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Rachel Howard, You Can Save Me, 2015

Rachel Howard, You Can Save Me, 2015

Abstract watery depths

The Jerwood Gallery has four separate exhibitions: LS Lowry By the Sea; Quentin Blake Life under Water plus their own Collection. HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths went along to the Foreshore Gallery to see their fourth; a show of contemporary paintings, Rachel Howard By the Sea.

I love the sea. Many sea paintings are of the surface and horizon line, but Howard’s abstract images seem to delve down into the water. The surface gives way to a depth, an inward look into meditative thought and piercing emotions. Each of the sea paintings are different, some feel musical as the lines intercept, some straight, some snagged and jagged.

Rachel Howard, Case Notes, 2015

Rachel Howard, Case Notes, 2015

Some pull you in, leave you beached, happy, slightly discombobulated. They might not effect you at all. That is the nature of art.

At the beginning of the exhibition, I read: “She paints a multitude of human emotions, wrestling with certainty and uncertainty, gravity and weightlessness and the subjectivity of perception. She draws on notions of being at odds with the world, instability, uncertainty and being at sea.”

The girl knows what she’s doing.

Howard grew up on a farm near the sea on the coast of County Durham and having a permanent horizon every day to look at gave her a wonderful reassurance in what can be at times a very uncertain world. This show delves into aspects of certainty and uncertainty.

Her work in the past has explored the fragility of the human condition. Suicide, religion and addiction. Serious stuff that can be reflected in the vastness, the danger, the unpredictability of the sea against the steadying constant horizon line.

Rachel Howard, Cat Amongst the Pigeons, 2015

Rachel Howard, Cat Amongst the Pigeons, 2015

But not all the paintings are so ephemeral and fragile. There are a series of large canvases, red, floral with passionate, gestural painting marks. One Darkness and Light 2014-5 seems dream-like, nightmare-like. It reminded me of a childhood bedroom, safe in daylight, menacing at night, as dark thoughts burst out through the warm, friendly wallpaper. A white fluster of feathers in Cat Amongst the Pigeons 2014-15 seems like the birds are either being macerated or it shows the turmoil of flight.

It is difficult to describe abstract work; it really need to be seen. Some of the paintings are labelled Untitled, which I find faintly irritating because the artist must have had some inkling of what they wanted to convey. However, many of them are labelled –  and give more than a hint of the underlying emotion –You can Save Me, Fall, North, Veil, Euphoric Recall.

Rachel Howard, Untitled, 2015

Rachel Howard, Untitled, 2015

One painting in particular made me feel particularly unhappy: How to Disappear, 2015. It looked as if the people were fading away, shadows of themselves. And that saddened me as so many people want to be seen who don’t feel they are.

But these are all my thoughts, feelings and interpretation. They are elegiac paintings. Someone else will have very different responses. Thoughts may vary from one visit to another, which is the extraordinariness of the emotional depth, fragility and strength of the paintings. It’s worth giving the images time to reveal themselves.

Howard’s colour palette is restrained. Pinks and reds, explosions of yellow and white;  paint settles or, sometimes, unsettles on other paint layers. She says “I revel in the materiality of paint. The mess I make when I paint is insane. It always amuses me when I see a painting on the wall sitting there all pristine, dry and finished, without a trace of the carnage it took to get to that point.”

From some information I see that Rachel Howard once worked for Damien Hirst. She doesn’t need the approbation of the Hirst brand behind her. She is an artist in her own right, standing alone and casting her own shadow.

Video: Rachel Howard in conversation with Will Self

The exhibition is on at the Jerwood Gallery, Rock a Nore Road, Hastings, TN34 3DW until 4 October 2015. Open Tuesday-Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays 11am-5pm.


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Posted 08:11 Saturday, Jul 25, 2015 In: Visual Arts

Also in: Visual Arts

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