Jamestown artist knows his asymptote

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It's not that Alan Powell finds physics boring.

In fact, he loves it.

He just prefers paint brushes to ripple tanks, canvas to calculators and the energy of art to the horsepower of an engine.

In the early 1970s, when he was studying physics at University of California, Berkeley, a subtle social shift occurred in the nation.

"I thought it was going to be a life of building telescopes and looking at the stars and discovering stuff," Powell said. "But in the early '70s, that didn't exist anymore. It was all weapons development."

Powell, 18 at the time and thinking he was a little better than God, as he puts it, didn't think one way or the other about the ethics involved in designing instruments of destruction.

"I loved the math, but sending something up in a parabolic arc and having it land over there was the most boring thing," he said. "It was just stupid."

So what's a disillusioned pre-degree physicist to do?

For Powell, he spun 180 degrees and shifted his career to a lifelong love of painting.

"(Physics) was not out there enough," he said. "I needed something cooler."

Not entirely off his original course, Powell said his math studies influenced his art.

As a completed math equation has a sense of finality, so, Powell feels, does most of his work. In higher mathematics, a problem can be correct, but it can also have a variety of answers.

"I believe, along with a number of other artists, that there is an infinite number of endings," Powell said. "I view the ending as a stage of completion, a balance. If you take your hand and cover up one small item on the canvas, you throw it out of balance.

"The math plays a part and I'm certainly conscious of that when I'm painting."

His life of painting well established, Powell has made another shift.

About a year ago, after living and working in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, Powell, 49, and his wife, Nan, moved to East Sonora, seeking a reprieve from a fast-paced lifestyle.

The Union Democrat
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