s k y p o w e r
A woman warrior
Artist Sky Power creates personal shields
by Neda Ulaby
When she met an American Indian chief in her native Texas, artist Sky Power's interest in her own heritage was piqued. In her Washington, D.C., debut at the Foundry Gallery, Power will display her "Ikage" series of works that grows out of an awareness of her roots. (Her grandfather was Cherokee.)
"Ikage" is an Apache word for shield or protector. Power interprets the idea of a traditional shield created by Native American warriors through a Lesbian feminist lens.
"Men created shields using their personal power symbols to protect them," she explained by telephone from her North Truro, Mass., studio. "The men use them in war, and I use them in life. Just the act of putting something out there, something connected to my conscious identity, is what's empowering." In 1993, Power became interested in the colorful glass beads used for trading among American Indians. Her quest to collect these beads led her to a chief in the same small West Texas town where she'd grown up.
"I'd never knoWn this man, but he had a great collection of artifacts," she said. Her meeting with the chief sparked Power's interest in that part of her family's background. She had grown up in a household in which art and music were highly valued, but the family's heritage was not much discussed. As a child and adolescent, Power's family moved around the West, living in Texas, Wyoming, Washington, and Montana. At 19, she came out, changed her fIrSt name to Sky, and shot across the country to the Eastern seaboard. She has lived in Massachusetts since 1976, and has involved herself in the lively Boston-area women's movement, exhibiting work at the legendary feminist restaurant/gallery Bread and Roses and harvesting crops at a women-only organic cranberry bog. She crafts the shields in her Ikage series becalise they bring her joy.
"It was the colors of the glass beads that first led me to the shields," she explained. "I had these really beautiful cobalt blue ones, and I started working on a two-foot-by-two-foot Masonite format. My first works were blue-black, very deep, very rich, and that's really when I realized they reminded me of shields. They have circular forms within the square and they look like entities surrounded by energy shields. Because the Masonite is sanded down very smooth and some of the layers are very thin, they look almost like light boxes."
Power has been told that the symbols on her shields resemble Texas cattle brands and characters from the Cherokee alphabet as well as mysterious, pan-ethnic icons, bringing together divergent elements of her heritage. Her process of crafting the shields is visceral, as if she's attacking the body of her history, and coming to terms with it. "I would do 1ayers of oil and wipe away the pigment with turpentine," she explained, "and then, in th~ year 2000, I got back into the vivid colors and started working with acrylic and sand, and [would] even tear away layers and glue them back on, like collage. They've evolved into having a very interesting textural effect"
Power supplants her income as an artist by working as a piano tuner in the Provincetown area. For her, music and art are irrevocably intertwined. "I am interested in creating an aesthetic comparable to creating music," she said. "My objective is to achieve... compositional and emotional balance through intense color arrangement juxtaposed with deliberate lines and delicate shading."
Power listens to jazz when she works - John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Cassandra Wilson in particular. She enthuses about the mUsical offerings of Provincetown, a town she credits for providing its artists with a rich creative space.
"There's still a lot of us, but it's hard for people to afford to live here anymore. Housing is out of sight and I'm not sure what's going to happen."
Power, for one, can't imagine leaving. "I'm definitely ftom Cape Cod now," she said. "This is my home. I live in a very protected environment here, as far as the Gay culture goes. That and the ocean and starting a horse-and-carriage business is why I came here. The beauty of living here is [that] you forget - you don't have to think about issues that exist elsewhere. It's a very comfortable commingling between straight people and Gay peogle. I also love the Yankee way of life. Tilde's very hardworking people here you can trust to deal on a handshake. When I first came to Provincetown, there was a fishing community that existed. I was a woman out there, cutting scallops with the fishermen, and they respected me because I worked hard. I'll always feel connected to Texas, but I couldn't live there because of the prejudice that exists, not only towards Gay people, but [against] people who live on the fringe."
Thirty of Power's abstract paintings will be shown at the Foundry Gallery, representing a body of work that took two years to complete. With her deliberate evocations of the past and her own-forward looking impulses apparent in her art, it may be the first of many area shows.
Sky Power's work
will be on view at the Foundry Gallery, 9 Hillyer Court, NW; through
April 15. For more information, call (202) 387-0203.
The Washington Blade - March 30,2001