A VISIT WITH JESSE POWELL AT HIS STUDIO IN MONTEREY, CA
Text by Bonnie Gangelhoff, Photos by Paul O’Valle
This story was featured in the November 2013 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art November 2013 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!
Describe your studio. My studio is located in the historic American Tin Cannery building on Cannery Row. Built in 1927, it was home to one of the sardine canneries during the fishing boom of the ’20s and ’30s. The studio sits on the third floor facing the Pacific Ocean and has 20-foot-high ceilings, the original 12-foot-tall windows, and the original brick walls. I like to have a clean and organized environment, so I keep just the basics, including a Hughes easel, a comfortable place to sit and view paintings, and plenty of frames and field studies for inspiration. I don’t have Internet access at my studio. I keep my office work at home just to eliminate the temptation to sit on Facebook all day. When I am at the studio, I try to stay focused on painting as much as I can. My dog Blue, a six-month-old Labrador, stays in the studio with me, and I’m still getting used to him coming with me to paint outdoors. It takes a patient dog to put up with a plein-air painter.
How do your surroundings influence your work? Profoundly. I have lived most of my life on the California coast, beginning in Malibu, then Santa Barbara and Laguna Beach. During my time in Southern California, I became very interested in the California Impressionists. I fell in love with the idyllic portrayal of surroundings I knew so well but that had changed so dramatically over several decades of development. When I moved to Monterey, I found an overwhelming amount of preserved landscape, much of which had been the subjects of some of my favorite historic painters. There is also the continually changing weather here, which is a constant inspiration. Monterey is a very peaceful place, and I find that an inspiration, too. Also, I love that looking out my studio windows is like a page out of John Steinbeck’s novel Cannery Row with some of the old fishing boats still around.
What artists have influenced you? A few of the most inspiring and influential are my father, John Powell, and Clyde Aspevig, Matt Smith, T. Allen Lawson, John Cosby, Josh Elliott, and Quang Ho. As for the dead guys—Edgar Payne, Willard Metcalf, Frederick Mulhaupt, Hanson Puthuff, John Singer Sargent, John Hubbard Rich, Guy Rose, and Isaak Levitan.
Describe your style of work. I am drawn to both an impressionistic and a realistic style, so I would say I fall somewhere in between. I love the abstract qualities of oil paint, especially the ability to build up layers of paint over time. For me this is most powerful when combined with realistic subject matter. Painting is a process that evolves slowly, and at different times of my career, I have been drawn to different styles of work. Though the basic process remains generally the same in each painting, I try not to be formulaic in how I apply the paint. The surface of a painting is always more interesting when there is variety.
What accomplishments are you most proud of in your career? One of my proudest accomplishments is having the patience not to rush my paintings. I have done my best not to paint for the market and to focus on work that I am excited about. Also, I am proud to have exhibited work alongside artists whom I have spent years following and admiring. I am proud of my conservation efforts with Jeff Horn and Michael Obermeyer. For the past nine years, we have donated paintings to help raise money for the Catalina Island Conservancy, which is dedicated to preserving Catalina Island, one of the last bits of pristine coastal Southern California.
What is one place people will never find you? On a roller coaster. I have a totally irrational fear of them.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not painting? Paddle boarding, fishing, diving, and generally anything outdoors. I have always loved the coast, but I have an equal love for the high country of the Sierras. To tell the truth, I have a hard time deciding between fishing and painting when given the option.
Where do you like to take people when they come to visit? Point Lobos and the Big Sur are a must see, but I also think the beaches in Carmel are amazing. The amount of sea life that is visible from the Monterey coast—otters, whales, dolphins—is incredible. Also, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is across the street from my studio and is amazing.
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