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Sunday, 31 July 2011

Lingering Disquiet

Mal'arbre K Howell 2011 Pastel on Paper 21 cm x 14 cm
     There are some trees that are unsettling. They catch at your peripheral vision and pull you into a fairy tale moment. I love these trees. When you turn away, they move. I'm sure they do. And then they are completely still when you stop and take proper notice of them. At least, that's what I tell the small people. Do I truly believe it? When I'm painting, I do. Every tree has character and a story to tell. Some are a little more frightening than others. Those trees have seen some things happen.
     There's a voluble stream feeding into the larger river near this tree. I used to avoid this area of the copse because none of my senses seem to be working properly, when in fact they are working overtime.
      As the White Queen says to Alice, Sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.
      It takes practice.

Monday, 25 July 2011


Oak K Howell 2011 Pastel on Paper 14 cm x 21 cm
    What with summer weather, Lucien Freud's death and cleaning out my studio space, people in a state of undress seem to be a recurring theme.
     Life drawing is a great experience. I rediscovered a stack of student work that reminded me of how much I enjoyed it. It takes a courageous person to strip off and let a bunch of artists explore and interpret their body. Looking at the drawings, I was amazed at the immediate recall of the particular session dynamic.
    'Learning' a person without much dialogue or touch is an unusual practice. Like consensual stalking. The individual model is so much a part of the work, what they bring to a session is terribly informative. I remember one male model who insisted on always working with a broom handle. So they could 'dialogue' together. He made quite an impression.
     I noticed in my stack of drawings that the stronger pieces were loaded with subtext. Irritation, admiration, familiarity: it all comes through. Indifference produces rubbish.
     Easy to see how this love of life drawing has carried over to landscape. And trees are so patient...

Monday, 18 July 2011

Hermeticism Begins At Home

Alembic K Howell 2005 Mixed Media 14 cm x 21 cm
     Aristotle says Whosoever is delighted in solitude, is either a wild beast or a god. This is a bit extreme, but I'm happy to err on the side of the feral. Solitude is the necessary furnace for creativity.
     But having attended an exhibition of student's work this week, and then another put together by friends on the weekend, I was reminded of the importance of the exhibition process. Gathering work and people together and generating dialogue is a brilliant thing. 
     It's wonderful to see work you've viewed in progress or new work emerging from familiar hands carefully presented for public perusal and enjoyment. Somehow the whole event is more enjoyable when it's not your work on display. 
     Back to my messy alembic of a work space and the entrails of my rewrite.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Risky Business

Run!!! K Howell 2011 Pastel on Paper 21 cm x 14 cm
     Art is fraught with risk. There are no guarantees that execution will match up to vision. The work may or may not be exhibited. People may or may not respond to it if they see it. Even if they do respond, the artist may or may not be aware of the success or failure of the work in that instance.
     We all invest a great deal in what we do, but as artists, uncertainty is our friend. Uncertainty is the dark underbelly of possibility; if we have one, we have the other.
     I know I'm always struggling to balance emotional intensity with games; trying to invest a work with strength and authenticity of vision, but also a certain amount of playfulness. I should take myself more seriously; I should have more fun. This is a risk.
     But risk, I believe, is what makes work interesting.
Yesterday, I attended a concert. The chamber group was marvelous, the sound world intriguing but ultimately upstaged. By a cactus. The unquestionably phallic shape and the fact that it was amplified gave the succulent a playful presence in the percussionist's toolbox. The spines kept me watching. So much potential for drama. Will they blindfold the percussionist? Will the stage hands be impaled? I spent the duration of the piece renaming the work and re-imagining the staging for maximum comic and tragic effect. So I've learned this valuable lesson: If you put a cactus on stage, harmonics aren't quite so interesting*. When RISK is presented as a possibility, the audience wants it explored. (Assimilating this information as I write.)

*This is not a criticism, just a fact. It was a very good event. And the film! Pierre Reimer's Modell, made to accompany a composition by Mark Andre, was brilliant. Very witty, slightly sinister, thoroughly entertaining. Clever and playful. I loved it! And I would've told him so, but my French is specious and my English... not much better. I failed to make my response known. I didn't want to risk sounding like a prat. Won't happen again.

Monday, 4 July 2011


  There, From Here K Howell 2011 Pastel on Paper 14 cm x 21 cm
     If you've ever given birth, you'll know there's a certain inevitability about the situation. Labour can't go on forever, and harbouring this creature indefinitely is not an option. Something has to give. Your bones.  The same ones that, on a good day, hold you upright. The ugly phase where your muscles are convincing your skeleton to be that much more flexible is termed transition and could very well be the original source of the werewolf myth.
     On the occasions I've experienced this process, I've spent much of the time thinking surely there must be a better way. How long have we been evolving as a species? And this is the most efficient system we have arrived at? I make a mental note each time to move to Australia, where eventually women may become marsupial.*
     What does this have to do with creativity? In the development of work and the search for the right blend of intensity and flexibility, we definitely have periods of transition, don't we? When do we push on, and when do we relax? We've already forgotten what worked last time, and anyway, circumstances are different. Aren't they?
     My least favourite swim coach** once pressed me to finish a ridiculous distance swimming butterfly. When I told him I'd had enough, everything hurt and I took that as a Sign to Stop, he said, Hurts a little? Or a lot? Not wanting to sound feeble, I said a little. He raised a paunchy eyebrow and said, Then you're not working hard enough.
     Transition. The cost of improvement, learning a new balance of instinct and education. Pressure on the thick skull. Too late for the epidural. Alas.

*No, I don't truly believe this, but pain messes with your head.
**I can't remember the likeable swim coaches saying anything of value. But they were ever so nice.