Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Meet Brittany Powell

We first encountered Brittany Powell when her work was on the wall of the Portland Art Museum in the 2006 Oregon Biennial. And when we say “on the wall” we mean it literally because Brittany works in contact paper. That’s shelf lining to you and me. 

She covers a wall with the sticky stuff, then painstakingly cuts out designs so that the negative space (the part that’s removed) forms images from her childhood. At the Biennial she recreated a donut shop from her native Albany, Oregon. A year later, she recreated her basement rec room on the walls of a downtown gallery, then invited friends to join her in Sweating to the Oldies with Richard Simmons. 

Brittany is someone who, unlike most people, actually acts on her oddball impulses. 

She brought food to Sears so it could be photographed in those dorky settings. She sent her favorite musical artists a form letter (Dear_________, you are my favorite artist/group...) asking them to write a song about her and several of them did. Whether it’s creating a quilt made of squares copied from an in-flight magazine or framing cooking utensils and hanging them on the wall as art, Brittany treats life as an endlessly engaging tale of whimsy that makes you want to tag along.

Welcome Brittany.

1. What motivates you to get up in the morning?
Rufus J. Powell, the Boston terrier who wakes me between 7:00 and 8:00. He literally wakes me, demands snuggles, and takes me for a walk every day, but he also provides my first reason to smile in the morning, sparks my mind awake, and gives me moments to think wihtout concentrating while we're on that early tromp around the neighborhood.

2. What keeps you awake at night? What obsesses you?
I’m not a “kept awake at night by all of my serious thoughts” kind of person except for the rare times I drink coffee, so my answers will refer more to my obsessions. Mostly, these are things around me in my daily life. I like to notice. These are some items that get stuck in my head repeatedly, like annoying songs:
  • Products, labels, packaging, lettering, signs
  • Food, eating food, preparing food, restaurants, the way food looks
  • Skirts, nautical clothing
  • Horses and ponies (I’m not around them now, but spent most of my life obsessed by them, so I guess old habits die hard)
  • Furniture, home d├ęcor
  • Lists
  1. To-do lists
  2. Inventories (most of my artwork is inventories of categories in my brain)
  3. While not strictly a list, anything with compartments or multiple parts that go together, like food in a bento box, kits, drawer dividers, advent calendars, etc.
  4. For the last few months, I’ve been naming all 50 US states in alphabetical order to put myself to sleep. Unfortunately, I’ve gotten good, so it doesn’t have the intended effect.

3. What do you struggle with most?
I want things my way. Now. I must’ve lost patience with other speeds and styles of living as I’ve gotten older. This is really tough. I’m trying to shut my mouth a little more often, and the results are pretty good. Other people do things differently sometimes because that is what works better for them—who knew? A friend shared this neat little trick—when someone insists on their way, say, “Isn’t it great that there are so many right ways to do the same thing?”

4. What is the most valuable lesson you've learned?
I’ve learned to live how I want to live. I’m extremely lucky and have a very fine life—I’m not going to spend my time wishing it were different or waiting for the good part to happen. My parents have always demonstrated this, so it must come from them. When we were poor, I didn’t even notice because we had so much else. When they finally had the funds, they started traveling as often as possible instead of deferring it for some far-off retirement. My boyfriend and I try to exist that way, as well. We have goals, but we enjoy ourselves on our way towards them rather than constantly hankering for a finished product. We constantly surround ourselves with our amazing friends. We spend quality time with our dog.

5. What is your personal philosophy or motto?
Prepare. Work hard. Get things done early. That may not really be a motto or philosophy, but it’s what runs through my head. So I don’t panic at the last minute, I leave room for mistakes and surprises. I’m mildly terrified by the thought of being unproductive; I like to think of it as a healthy panicky-ness. I like to blame my horse trainer. She taught me to prepare as much as I could before a horse show because there would be so many factors beyond my control once we were in the show arena. “Control the things you can,” she’d say.

Brittany Powell is a native Oregonian. Her parents were hippies who became educated liberals, and they raised her and a sister in a conservative town. Needless to say, kids teased them about the sprouts on their sandwiches. Brittany saved up for her first horse and bought him when she was 12; she tripled her money the next year when she sold him. From ages 19 through 24, she trained horses professionally. Next, she enrolled in the MFA program at California College of Arts and Crafts. She lives in Portland, OR, with her boyfriend, Michael, and dog, Rufus.


therese said...

This is the way to live:

"We have goals, but we enjoy ourselves on our way towards them rather than constantly hankering for a finished product."

Nice to meet your Brittany!

Courtenay said...

Love the insight into Brittany's brain! Sounds like a fun place to be (tho possibly a little cluttered with great ideas). Hi Brittany!

The Frog Queen said...

Thanks so much. This post has had husband and I talking about many things, including our place in the world. I would say "art world" but that might be a stretch :) Please keep sharing!!

Ellen Kimball said...

Marc and Floyd,

What a wonderful idea!

This is the first blog I have ever "followed"! I look forward to reading about so many other people.


Ellen Kimball
Media Woman in Motion
Beaverton, OR