Written by Nicholas Raffoul
Victoria-based artist Cassia Powell combines the timeless medium of acrylic painting with visuals from nostalgic video games. Powell’s work is reminiscent of Y2K aesthetics, where they combine an early Baroque visual culture with a bright CMYK palette. Like many, Powell finds particular comfort in The Sims video game, giving them the perfect medium to exhibit their relationship with nostalgia, time, and identity in a modern era. For Powell, The Sims is the “perfect way to encapsulate the feeling of being in a bubble and seeing faraway family on a screen”; video games and virtual reality provide a sense of ease and control.
Some of Powell’s subjects are inspired by folklore, fusing the archaic and contemporary with characters representative of fairies, trolls, and elves. In 2019, Powell travelled to Iceland for a residency and was captivated by the country’s folk traditions. Cut to Powell’s ongoing series, Faces I Know, which references contemporary online culture through troll-like and fairytale-inspired faces. Powell paints large, vivid, and grotesque faces that evoke a sense of fear and confusion. Details in the series link the supernatural figures to modern technology, such as the bandana of cursors on Faces I Know (ii). Powell brings these otherworldly figures into our reality, and puts a face to toxic online culture.
Faces I Know (i) & (ii), 2019/2020. Acrylic and oil on wood panel, 36 x 48". $750 each.
Amidst the global pandemic, Powell has built an entirely digital universe using basic air-brush tools, 3D blender models, and Sims virtual reality, transcending the need for a physical space to exhibit their work. In their Ugly Feelings series (2020), Powell creates vibrant portraits and collages which they upload into The Sims and display in a virtual exhibition. Sims 3 Exhibition extends beyond traditional conceptions of art and curation, where Powell puts their constructed exhibition on display as a work of art itself.
Sims 3 Exhibition, 2020
Ugly Feelings Series, 2020
In Sims 4 Studio Space, Powell gives us a glance into their own studio, using The Sims to build and decorate their own virtual studio, once again displaying their paintings digitally, however this time in a more intimate setting. In these two works, Powell constructs a digital environment which asks us to question our conceptions of space, distance, and the emotions evoked by specific places. Through Sims 4 Studio Space, Powell brings together vivid digital collages that explore homesickness, nostalgia, and anxiety, situating them within a virtual space and blurring the distinction between tangibility and virtuality.
Sims 4 Studio Space, 2020
Sims 3 Exhibition and Sims 4 Studio Space transports us into the museum and the artist’s studio, two spaces with contrasting atmospheres. The museum space is linear and institutional; the latter is private and intimate. By displaying their work in both spaces, Powell invites us to view their works in distinct digital yet real sites, simultaneously employing their paintings as portals between our reality and The Sims world.
Despite the pandemic, this is a particularly exciting time in Powell’s career. Having recently finished school, Powell will be taking the next twelve months to create more powerful and experimental work, exploring new levels of creativity outside the bounds of an academic setting.
Nicholas Raffoul is finishing a BA in Art History at McGill University, and currently serves as Co-Editor-in-Chief of Canvas, the McGill Journal of Art History and Communication Studies.