FEMALE Talks To: Thomas Powell, The Man Behind The Paint

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Known for bringing the 12 Chinese Zodiacs to life, multidisciplinary artist, Thomas Powell drops by KL to discuss the inspiration behind his wonderful artworks.

Photography: Robin Liew, Outfit: Massimo Dutti and Zara

Despite being a Yorkshire, England-native, this 34 year old now calls Penang home. What started out as a three-month backpacking trip around Southeast Asia in 2009 to create a body of work for an exhibition in the UK turned out to be a life-changing trip. Today, Thomas has held exhibitions and drawn murals around the world in addition to completing projects for Four Seasons Kuala Lumpur, Netflix, Marvel and Channel 4. Besides capturing the heart of a Penangite whom he now calls his wife, Thomas has also won the hearts of Malaysians with his unusual, creative painting.

FEMALE: Tell us – what’s planned for 2019?

Thomas: “I have a Chinese Zodiac book that’s available this year and I recently did a mural project with IKEA where we made some locally-themed prints together. There is talk of me creating a mural trail in Little India, Penang, which I’m excited about. Hopefully, I’ll be painting a mural in Jordan and possibly Norway in August. I was also invited to paint a piece for The World’s Biggest Street Art Museum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, which will be opening in the future.”

F: What were some of the challenges you encountered in seeing the Chinese Zodiac project through?

T: “What animal is the right fit for which gender, for one. It just seemed easier to add animal heads to male bodies, and often less insulting; For example, imagine a pig head on a female body. Now that I know that people enjoyed the first 12 on canvas, I can just keep going and continue mixing it up.”

F: How long did it take for you to create and finalise the concept for the Chinese Zodiac paintings?

T: “The seeds were planted after a project for Macalister Mansion, Penang back in 2013 and I had an exhibition in 2014, so within a year (…I think).”

F: How and when did you start becoming involved in the arts?

T: “As far back as I can remember, I’ve always enjoyed drawing and always found creative ways to play. I used to follow my dad around and unsuccessfully try emulate water colours and sketches that he did whilst we were camping in France. Art was a subject that I took throughout my school years because I enjoyed it, not because I wanted to be an artist. However, when I finished my A-levels, I was encouraged to do an art foundation course at another college. I did this for a year and wanted to continue it at University but was advised to do Fine Art rather than Graphic design (which I was initially leaning towards). I am really grateful for that advice. In the end, I studied art for 3 years in Higher education and then Fine Art, Painting, Print making and sculpture for 3 years at Loughborough University.”

F: Who and what are your biggest influences?

T: “Travel, Connor Harrington, Onur Dinc, Caravagio, Museums, Festivals, History.  Every day my influences are developing and being supplemented by new experiences and knowledge.”

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