Rachel Howard: L’appel du Vide

Rachel Howard: L’appel du Vide

A new exhibition of work by Rachel Howard is on display at Blain|Southern New York. Running until 2 November, the exhibition is Howard’s first at the New York gallery and features recent paintings, sculptures and works on paper. 

L’appel du Vide (The Call of the Void) considers the phenomenon of curiosity and temptation. Thorugh the works in the exhibition, Howard contemplates the powerful impulse, part of the human condition, to venture into the unknown - the often self destructive but enlightening compulsion to leave comfort zones and dive into the unfamiliar.

Control and chaos have long held an interest for Howard, as does the connectedness of physical gesture, material interactions and mental health. The artist’s investigations into these tensions and connections are played out in energetic, physical, visceral ways and evidenced through material traces. 

Sisters and Daughters, 2019, installation

In installation work Sisters and Daughters (2018-19), 37 hazel sticks stand tall, adorned with feathers, flowers and bones. The tensions between order and chaos are embodied by the sticks, which could be weapons or supports; the intention behind the adornment is left ambiguous. Elsewhere in a series of five large scale paintings, Howard pushes crimson paint through delicate lace, replicating intricate patterns on canvas. The lace is applied again and again, its paint-soaked patterns accumulating in layers on the surface and leaving traces of the artist’s gesture along with the paint. Howard’s process leaves room for the material qualities of the paint to consume the fragile order suggested by the lace. At times the intricate lace is finely defined; at other times it is completely obliterated, swamped in red. 

I’ve always liked to explore the edges of things. I’m fascinated by madness and what exactly that is, either how society defines it or how it can manifest itself, how we’re all a hair’s breadth away from the “edge”, how one day can be fine and the next so unsettling and warped. I enjoy playing with contradictions: confusion, clarity, reason, unreason, entropy and order, for example. In my large “red” painting, I use vast swathes of patterned nets, which act as massive paint brushes I can sweep round or across the canvas. The pattern acts as an ordered calm in places, only to be blurred and obliterated in others. The eye seeks again for solace in the ordered areas, then is pushed and pulled round and back and forth in the pictorial plain. It’s a way to imply disorder and uncertainty without being too explicit, I hope.” - Rachel Howard, Studio International, 2019.

Missive to the Mad, 2019. Oil and acrylic on canvas.

The imprints of definition and obliteration are also evident in other works in the exhibition. The works on paper on display are figurative ink drawings created using a wet-on-wet method. Marks and lines blend into paper and water; the resulting fluid drawings are manifestations of emotional expression. Missive to the Sad and Missive to the Mad, two 2019 paintings through which Howard experiments with oil paint and solvent. Different ratios of oil paint to solvent are applied to a canvas grid structure; past a certain concentration the solvent dissolves the paint, and in turn the grid. The artist also turned the canvas as part of the making process to further disrupt the grid, extending it into new planes. 

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Top image: L’appel du Vide, installation view.

L’appel du Vide is on display at Blain|Southern New York, 547 W 25th Street, New York, NY 10001, USA until 2 November. 

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