Chantal Powell creates seductive sculptural objects and installations that traverse the boundary between reality and imagination. Her practice speaks with an ornate vocabulary emphasising materiality and theatricality, borrowing from the intensity and immediacy of baroque tradition to offer up fake moments of intensity and drama in our contemporary world with its frequent disillusionment. The Baroque engaged the senses to generate sensations of awe; used by both the Catholic Church to communicate religious themes and by the aristocracy (in their vanity) to dazzle. Likewise, Powell seeks to offer up to our contemporary society, overrun with its disposable imagery, a glimpse of the great drama hidden behind the theatre curtain. Her gold, however, is expandable foam sprayed with metallic car paint, her flowers are artificial, her angelic Bernini figures reclaimed mannequins. Through the use of lowly materials and illusionary twists her offerings present a choice; we can accept the limits and disappointments of the real world or we can walk into the theatre set of our minds and give in to our intractable yearning for the extraordinary.
Chantal Powell lives and works in Southampton, Hampshire. A PhD completed in 2002, focusing on the psychology of human relationships, has since informed her work as an artist. Powell’s work has been exhibited widely in the UK and internationally, most notably in Victoriana: The Art Of Revival at The Guildhall Art Gallery in London, The Royal West Academy in Bristol, OCCCA in California and at the 53rd and 54th Venice Biennales.
What is it about the Young Masters Art Prize that you are most interested in?
The Prize’s explicit focus on integrating art of the past with contemporary art of today will really bring to attention the influence of Baroque that is present my own work. I use elements of the baroque as a tool to offer up fake moments of intensity and drama in a similar way that artists of the baroque era used artifices such as trompe l’oeil, stage sets and exaggerated colour/form to transcend the natural world. It’s something that viewers don’t always immediately see in my pieces but will be bought to the fore in the context of Young Masters.
Can you explain to us what your work is about?
My work explores our psychological and emotional inner worlds through sculptural assemblages and installations. I’m particularly interested in the illusions we fabricate for ourselves in our inner worlds, and what happens when these do not match up with reality. In exploring these themes I often reference theatrical aesthetics, literature that addresses this in a visually rich manner, and make use of “fake” materials such as artificial flowers or cheap foam sprayed gold.
Which artist/s are you most inspired by?
Visual artists such as Annette Messager, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Robert Rauschenberg, Hew Locke, and Thomas Hirschhorn.
Writers like J.G. Ballard and John Fowles.
Can you tell us something about your background?
I completed a doctorate in Social Psychology and this undoubtedly has an important influence on both the subject matter of my work and the way in which I work as an artist. A period of researching ideas is key to my process before the more intuitive phase of making starts. When I first started working as a full time artist I was anxious about my lack of a formal arts education background, but over the years I have come to appreciate and value the route that has bought me here. It’s been fun designing my own arts education over time – I read a lot, and invest in attending talks, workshops and exhibitions. Last year I learnt to weld so I could complete a series of works myself without outsourcing; I’m always keen to extend my artists toolkit.
What inspired you to become an artist?
The desire to explore, play and create. I’m most at peace when I’m making something. To get to do that all the time is a wonderful privilege.
If you weren’t an artist what would you be?
Unhappy most likely. And twitchy.
What is your greatest achievement as an artist to date?
I think it would be getting to be so involved in the major show Victoriana held at the Guildhall Art Gallery in London last year. I had three pieces in the show and one of them was a site-specific installation that took a pretty long time to make. It was wonderful to have my work in an exhibition alongside artists like Paula Rego, Yinka Shonibare, and Matt Collishaw.
What are your plans for the future?
I have a couple of installation pieces I’m keen to make. I’m currently trying to decide which to start first! One has at its starting point the classical architectural frieze Battle of the Gods and Giants that I visited and documented recently at the Pergamon museum in Berlin. The other could best be described as an outlandish piece of fakery that has a “Las Vegas meets Lourdes” aesthetic.