Paints in Nettles Powers' studio

The deceptive simplicity of Blanche Nettles Powers' Percolations

click to enlarge The deceptive simplicity of Blanche Nettles Powers' Percolations (2)
Emma Hopson
Paints in Nettles Powers' studio

Savannah art lovers and aficionados will not want to miss the opening reception of new works by painter Blanche Nettles Powers at Laney Contemporary on June 6.

Named Percolate, the show’s title references both Nettles Powers’ thought process and her artistic process. As the press release so beautifully explains, “To percolate is to process, to deliberate, to consider. It is also to slowly drip, to gradually accumulate and layer, and to consciously filter through previous iterations. Through percolation, we might understand a new set of conditions with fresh awareness.”

The recipient of several prestigious residences, Nettles Powers earned a BFA in Illustration and an MFA in Painting from SCAD and an MEd in Art Education from GSU. Born in Rochester, Minnesota, she maintains her studio practice in Savannah and has had solo exhibitions presented by Kim Foster Gallery of New York, Laney Contemporary, and SCAD. I have lived here long enough to remember her beautiful Rosewood Studio Gallery beside Savannah Fire's historic headquarters on Oglethorpe Avenue (home from 2005-2008 while she was getting her MFA), and her next space at 1704 Lincoln. Her newest studio consists of two rooms  in an historic district rowhouse where paintings in progress hang on the wall or are mounted on small wooden brackets, and where both the floor and  walls reveal drips and splashes from the many layers of paints she painstaking applies to her hand stretched linen canvases.

click to enlarge The deceptive simplicity of Blanche Nettles Powers' Percolations (3)
Emma Hopson
Nettles Powers in her studio

Quietly spoken and deeply reflective, Nettles Powers has been influenced by the work of polymath mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot (1924-2010) who famously discovered a patterned order underlying a great many apparent irregularities in nature. Mandelbrot gave the name “fractals” to this pattern inside of a pattern. Fractals reveal a hidden order beneath the seeming chaos of  things as disparate as tree branches, tree bark, economic markets, or the behavior of earthquakes.

To quote from her press release again, Nettles Powers’ work “seems to reveal fractal patterns that emerge through closer contact with each composition. Fractals, a central theme in this current body of work, are mathematical patterns with self-similarity, permeating the natural world. They can be found in coastal topography, animal circulatory systems, and botanical structures, repeating infinitely and shifting in scale, linking disparate systems and objects in our universe.” 

Get up close to a finished painting, and one can see how fractal patterns emerge: “From a distance, compositions appear monochromatic, but upon closer examination solid surfaces give way to patient details and the most rewarding sense of color and line. Lines drip and interlace, ripple, and gather, as traces of energy travel in mountainous horizontal and vertical tributary-like directions, all of it guided by gravity.”  As the artist applies each paint layer to her subtly complex compositions, “each new layer builds and accrues and filters through the previous layers and through the texture of the linen.”

click to enlarge The deceptive simplicity of Blanche Nettles Powers' Percolations
Parker Stewart
Percolate (246004802), 2024, oil on linen, 60x48
One room of her studio is filled with stacks of small containers of oil paints mixed with mineral spirits and a little linseed oil. Nettles Powers applies layer after layer of this diluted mixture, alternating between using large brushes or rubbing into the surface with rags. Starting at the top of the canvas with a thin layer, she works her way down, observing how the solution drips and coalesces and makes extremely subtle, but extremely intricate patterns as it does so.

Using only transparent and semi-transparent oils, it takes many coats to build up the surface. “Maybe up to 20 layers,” she says, “I’m just responding to the work, and guiding the paint along. I’ll usually be working on three pieces at a time. They kind of inform each other.” Her palette is limited to Van Dyke brown, zinc white, magenta, and earth yellow, and she has learned that “depending on what’s underneath, very subtle differences in color emerge.” It is almost as if she is discovering a new warp and weft to the stretched linen as the paint settles and dries into textural patterns.

Describing herself as being “very process-oriented”, she has been working and evolving this type of work since 2016 and recognizes the connections it has to her earlier works of Spanish Moss created with Indian Ink on raw canvas. The repetitive, mathematical fractal patterns of nature have always called to her, reminding her of blood vessels and inner biology.

click to enlarge The deceptive simplicity of Blanche Nettles Powers' Percolations (4)
David Kaminsky
Percolate (24322801), 2024, oil on linen, 32x32
We discuss the Dansaekhwa movement and how its organic materiality has also influenced her art making. The Korean word Dansaekhwa is often translated to mean monochrome painting and references disparate artworks that began to be exhibited in South Korea in the mid-70’s. Often seeming simple or even effortless, each mark is made deliberately, and each composition is carefully constructed. Paintings in subtle earthen tones, which at first glance may seem monotonous in color and repetition of pattern, are the product of complex mental and physical processes.

Nettles Powers seems to garner comfort from the repetitive and subtle patterns that quietly emerge from her pieces. “I like meditative work. My process is meditative, and I find myself drawn to work that is more slow and that takes the viewer a few minutes to read it,” she says, “For me that’s comforting. Making art has always been a refuge for me and helped me through difficult times.”

Come, take your time, and percolate with her.

Laney has chosen to pair Nettles Power’s paintings with a show co-curated by Telfair Museum's Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art, Erin Dunn. Holding Time consists of photographs and a site-specific installation in the mirrored gallery by Ansley West Rivers. Born in Atlanta and currently residing in Victor, Idaho, West Rivers holds a BFA from UGA and an MFA from the California College of the Arts. Widely exhibited, her work is in many private and public collections including Telfair Museums and MOCA, GA.

Savannahians may remember her powerful Seven Rivers show at Laney Contemporary back in 2018 when she documented the rapidly transforming Colorado, Missouri/Mississippi, Columbia, Rio Grande, Tuolumne, Altamaha, and Hudson rivers in compositions of staggering beauty and grand scale. Using a large-format camera she captures the grandeur and beauty of landscape in stunningly printed images, while often evoking an ominous foreboding as she explores environmental issues through skillful editing. It is this tension between the intersection of natural beauty and humanity’s effects on that beauty that gives West Rivers' work its exquisitely disquieting and poignant strength.

Laney Contemporary is located at 1810 Mills B Lane Blvd. The opening reception for Blanche Nettles Powers’ show Percolate & Ansley West Rivers’ show Holding Time is Thursday, June 6th from 6 to 8:30pm with a food truck on premises. Work hangs through August 17. Follow Nettles Powers on Instagram @blanchenettlepowers and her website is www.blanchenettlespowers.com. She also has two paintings from her Percolate series included in the group show Here and There at SCAD’s Gutstein Gallery through July 19.

Beth Logan

Born and raised in Northern Ireland, Beth Logan had a career in healthcare HR and marketing. An artist and former gallery director, she serves on the board of nonprofit ARTS Southeast and has a passion for showcasing Savannah’s arts community, travel, oil painting, and cocktails!
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