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Monday, 30 January 2012

Trees are People too

Twisted K Howell 2012 Pastel on Paper 14cm x 21cm
     I'm putting together exhibition proposals, and decided to Google my summary statement of Painting trees as a metaphor for the human condition. The first link that comes up is to Mary Hrbacek's work, so whilst I was gutted to find my agenda may not be completely unique (Surprise!), it was fascinating to see another take on themes I love, and I hope you enjoy them too!
      The anthropomorphic form of trees makes it easy to identify with them as creatures. And in trees, the resilience,  damage, variety and beauty is much like we find in humanity. The nature to strive and flourish. The infinite capacity for transformation.
      Trees may not travel in distance, but their journeys aren't far removed from our own. In the immortal words of the Kaiser Chiefs:

Well it's time honoured tradition
To get enough nutrition
Stay alive until you die
And that is the end of you!
(I've rambled on about tree/human affinities before, in raw, lingering disquiet, life and limb, branching out, and about inspiration)

Monday, 23 January 2012

Winter Sun (and winds of change...)

And the shadows steal over the hill... K Howell Acrylic on Paper

     Last week we had a dazzling and brief day of winter sun. So very cold.
     This wasn't the painting I wanted, but it's what I ended up with. A little Stiff, you say? A little Awkward? Let's blame the uncooperative frozen digits, shall we?  
     January is an extreme month. John Updike describes it brilliantly in "January",  from A Child's Calendar:

The days are short,
The sun a spark
 Hung thin between
The dark and dark.

      It's the right time of year to drag the heaps of studies out for an overview, which I'd intended to do. I'm developing larger acrylic paintings on panel, and want this series to work together as a body. Well, bodies. Time for the method in the madness.

     Instead of this crucial bit of analysis, I found myself aiding and abetting with the production of pugiones in the kitchen. I have to remind myself, no, I don't have ADHD, I have children. And they've decided to be Roman Assassins. It's that sort of day. Beware the Ides of March...

Monday, 16 January 2012


Broken Birch K Howell 2012 Pastel on Paper 14cm x 21cm
     Howard Hodgkin says, I don't think you can lightly paint a picture.
     A painting is the product of such focused energy. It's a ritual that is repeated again and again, and each new painting has all previous experience behind it, somewhere. Each empty page, canvas, board becomes an investment in understanding.
     When the process goes well, there are Discoveries, Epiphanies and Exciting Accidents. Other times, it's hard work, reminding ourselves of what we know and seeking out something new in the activity.
     A painting is a serious effort. And yet, on the face of it, it does seem a frivolous way of living. Sitting in the woods or in a studio, making a mess; all for the magic of conjuring an image, an impression, a feeling, a memory onto a blank surface. We are so lightly here. Why compound that reality by chasing the elusive?
     At least as artists, we can rest assured that our investments won't cripple an economy.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Dreaming of Yew

The yew is a tree with rough bark,
hard and fast in the earth, supported by its roots,
a guardian of flame and a joy upon an estate. 
     So says the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem. 
     The yew has a healthy grip on life and, despite its longevity, is often associated with death.
Knotty Yew! K Howell 2012 Pastel on Paper 9cm x 11cm
             Commonly found in churchyards, yew may have been planted as a reminder of long life, or to discourage farmers from allowing livestock to wander onto church property, the poisonous foliage being a disincentive. Which brings us to the fact that almost every part of the yew is poisonous. This might account for its charm. The beautiful red berry-like arils are an exception. They taste quite nice. The seed inside is highly toxic, but obviously those can be avoided. Birds don't digest them, just pass them on through their droppings.            Yew wood was commonly used in the production of longbows, but since much of yew is knotty and twisted, suitable yew staves were being imported to England as early as 1294, part of a trade that was to deplete the forests of southern Germany and Austria of mature yew trees by the 17th century. Happily, the rise of firearms relaxed the demand for the supply of yew wood. Imagine where we'd be without guns.            Yew bark is extraordinary. The gnarled, twisted trunks create their own landscape to negotiate. Hence the study.            As Wordsworth wrote of the dualistic nature of these splendid trees:
Of vast circumference and gloom profound This solitary Tree! -a living thing Produced too slowly ever to decay; Of form and aspect too magnificent To be destroyed.
     Do you have a favourite yew? 

Monday, 2 January 2012

For the rain it raineth every day...

Wet Day K Howell 2011(barely) Pastel on Paper 28cm x 28cm
     A slick end to the calendar year; time has washed past. The quality and variety of the rain has been astonishing. I thought I missed snow, but I love the rain.
     But why this foolish attachment to atmospheric necessity?

1 The Smell: is indescribable, beyond anything and simply invigorating.

2 The Impact: it stings and weighs you down, but ultimately leaves you refreshed.

3 Reliability: It Will Rain, and the Rain Will Continue. Isn't that a soothing thought?

4 Aesthetics: Behold yonder branch from which a droplet hangs. This is pleasing.

5 It Will Rise Again!: Fallen droplets are assumed into the atmosphere, allowed to collect, and are respent upon the world. There might be something in this idea...

Yes, the rain makes us wet. Yes, it leaves puddles at the edge of the road, carefully situated near bus stops. But rain is Inevitable! Necessary! Embrace the Rain! After all, the dog shit on the pavements doesn't clean itself up...