Liam Power describes himself as an artist and a butcher on Instagram. It's an unusual description that reveals a genuinely unique artist in the making.
While still an art student in 2008, Power won the Newcastle Maritime (Art) Prize and was a finalist in the Carol Duval Memorial Art Prize. And, after completing his University of Newcastle Fine Art degree, he featured in the 2012 Hatched graduate exhibition at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art.
"When I was at art school, I was painting what was in front of me: the harbour and the boats and the mountains," Power says.
His honours research centred around this industrial landscape and through "en plein" studies he developed his own visual language of shapes and colours that "interrogates the notion of an already contested land and its validity as a cultural theme for identity". Power's 2013 exhibition at The Lock Up, Land Bulk, was subsequently acquired by Newcastle Art Gallery for their permanent collection.
Power has been working in a butcher's shop since he was 14. He started at Hodges Butchery, in Nelson Bay, where he learned all aspects of the meat industry and worked in an environment that regarded butchers as true artisans and an integral part of community.
Butchery is an age-old craft around the world, steeped in economic and social history. As a butcher you learn to build dexterity in your hands, like a painter learns to practice how to hold a paint brush to achieve the mark they want. A butcher is taught knife skills and hand/eye co-ordination along with the physical and manual handling of a full carcass from manufacture to display. All of these skills are transferable to art.
"For me, as an artist, always being honest in my work is important and I stopped making harbour paintings," Power says.
"I feel like I've been working as a butcher for so long now that it's going to come out in my work somehow and in some form. I'm realising how I approach painting is very similar to how I approach breaking down a meat carcass in the cool room."
Paint brushes, knives, spatulas and cleavers are all tools used by Power to manipulate an object for display.
"I began to notice, knife motives are like outlines of abstract shapes and the surface of the paint is like the fat you walk through," he says. "As a painter it is the physical aspects of working as a butcher that has influenced my work and aesthetic."
Last year he exhibited Defaced, his second solo exhibition at Art Systems Wickham and the first since Confetti Landbulk in 2014 in which he continued to build upon the repetitive arced shapes of the industrial Newcastle that by then had become synonymous with Power's art practice.
Defaced saw him fill the gallery with atypically colourful, superimposed and grand abstract paintings and works on paper. Intentionally choosing to incorporate "discord" colours and thick oil paint, reminiscent of an '80s graffiti wall and either subconsciously or on purpose defacing his previously established aesthetic.
In these works, Power had for a second time forged a new visual language for himself directly from his butcher's knife in the form of zig-zags, circles, crosses, dots and strokes that filled the surfaces in a fury of brush strokes, interrupting the layers of the paint in a mixture of pattern and hue. For those familiar with his art, this exhibition was a bold new display and a public refusal to be placed into a particular genre.
"I feel like I am making better work now than when I was trying to make works for exhibition," Power says.
"I've been looking at other artists that paint meat ... there's this multidisciplinary artist, Richard Prince, who I've been looking at. He's an American artist and never works in the same style. He combines digital, sculpture; he'll have teams of people working on these different objects or images and have them exhibited all together in the one space.
"I'd like to approach my art that way."