Story: Better living...through solar by Tina Hilding }


:: PERSPECTIVE: Words on words

:: SPORTS: When Pullman was a ski town

:: FOOD & FORAGE: Eat more garlic


{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Story: James Donaldson's Journey by Scott Holter }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Recipe: Chef Betsy's Chipotle Shredded Pork Burritos }

Cover: Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, 1632-1675), A Maid Asleep, 1656-57. Oil on canvas, 34½ x 30 1/8 in. (87.6 x 76.5 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913.

Isaac Powell, a graduate student in the Department of Fine Arts, recently won national attention for his work when a piece took grand prize in a juried competition for young artists with disabilities.


Isaac Powell, a graduate student in the Department of Fine Arts, recently won national attention for his work when a piece took grand prize in a juried competition for young artists with disabilities. The competition winners are now part of a traveling exhibit that opened at the Smithsonian last fall. Robert Hubner

A detail of <em>Coda</em>. Acrylic, graphite, and ink on birch plywood.


A detail of Coda. Acrylic, graphite, and ink on birch plywood.

Growing as an Artist

by | © Washington State University

windows along the north wall look out over Martin Stadium. They offer quite a view, especially on game days, says Powell.

On one wall hang two of his latest pieces, paintings on birch plywood, a medium he says gives him more of a feeling of permanence than canvas.

When starting on a piece, Powell creates a situation for himself and then sets about reducing it. He begins by filling the wood plane with multiple lines and forms with graphite and ink, and then painting over them with a neutral-colored acrylic, sanding it down, tweaking and tuning, finding and isolating forms, until just a few details remain. The result is a less complicated surface, but with a sense of something lurking just underneath. "I like to start out pretty chaotic and colorful. It's like I'm setting myself up with a problem, an equation that I need to solve," he says. "What you see in the end is the solution."

The solution often involves plants and flowers in various states of definition, and in the case of Growthplate, images that make him think of the differences between his right arm, which was damaged prenatally, and his left. "The flowers are kind of analogous of bodies and figures," he says. "I have fully rendered flowers, and then images that are less rendered."

Powell has no problem painting over works that aren't going well, nor does he have an issue with selling his finished projects. "It's not hard at all to let them go," he says. "Any more work on them would be taking away from another painting. And it's a nice feeling when people want your work."

The M.F.A. student started his college career at Stephen F. Austin State University as a forestry major, but then realized he was more into the beauty of forests than the art of managing them. So he signed up for drawing class. The effort took him through an M.A. degree in art at SFA State before he and his wife, Valerie, also an artist, decided it was time to try living somewhere new.

At WSU they found a fine arts program that suited them both. Her studio is just two doors down from his. The most valuable part of coming to a new school is getting to work with a new group of artists and professors and have their feedback and influence.

Powell put together his VSA contest entry just as he was leaving Texas for Pullman. With so many other things to manage, he forgot that he entered. But when he saw the Washington, D.C. phone number on his cell phone this fall, it came rushing back. "I knew it was good news," he says.

He's grateful for the recognition and happy with the money, but most importantly, "It's great just being able to put the Smithsonian on your resume."

Hannelore Sudermann

Categories: Visual arts, Fine Arts | Tags: Artists

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