The pieces are falling into place for Oviedo artist Doug Powell. The massage therapist and Navy veteran has developed an unusual art form: mosaic portraits created with random jigsaw puzzles. It’s so unusual that Ripley’s — which knows oddities — bought one.
Powell paints a canvas black, then glues individual puzzle pieces to it to form famous faces. “Each puzzle piece is like a stroke of a paintbrush,” said Powell, who has no formal art training. Powell uses the puzzle pieces in a nontraditional way — he doesn’t interlock the pieces.
“This is very anti-puzzle,” Powell said. He calls the procedure “Duzzle™ Art” — a mash-up of puzzle and his first name.
Powell, who started duzzling in 2007, read a newspaper article this year saying that Orlando-based Ripley’s Entertainment was seeking unique art of movie stars. He contacted Edward Meyer, Ripley’s vice president for exhibits and archives, and soon he was working on a 4-foot by 4-foot portrait of actress Sophia Loren based on an image from the 1964 film, “The Fall of the Roman Empire.”
“I think the art style itself is very, very clever,” Meyer said. “Even if no one recognized it as Sophia Loren, I think everyone would go ‘…that’s a pretty interesting piece of art.’”
Powell’s first puzzle portrait in 2007 was of another classic actress. “I did the Ingrid Bergman just to see if I could make puzzle pieces show actual detail in a human face. How detailed could I get?” he said. Next was a representation of Steve McCurry’s eye-catching photo of Sharbat Gula, best known as the “Afghan girl” and a National Geographic cover subject.
“Eyes are integral to each portrait,” Powell said. “That is the part that takes the longest. I could spend 15 hours on just the eyes,” he said. Typically, he spends 100 to 120 hours on a project. At first, he used 30 or 40 pieces for an eye. For Loren, there are 300 pieces in the eye. He just finished a Lady Gaga portrait, which has 400 pieces for one eye. “I’m figuring out my own method of madness with putting these things together,” he said.
Powell, 49, never paints the pieces. He applies a clear coat of protective finish to protect the cardboard pieces from moisture and seal them into place. He buys jigsaws at yard sales, flea markets and on Craigslist and dumps them into a bathtub-sized bin. Powell estimated he has 100,000 puzzle pieces. He used 3,100 pieces for Ripley’s purchase, he said. Ripley’s has the Loren portrait in its Orlando warehouse and plans to ship it to its California museum when renovations there are done. In the meantime, Loren might hang in the International Drive museum, Meyer said. Neither Powell nor Meyer would say what Ripley’s paid for the work.
Powell creates the portraits at home but said he may rent space for a gallery. He has appeared in art shows and is seeking an agent. His interest in art dates to his youth in New Jersey, where he fiddled with creative projects such as string art. But he didn’t do puzzles. “I missed out on it,” he said. “The older I get the more I seem to want to get back in touch with the things I left behind before I joined the Navy and all of a sudden life got serious,” he said.