Jonathan Powell is a male artist, currently working in United Kingdom.
Jonathan Powell image

Oswald Spengler, in his book The Decline of the West, describes the megalopolis (city) as an inward looking organism; turning away from the sun, and creating its own language and soul. Such a built up environment could conjure up an Orwellian scenario where the mass is easily controlled in an enclosed cityscape compound. Some would say this is already happening.

‘The mass crushes out the insight and reflection that are still possible with the individual’ Carl Jung.

The city can be seen as the embodiment of a collective human machine, operating not by individual choices, but by an enveloping and all-pervasive control and manipulation, of mind as well as of the body. Spengler states that we are now in the later stages of a Faustian civilisation where we are constantly striving for the unattainable – making man the ultimately tragic and doomed figure.

The idea of Utopia will always inevitably lead to the reality of Dystopia.

‘In London you can see crowds so vast, and in such an environment, as you will not see anywhere in the world. Every Saturday night half a million workers, men and women, with their children, spill into the streets like a flood. They flock to certain parts of town taking part in a bacchanalian revel, eating and drinking like beasts all through the night until five o’clock in the morning, to last, one would think, the whole week. They swarm round the open taverns and in the streets, eating and drinking everywhere, all seem to be set on getting drunk as quickly as possible. Wives are no better than their men and get drunk with them; the children run about and crawl among them.
Here you are no longer aware even of people but of an insensible human mass, a general loss of consciousness, systematic and resigned’. Fyodor Dostoevsky, 1863

Since graduating in 2005 my work has documented cityscapes and crowd scenes on a panoramic scale trying to convey the tight claustrophobic atmosphere of the human landscape where the streets have become a swaying procession of high heels, wind blasted skin stained with false tans smothered in layers of make-up, perfumes and deodorants. By day large crowds of people bump and jarr into each other, damaging one another in an environment of square and solid shapes laid out in lines, curves and on top of each other where the individual scarcely exists.

Currently I am working on a series of head, figure and large scale utopian/dystopian Castles.
The paint and charcoal head drawings and paintings narrow in on the crowds of pedestrians on the streets of the city; they pick out the face as if just noticing you before taking a photograph, the person who watches you back. In some the skin appears to be hanging off the bones, the charcoal skeletons trying to escape their hideous and malnourished outer shells.

The Utopian Castle studies take origins from a time in my childhood when the castle was the root of my young artistic freedom and imagination. The Castle can be described as a strange hybrid once a place of refuge/authoritarianism, defence/attack, a symbol of luxury and now a romanticised symbol of a forgotten age. Using this as my starting point, I am creating a series of imaginary castle cityscapes entitled ‘When We Build Again’ taken from the 1940’s Birmingham building regeneration scheme designed to clear the slums and re-house the poor but inevitably led to the beginnings of the High Rise tower blocks.

The city has created a clownish and cartoonish doomed human carnival where we observe extreme perceptions of reality and distorted fractured views of the self. This is a deranged realism where the mass completely dominates over individual thought. The metropolis is an environment where a person can be observed at anytime in any place. The Castle/City acts as a panoptican disguised as an attempted utopia with towers and walls designed to keep watch and control its inhabitants. They promise a better standard of living and healthier future but instead create estate ghettos and slums where communities disintegrate and the class divide gets wider. The tower on the hill offers superior views and an escape from the slums but instead manifests isolation in inferior concrete shells.

Utopia is our heaven; it is our dreams of perfected progress – the pinnacle of human achievements, social justice, prevailing peace and harmony with nature. Dystopia is our possible hell; a nightmare where the human spirit is controlled and nullified in an environment that breeds fractured communities and distorted views of ourselves.

My current body of work is attempting to represent the fine line of this Utopia/Dystopia environment.