I went to Shetland in order to think about how objects haunt us – not in the sense of floating candlesticks and bulging sheets (though a bit of that as well), but rather, in the way things linger long after their first use, physically and emotionally.
In Japan, an item that has reached one hundred years of age was assumed to have become sentient. Most things were destroyed, on purpose, so they wouldn’t get that old, but the ones that did were called tsukumogami and would acquire souls. For me, I’m amazed that it would take a whole century to develop life. I seem to be very quick to find personality in things. My childhood was spent with the anxiety that I might offend any of my toys if I ignored them or favoured one too much. Nowadays, when a thing has some relationship with a loved human – a photograph, my grandfather’s straw boater or my other grandfather’s coat – then that item tends to haunt that bit more.
And I’m not alone in being haunted, everyone in our civilisation is. Museums are crammed with objects that are historically or culturally important, while messages and images fill databanks called (rather ectoplasmically) the Cloud where they will remain until the power goes. Even our toothbrushes and food packaging were once made out of a material so robust that they’ll continue to haunt the world a long time after every human is dead.
In Shetland, with my own cocoon of objects scraped away, I could see it all more clearly. The strata of human presence were very obvious. Down at Jarlshof, a 17th century manor, an Iron Age wheelhouse, a Viking longhouse and a Neolithic settlement are entwined amongst the hillocks. On the beaches near the Booth scraps of human debris were washed up, rubber and glass smoothed like bone lay between bladderwrack and bird carcasses. It was a very good time to think, and a very good time to draw.
Residencies for Scotland 2019: WASPS, Shetland
Robert PowellLibrary of the Blind, 2020Etching and watercolourImages: 40 x 25 cm; 40 x 69 cm; 40 x 25 cm
Frame: 135 x 55 cmEdition of 6£ 1,800.00
Robert PowellPhantom Things, 2020Etching and watercolour9 x 98 cmEdition of 6£ 700.00
Robert PowellThe Grey Wallpaper, 2020Etching and watercolour39 x 26 cmEdition of 6£ 500.00
Robert PowellThe Staircase, 2020Etching and watercolour9 x 30.5 cmEdition of 10£ 400.00
Robert PowellWork of the Dead, 2020Etching and watercolourImage: 40 x 40 cmEdition of 6£ 950.00
Robert PowellField Guide to Fantasia, 2019In collaboration with Jenny Powellaine
Lithograph69.8 x 98.4 cmEdition of 6£ 1,200.00
Robert PowellFrom the Booth, 2019Ink and watercolour40 x 50 cm
Robert PowellThe Exiles, 2019Monotype and watercolour21 x 31 cmEdition of 6£ 440.00
Research + PracticeRSA Residencies and Awards in Focus 3 September - 2 October 2022Victoria Clare Bernie | MV Brown | Samantha Clark | Joel Dixon | Flore Gardner | Robert Powell
This September we are pleased to present new work from five artists supported by the RSA Residencies for Scotland programme. The exhibition will also features new paintings from the winner of the 2021 RSA William Littlejohn Award for Water-based Media, Samantha Clark.