Candy Crush

Maui artists Peter and Madeline Powell get a hyperreality check.

It’s the Monday Artists’ Showcase at the Four Seasons Resort Wailea on Maui, and a stroll through the hotel’s lower lobby reveals a sumptuous assortment of paintings depicting colorful fish, turtles and other dreamy aqua ocean scenes.

Around a corner, however, the motif suddenly shifts into a riotous blast of primary colors, as huge paintings of Tootsie Rolls, Abba-Zaba bars and M&M’s engulf the viewer and stimulate the senses— especially the taste buds! The paintings are so vivid that you feel as if you could pluck the candy right off the canvas.

Welcome to the hyperrealistic world of Maui artists Peter and Madeline Powell. The couple merged their personal and professional lives almost 40 years ago, and are currently riding a long-running wave of popularity for their jointly created specialty: photo-realistic paintings of “Candy, toys and cars,” as Peter Powell puts it.

In addition to Maui, their work is offered in galleries in New York and San Francisco, and collectors span the globe. A Saudi prince bought candy portraits for everyone in his family: “The little princess got pink Hershey’s kisses; the little prince got a pile of Twizzlers, and the prince’s wife got a Kit Kat bar,” Peter recalls.

In recent years, special requests have risen to comprise almost half their yearly output of about 18 paintings, many from corporations. Nail polish manufacturer OPI commissioned a painting of an assortment of its polishes and shipped boxes of merchandise to the Powell’s studio in upcountry Maui.

“It made us very popular with our daughters,” Madeline says, smiling.


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"Melts in Your Mouth…" 32" x 38" acrylic on canvas

BMW asked for a painting of the luxury carmaker’s distinctive hood medallions, and a Midwest manufacturer of industrial springs ordered a supersized rendering of its products.

The biggest portrait they ever painted? An eight-by-twelve foot Hershey’s miniature chocolates assortment. A close second: a seven-by-twelve foot painting of a pile of Bazooka bubble gum.

In addition to candy, the Powells also paint gleaming renditions of classic cars, and colorful assortments of vintage toys. The couple’s sense of humor is never far from view: one painting of Raggedy Andy,

Pinocchio and three blonde Barbie dolls is titled, “Guys and Dolls.”

At the couple’s Pukalani home and studio, Peter’s passion for surfing and sound is amply displayed with stacks of surfboards in the garage and clusters of guitars around the house. Madeline loves to collect Pez dispensers—she has boxfuls—as well as vintage lunch boxes, which line the tops of her kitchen cabinets.

Although the duo is primarily painters, they take their work into other mediums as well. Madeline picks up a super-sized plywood box and explains that she will soon cover it with canvas, turning it into a 3-D rendition of the distinctive Barnum’s Animal Crackers packaging.

There are few specific duties in the complex process the couple undertakes to design each painting—often they stand side-by-side as they work. The various stages of creation are on display this day in their studio, starting with a box of assorted vintage candies that will be staged and photographed from all angles. Later, a sketch precisely detailing color and shading will be transferred to canvas, then masked and re-masked for the different painting stages. Peter offers up a jar of used X-Acto knives, saying, “We go through lots and lots of these in our work.”

The hardest task comes when the couple creates candy paintings using silver Hershey’s kisses or York Peppermint Patties. It’s what Madeline calls “The Foil Factor.”

“There’s no ‘silver’ color,” Peter explains, so various colors must be carefully mixed and applied to create a silver foil appearance.

California entrepreneur Steve Fulmer has a “foil factor” painting among the seven Powells hanging in his Newport Coast home.

“I don’t buy art as an investment; I consider it music for the eyes,” he says. “When you look at the Powells’ paintings, they are visually very pleasurable and evoke feelings of childhood nostalgia. They bring joy and celebrate life.”

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