Dana Powell: Burner: Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York
Dana Powell's small-scale oil paintings depict moments of transition and anticipation. They take the shape of night drives, full moons, swimming pools, elevator doors, still lifes with fruit, explosions, and peep holes. Unrelated at first look, these subjects prove malleable apparatus in demonstrating the unsettling power of the ordinary, and emotive potential of small shifts in formal painting strategies. Considered austerity is applied to Powell’s tableaus of the everyday, offering a window to the familiar and its undertow.
Each group of paintings acutely captures suspended moments, with works activating scenarios that await some conclusion. Paintings of fruit and inanimate commonplace objects further the tradition attached to still life painting, and explore the possibilities of portraying time, as it unfolds in a static frame.
Stretching subjects beyond face value interpretation, Powell’s core strategies are often rooted in the ambiguity embedded within an object or scenario. Lacking a focal point and pushed to the edge of abstraction, swimming pool paintings engage water as the sole signifier without fixed meaning—water is delightful, a pastime activity, but it can quickly turn threatening. Elevator doors and peephole paintings pivot slightly from abstraction, but retain the contradiction of innocence and danger, tying themes of surveillance, claustrophobia and anxiety to tightly-rendered, seemingly straightforward depictions.
Powell’s investigations distill the unease of today. Night time narratives are especially palpable psychological atmospheres. Cinematic details and an impermeable ambience describe a suspense that is neither outright scary nor sad, but quietly unreachable and ominous. Akin to the cadence of an Alfred Hitchcock narrative, these familiar scenarios oscillate between the fixed and the abstract, showing that uneventfulness can be just as jarring as the extraordinary.
Portraying a dislodged relationship to the familiar, Powell’s distilled moments in time are imbued with duplicity—a suggestion of something uncanny or anxious, which could also be nothing at all.
Born in 1989 in Milwaukee, WI, Dana Powell lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. The artist graduated with a BFA from Cooper Union in 2015 and completed a residency at the Still House Group the following year.
All installation images above: Photo by Pierre Le Hors