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

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F: The Chinese Opera project is something you’ve been working on since early this year. What inspired you to paint them?

T: “I like to go around with my camera to source for new material. During the Hungry Ghost Festival last year, I made time to go around and take lots of pictures. The opera characters are so visually striking – I hope to use them as a key part or ongoing body of work in the future.”

F: Do you think your life in Malaysia has influenced your paintings?

T: “Yes, it has inevitably had a positive impact. We don’t know what we don’t see until we get to know it and if you approach new places, situations and cultures with an open heart and mind, you can learn a lot. For example, I was in no way aware of the Chinese Zodiac or the Chinese opera until I spent time in Malaysia.”

F: What made you decide to call Penang your home?

T: “My wife, the food, culture, ease of getting around, the people, everything else lah. Malaysia, and Penang especially, feel very alive to me. There are a lot of people from many different walks of life doing a lot of interesting things and it’s both exciting and inspiring for me to be in a place like this!”

F: Why do you think Penang is unique in terms of muralism?

T: “I think that the people of Penang may be more accepting and happy about the addition of murals to their home than some other places, but I think the key is that Penang is such an amazing place with or without murals. People have always been coming to Penang, be it for trade, the amazing mix of cultures, the incredible food or the general atmosphere and architecture. If I were to visualise Penang, it would be a delicious cake. It has many wonderful diverse layers that all work well together, and murals would be additional the sprinkles or a cherry on top.”

Catch Thomas’s work the next time you’re in Penang!
Left: The Monkey at ChinaHouse (Photo: Thomas Powell)
Right: The Dragon at 32 Hutton Lane (Photo: James Springer)

F: What do you believe the responsibility of a muralist is when it comes to the local community?

T: “I think it shows skill and respect when an artist can relate to the local community on some level. So that a piece becomes more locally relevant and accessible, but I don’t think this means that people should not explore topics or imagery outside of the local sphere, as long as it is meaningful on some level.”

F: How long does it typically take for you to finish a piece? Murals and non murals.

T: “It really depends on the detail and size of a piece, the level of detail usually makes the biggest impact time-wise. Murals are usually done within a week (painting time) but finalising a design can take weeks or months especially when dealing with a client. This is why all artists are striving to find themselves in a position where they can focus on their own work.”

F: Lastly, thank you for painting the Lady Tiger artwork for us! Please do share your inspiration behind that piece.

T: “When I was told it was FEMALE’s 45th birthday this year, I thought a Zodiac version of one of your covers would be fun. Turns out, it is the Tiger because that is the year of FEMALE’s first issue and it is loosely based on a cover from a recent edition. It took me the evening before doing the photo shoot with you guys to finish!”

Visit www.thomaspowellartist.com to check out more of his work!
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