Angus MacDiarmid Powers Essay

Angus MacDiarmid Powers Essay

Angus MacDiarmid Powers
Summer 2003 Fellow

Angus Powers, a Summer 2003 Resident at the Creative Glass Center of America, maintained an area of his studio as a sort of installation in progress, experimenting there with different arrangements of objects and lighting.

Although he made several types of objects in glass, many on the blowpipe, Powers came to the CGCA with one stated objective: the utilization of some of the many historic iron molds belonging to the T.C. Wheaton Glass Factory. Powers, who began blowing glass in 1998 at Alfred University, and jokingly describes himself as “a pyromaniac,” incorporated many such cast pieces in a series of substantial blown glass columns, to each of which he attached 15 to 20 cast elements, radiating like branches. The finished vertical structures tend to read as organic–plant-like, perhaps cacti. In several, flattened stylized hands with a mechanical, almost art deco character extends from the trunk, palms up as if begging. In a related series, Powers applied large relief medallions depicting the profile head of a classical helmeted warrior– or perhaps an astronaut–to the columnar forms. With the help of assistants in the hot shop, he made a number of these ornamented columns using the current batch color, but the final method or context for presenting the completed columns was not determined during his residency.

Images of men, particularly men’s heads, depicted in a variety of ways, occur frequently in Powers’ work –though toy-like animals (often cast from real toys) also appear. As in the medallion stamp, male faces are treated as emblematic, emphasizing generic features rather than portraiture or expression. The various sources for this imagery all fall within the category of media-based communication: cartoons, advertising, and similar quasi-decorative patterns or pictographs.

Using an Italian brass stamp for the features, Powers makes small translucent heads on the blow pipe, coloring the hair yellow, the skin pink and applying well-defined eyes and a tiny blond goatee resembling his own. The caricatures become smiling Howdy-Doody caryatids in the stems of elaborate goblets. Clear bowls rise above their curls. Their pink necks emerge from elongated hollow tear-drops containing a few small colored beads which emit a shower of festive notes when the glass is raised. The glass heads are surely representations of Powers himself, though paradoxically–or perhaps consequently–they read as “everyman,” with eyes open wide in eternal bemused wonder.

“I made the goblets for myself. It’s nice to use your skill to make something for yourself, but although I think functional work is valid, I’m more interested in sculpture,” Powers says. One current series is almost two-dimensional. Although he claims not to be especially interested in representational drawing, he utilized an illusionist technique on sheets of zicar, a refractory material which can be cast. Embedded in thick blocks of glass, each white sheet appears to be a piece of lined paper with holes punched for a three-ring-notebook. A face in relief is subtly cast in the center of the zicar sheet. It might pass unnoticed except for the horizontal lines which cross it. These were executed in graphite which is impervious to the heat of molten glass.

Continuing with his exploration of stereotypical male imagery, Powers made molds from square-jawed soldier doll heads — four different heads but all in the same scale, part of the same line of toys. He cast them in multiples as dehumanized battalions of soldier heads, integral to flat blocks of colored glass about 14″ x 20″. He also cast larger blocks of dark blue “Moontiles” into molds made from Styrofoam carved to resemble the lunar landscape.

Powers envisions using both types of block in yellow, dark green or blue glass as platforms or pedestals in assemblages with basket-ball-size blown-glass elements. These vessels, some with flared bases, others with a rounded bottom, can be displayed half-filled with water. Floating inside or suspended in the neck of the vessel are human figures or translucent stylized chickens with skinny legs, bright yellow bodies, and red beaks. At least one of the spherical vessels has a solid-worked globe mounted on a column at its center. Executed in blue and white, it represents the earth as seen from space.

In his studio, Powers stacked pyramids: perhaps a dark Moontile on the bottom with a green army tile above and, resting uneasily above that, a bubble-like round vessel half filled with water. Lighting alters these works. When illuminated from above in a darkened room, the military heads are visible in silhouette, while open areas between them feed light upward into the enclosed sphere. Water warmed by the heat of a spotlight begins visibly to circulate. Suspended elements bob slightly as vapor sweats onto the shoulders of the vessel. These intriguing experiments did not yield a final definitive configuration for Powers, but presented options for further research.

Powers plans to incorporate electric turntables, Astroturf and even viewer interaction in the presentation of these installations. Perhaps the “earth” will rotate in and out of the light. Powers’ presentation is gleeful and playful, an open-ended enactment. “I like humor because it’s accessible,” he says. The juxtapositions which emerge have a vigorous if obscure narrative quality. Like fragments of animations, they transmit a sequence of recognizable signs or, at least, communications which we feel we ought to be able to recognize. Sometimes they suggest the opposite of great and small, a familiar story in which the “hero” is a dehumanized, miniaturized cipher. Like the quintessential kid in a candy shop, Powers marvels at the possibilities. “I like putting these together. It’s exhilarating to deal with a complicated challenge.”