Pretty Ugly: A Social Commentary on Greed, Destruction Told Through Stunning Art

Palestinians flee their houses due to Israeli strikes, after a temporary truce between Hamas and Israel expired, in the eastern part of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, December 1, 2023. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

A tiger sinking as a golden float pulls it down, an idyllic looking village going up in flames, and a hunting scene that leads to the destruction of truth.

At a glance, the artwork in Thomas Powell’s “Pretty Ugly” exhibition appear to be detailed idyllic scenes, in hues of blues and whites interspersed with childlike imagery and doodles.However, each piece in the exhibit presents a strong narrative about all that is wrong with the world due to greed and corruption.

Powell uses strong imagery to convey what he perceives is happening in the world, such as the tiger being pulled down by the weight of a golden float, which is titled Floating gold and has the message that “no one is future proof and gold does not float”.

“It’s an observation on what I feel is going on in the world,” he said.

Floating gold. — Picture courtesy of Thomas Powell

As an artist, Powell said wants to offer social commentary on what he feels is destroying the world, using his art in various styles to relate to his audience.

“Pretty Ugly is meant to cover uncomfortable topics in an aesthetically pleasing way,” he said.

He said people would not be interested if he were to paint depressing, dreary scenes.

So, he chose to hide his message in plain sight set against stunning backdrops of idyllic villages, pleasing patterns and on intricate cross stitch works.

The exhibition does not only feature Powell’s paintings but also a beautiful vintage divider, a vintage tapestry and elaborately framed vintage French cross stitch works with added destructive elements to disrupt the scenes.

Plunder protection. — Picture courtesy of Thomas Powell

The vintage tapestry, titled Values, is Powell’s message on how the focus on conflict, wars, political agendas, power dynamics and societal norms gave the perception that war is glorious as compared to love, creativity and compassion.

He painted his message within the tapestry, as if it were part of a picnic scene by the riverside, but the incongruity of the objects stand out upon closer inspection, such as dark smoke curling out of a house, a luxurious brand bag on the ground or a barrel of oil being poured into the river.

“I want to add the disruptions as my message of how there can be destruction behind something so beautiful but I also want to present the other side, where we can balance progress, technology and development for the good of everyone and the environment,” he said.

He hopes that his works will drive through his message that there is still hope if people are willing to change and strive towards a better world.

Aside from adding disruptions into vintage works, Powell has also added childlike doodles and familiar Disney-like characters in some of the paintings.

Several of his paintings feature what appear to be glass balls, within which were childlike doodles of various scenes such as a house on fire, a caged bird caught in fire and a devil holding a chart of increasing profits.

In yet another painting is a feature of all three balls with different sets of childlike doodles of what the future could be if the people were to do something about it.

Breaking patterns.— Picture courtesy of Thomas Powell

“I included childlike imagery because children are truthful in that they say it as it is, so the simplest way to show the truth was to do it in a childlike way,” he said.

In some paintings, porcelain and opulent objects are depicted, effectively juxtaposed against themes of destruction such as fire, floods and war.

A total 52 artworks are on display in the exhibition that opens today and ends on December 31.

Even before the official opening, exhibition curator Ivan Gabriel said some of the works have been sold.

“I have a few other works in stock to replace the ones sold,” he said.

Aside from the artworks, there will also be merchandise on sale such as sticker sets and Powell’s Zodiac series book.

This is Powell’s second solo exhibition to be held in Hin Bus Depot.

The exhibition is open to the public free daily from 12pm to 7pm.