The allure of the unattainable and its connection to the passage of time have become central to the research of John Powers, BA’01, assistant professor of sculpture at the University of Tennessee–Knoxville, who was recently named a 2016 Guggenheim Fellow by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.
Drawing from areas as diverse as natural history, architecture and the history of technology, Powers investigates the intersection of cinema, engineering, computation, music and physical space. By employing motion and sound in his work, he incorporates the passage of time as a compositional element in an attempt to examine abstract and often intangible topics such as memory, thought, emotion, language and the essence of self.
“My work primarily takes the form of large kinetic sculpture, and it’s not uncommon that it can take a year to finish a single piece around all my other duties,” Powers said. “My proposal was simply for time to dedicate to my work. The main premise of my proposal was that I make large, complicated objects and was at a place in my career where I could benefit greatly from the time to focus on ambitious new works.”
Guggenheim Fellowships are grants awarded to scholars, artists, and scientists who have produced exceptional scholarship or creative work. The title of his proposal was “Time and Space,” and the fellowship will allow Powers to take a year off from teaching to work in the studio. “The Guggenheim is among the highest honors in the field, so being named as a fellow is simultaneously humbling and exhilarating,” he said. “I could not be more excited.”
Powers, who began teaching sculpture at the University of Tennessee in 2013, was a fine arts major at Vanderbilt and recipient of the Margaret Stonewall Wooldridge Hamblet Award in 2001. He earned his MFA in sculpture, with distinction, in 2008 from the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia.
His sculptures, installations, animation and video works have been exhibited nationally and internationally. He has exhibited nationally at such venues as the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the MIT Museum, the Mariana Kistler Beach Museum of Art, the Huntsville Museum of Art, the Mason-Scharfenstein Museum of Art, the Wiregrass Museum of Art, the Alexander Brest Museum, the Masur Museum, the Gadsden Museum of Art, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, Brenda Taylor Gallery, the Georgia Museum of Art, the Vero Beach Museum of Art, and Cue Art Foundation.
His work has been featured in the New York Times, World Sculpture News, Sculpture Magazine, Art Forum, the Huffington Post, Art in America, the Boston Globe, and on CBS News Sunday Morning.
Previous honors include the 2013 Virginia A. Groot Foundation Award, a Joan Mitchell Foundation MFA Grant, a Southeastern College Art Conference Individual Artist Fellowship, an Alabama State Council on the Arts Fellowship, and the Margaret Stonewall Wooldridge Hamblet Award.
“My colleagues and I are thrilled that John has been selected for this prestigious award,” said Dottie Habel, director of UT’s School of Art. “His work is remarkable for its scale, its ambition, its manufacture, and its haunting content.”
*John Douglas Powers, Locus, oak, poplar, steel, brass, plastic and electric motor, 2015