Stephen Powers: A Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures

A Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures is Stephen Powers aka ESPO’s latest solo show. It opened earlier this month at Joshua Liner Gallery in New York City. Caroline and I had a chance to stop when we were in town for the screening of his film A Love Letter for You (which is available on iTunes as of this week). At the screening, we had a chance to speak with Powers, and it was a pretty enlightening experience. I’d met him once or twice before, but only briefly. Simply having a conversation with Powers gave me a much better appreciation for his work. What you see on the wall is pretty much what you get when you talk to him. Maybe the puns aren’t hitting you at every five seconds like one of his paintings, but there’s a banter that he engages you in that carries over perfectly into his artwork.

A Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures is a good mix of Powers’ greatest hits from the last few years combined with some distinctly new directions. There is quite literally a “greatest hits” walls featuring some of most classic icons and phrases (plus one new design that just began appearing in this show), so no Powers fan can really go away from this show entirely disappointed. As for the new directions, I think his painting that just has a single period against a black background is something new and perfectly Powers, and then there are the ADORE pieces…

If there’s one thing I flat-out did not like at this show, it was the ADORE series. For each of these pieces, Powers got the word “ADORE” painted a bunch of times on metal, like usual, but the signs were put in a square-shaped pile and assembled them into one piece. The idea of layering the signs could yield some interesting results and it’s kinda funny to see a giant painting that orders you to adore it over and over again, but the work comes across as the sort of blah pop art that a gallery with no repeat clients would hang next to Warhol-like portraits of Tim Tebow. Like with Faile’s last show at Lazarides, it’s great to see Powers trying out something new, so there’s no need to pretend that he has succeeded in his first attempts at this new idea.

As for the rest of the show, it made me smile, so I’m happy. The jokes and visual puns are where Powers shines. He is unquestionably clever when it comes to words and simple graphics. His “metalations” are like the silly doodles that most people do in school, but developed to a level that the limits of class time and the margins of a notebook never quite allow for and (sometimes) much more serious than the typical random doodle.

I’ve never totally loved the way that Powers makes the artist’s hand so evident in his paintings, but that’s a minor detail to worry about when you’re laughing, and it’s clearly an intentional choice on Powers’ part rather than a lack of skill. I’m sure he could paint in a KAWS-like superflat style if he wanted.

A Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures is open at Joshua Liner Gallery through this Saturday, and it’s a great place to go if you want to laugh a bit at the fact that life isn’t easy.

Photos courtesy of Joshua Liner Gallery