Josh Powell, “There’s Been an Uneasy Truce Between Them,” 2023, mixed media, 16″ x 20”, All images are courtesy of the artist.

Mixed media artist Josh Powell’s current exhibit,“Falsescapes,” on display at Garden of the Zodiac, imagines outcomes and hopeful alternatives to some unnamed disaster or near-apocalypse in an unspecified future.

An art teacher at Bennington Public Schools, Powell is also co-curator at Omaha’s well-known art venue, Project Project, in South Omaha’s Vinton Street district.
His technique of layering cut images, from both found and prepared sources, results in a final vignette of color, shape, and texture that mutates into surreal and abstractly symbolic storybook landscapes, buildings, and skies.

Powell relies on painting and drawing, and most importantly on collage techniques of cutting and pasting in various layers to obtain a diverse but inviting accretion of shapes, tones and colors. The collage aspect of “drawing” with cut paper, images, preprinted textures and colors, emphasizes the fractured and fragmented world that might be left to us, and the precarious challenges of a damaged land and mysterious collaborators.

Powell “borrows” from preprinted images, like newspapers, magazines and similar, but often will create a painting “solely for the reason to cut it up and use in other pieces.” His is not the dystopian world of war, famine, pillage and pestilence, et al, of Mad Max or Clockwork Orange. These works instead reflect resilience, perseverance, human chutzpah within a mis-en-scéne of near annihilation, abstruse structures, and well-intentioned people.

Some of the work features images of human beings, sometimes with obscured faces, and much is insinuated rather than directed using images of landforms, plants, roads or paths, buildings and abstruse structures. Even animals are represented as surviving the devastation, mostly.

Josh Powell,“Handmade Beach Trap With Decoy,” 2023, mixed media on paper, 12” x 12”

As implied in the show’s title, “Falsescapes,” each work suggests a scenario – possible and hopeful responses to an inevitable tragedy – a tragedy unspecified but hinted at being environmental in nature. Each work is specific to its own story, or event. Powell explains, “The story goes hand-in-hand with the work, (each) an illustration or flashes of the storyline.”

Powell views this re-birth as cathartic, “There’s something honest, beautiful, and calming about starting over, even though it can have eerie, uncertain or terrifying undertones.”

Collage has a long history; around 1910-11, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque are said to have “discovered” the art of collage. As part of their investigations into abstraction, specifically Cubism, they incorporated cut-out words and images from periodicals, posters and wallpapers, pasting them into their paintings. Thus, was artistic license given to the deliberate “borrowing” from pre-made, manufactured and found sources.

Avoiding the cartoonish humor of collage illustrators like Terry Gilliam, Powell’s result is strongly abstract, and dense with details; presented here are a cryptic arrangement of elements, begging the viewer for translations, open to the viewers imagination.

Some pieces are less dense, less complex; for instance, “New Central North West Power Station” and “There’s Been An Uneasy Truce Between Them” are both good examples of “less is more,” where graphic shapes dominate the piece, as opposed to details.

Recurring dark entities, which the artist calls “Observers,”, resembling silhouettes of Russian nesting dolls, regularly appear in the landscape, some in the far background, a few principle to the piece, but all seemingly contemplative and benign. As they have no “face,” it is not clear as to their purpose. They easily could be observer, guardian, voyeur or spy, or even over-weight, fellow “citizens” for all we know.

Josh Powell, “Ode to the Observer, Excavation Site, Satir,” 2023, mixed media on paper, 30” x 24”

A few other highlights: Of the three larger, unframed works, “We Found A Street Vendor in Sausalito…”, takes the “Observer” into the forefront, using it as a crazy quilt of images and textures, possibly a repository of the chaos that was.

Also, “Ode to the Observer, Excavation Site, Satir,” and “Afternoon Watch, Florence Settlement,” each with similar landforms supporting alter-like constructions that stand, possibly, as devotional tributes, but also as a testimony to the humanity’s tenacity.

Powell’s Observer is featured more prominently also in “It Stood Tall and Very Still, Sketch From An Eyewitness,” which features a substantially more ominous Observer, this one modelled with highlights to indicate shape, making it more real and believable.

Viewers may note that faces are sometimes obscured, in a few cases with red disks. When asked, Powell says of this, “Faces can create connections to emotions and memories that could alter the meaning.” This is most evident in “Southern Forest Camp,” a piece that alludes to development of new community, or possibly even a new tribalism. It also could allude to the “mutations” commonly included in ‘aftermath’ scenarios. It also could allude to the “mutations” commonly included in ‘aftermath’ scenarios.

The show includes 18 images – fifteen smaller framed images and three larger, unframed pieces. Viewers are the ultimate “Observer” here, and Powell effectively serves up an alternative collage of, at most, an uncertain future.

Josh Powell’s “Falsescapes” is current showing at the Garden of the Zodiac in Omaha’s Old Market Passageway. The show runs through October 1. Hours to view the work are Tuesday through Saturday 12 to 8 p.m., Sundays 12 to 6 p.m., or by appointment. For viewing appointments outside of open hours, please contact 402-917-4658.The gallery is closed Mondays. For further information, contact Zodiac Gallery at 402 346-1877, or Garden of the Zodiac at Facebook.

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