Rachel Howard, Black Dog, 2007, Household gloss and acrylic on canvas, 27.9 x 43.2 cm, © Rachel Howard.

Beauty from Tragedy and Investigating the Meaning of Death

Rachel Howard, Dog (Looking Back), 2007, Household gloss and acrylic on linen, 40.6 x 40.6 cm.

Rachel Howard, Pudenda Memba, 2007, Household gloss and acrylic on canvas, 121.9 x 91.4 cm.

 

Haunch of Venison
6 Haunch of Venison Yard
+ 44(0)20 7495 5050
London
Rachel Howard, How to
Disappear Completely

January 11, 2008-February 23, 2008

British artist Rachel Howard explores the notion of a beauty that is born of everyday tragedy. In figurative and abstract paintings, and accompanying ink-on-paper studies, Howard conducts an investigation into the meaning of death, as experienced through personal experience and mediated representation.

The departure point for these works is disturbing images of suicide that Howard finds by trawling newspapers and the internet, a process she calls "prodding the inevitable." In resulting paintings, the artist depicts a naked human form suspended in a different postures; in many cases the figures hang as though pulled by the same gravitational force that has determined thel appearance of the painting. Small narrative-laden details such as a watchband or ladder hint at circumstances surrounding the subject's death, but the prevailing expression is anonymity and stasis: the corpse perfectly preserved by saturated coloor and high gloss of the painting's surface.

An uneasy tension is sustained between this dark, often troubling subject matter and the vibrant materiality of the carefully poured paint. In his catalogue essay Brian Dillon describes the "vertical torrent that seems to advance from one painting to another, sometimes fading out before it reaches the bottom of the canvas, only to fall unbidden from the upper edge of another. The paint seems unstoppable: an image of the onrush of time itself."

A series of smaller, figurative paintings on the ground floor depict domestic objects which assume a strong psychological charge when considered alongside the suicide figures. A pair of scissors becomes an instrument of potential self-harm, while the image of the solitary, frail dog — a recurring motif in Howard's work — speaks hauntingly of abuse and neglect. In these works, Howard's exploration of suicide moves literal depiction into metaphor, symbolism and allusion: the "black dog," for example, connotes depression and melancholia.

On the top floor, five large-format abstract works develop Howard's theme further, into the realm of the metaphysical by confronting ideas of disembodiment or transcendence. Liberated from binds of representation, and yet titled "suicide paintings," these works feature smooth painterly expanses underpinned by a natural architecture strongly orientated around the vertical and the horizontal. Possessing a dazzling luminosity, their layers of paint are built up through a technique dictated equally by gravity, precision and chance.

In the preliminary line drawings that conclude the exhibition the abject figure finds its most striking expression, displaying all the awkwardness and pathos of one of Egon Schiele's subjects. Like all of Howard's recent work, these ink studies represent what Dillon describes as "an attempt to face up to the intimacy between torture and aesthetics."

Howard graduated from Goldsmith's College in 1992 and has exhibited in many group exhibitions including The Choice, Exit Art, New York (1998), Shimmering Substance, The Cornerhouse, Manchester and Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol (2002), Intuition/(imprecision), curated by Thomas Krens, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Saltzburg, Austria (2004) and In the Darkest Hour There May Be Light: works from Damien Hirst's murderme collection, Serpentine Gallery, London (2006).

Recent exhibitions include Can't Breathe Without You, Anne Faggionato Fine Art, London (2003), Guilty (2003-04) and Fiction/Fear/Fact (2007), Bohen Foundation, New York, and Rachel Howard, Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles. In 2008, Howard showed at Museum Van Loon, Amsterdam. She lives and works in London.

Rachel Howard, Suicide Painting 4, 2007,Household gloss and acrylic on canvas, 335.3 x 213.4 cm.

Rachel Howard, Drawing (Woman With Black Foot), 2007, Ink on paper, 48 x 76 cm.

 

Rachel Howard, Totem I, 2008, Oil, acrylic and household gloss on canvas, 121.9 x 91.4 cm.

In the Forest, where the Existential Becomes All Too Real

Rachel Howard, The Marriage, 2003-4, Household gloss on canvas, 274.3 x 182.9 cm, © Rachel Howard 2006.

Rachel Howard, White Cross Study, 2004-05, Acrylic and household gloss on canvas, 43.2 x 35.6 cm, © Rachel Howard 2006.

Rachel Howard, Pawn Dolly, 2006, Acrylic and household gloss on canvas, 152.4 x 121.9 cm, © Rachel Howard 2006.

 

Haunch of Venison
Lessingstrasse 5
+ 41 43 422 88 88
Zürich
Rachel Howard, Der Wald
June 6-August 15, 2009

For her first solo exhibition in Switzerland, British artist Rachel Howard presents a new body of paintings which explore the furthest reaches of human experience.

Entitled Der Wald, the German word for the forest, the exhibition evokes a shadowy world in which horrifying acts go unchallenged.

With their distressed surfaces these paintings represent a new development in Howard's work.

They also extend her ongoing investigation into the way in which the human body registers physical and emotional violence.

Their departure point is archival photographs which record the bodies of civilians who have been led into the forest and subjected to unknowable brutalities.

Howard's treatment of this historically controversial subject matter involves semi-abstracting the physical form of the figures while making their torture manifest in the picture's agitated paintwork and roughened surface, creating correspondences between subject and medium.

She says: "Der Wald and Mann im Wald are woodland scenes suggesting acts of hideous cruelty; men contorted by the weight of their own bodies into positions of excruciating pain, hands chained behind their head, a pose — known banally as the 'stress position' — that is still used today.

"In some of these new paintings I've used paint as a way of tarring the canvas, using black to stain and anchor the image but then letting shards of fluorescent pink, yellow or orange show through."

In these works Howard deliberately sustains an uneasy tension between traditional associations of the German forest with national pride, enlightenment and romanticism (as in the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich or Ernst Ludwig Kirchner), and the nameless abominations that have taken place in the dark heart of the forest, particularly in times of conflict.

Like light glimpsed through the trees, the bright colours that are refracted through the blackened surface of "Mann im Wald" harbour the possibility of hope.

Similarly, the small red still lifes of flowers punctuate the larger, more disturbing scenes, offering isolated moments of redemption.

Recent exhibitions include Can't Breathe Without You, Anne Faggionato Fine Art, London (2003), Guilty (2003-04) and Fiction/Fear/Fact (2007), Bohen Foundation, New York, and Rachel Howard, Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles.

In 2008, Howard showed at Museum Van Loon, Amsterdam. She lives and works in London.

Rachel Howard, Mann im Wald, 2008-2009, Acrylic, oil and household gloss on canvas, 121.9 x 91.4 cm.

Rachel Howard, Ekstasis, 2006, Household gloss and acrylic on canvas, 182.9 x 121.9 cm, © Rachel Howard 2006.

Rachel Howard, Visual Memory (White), 2000, Household gloss on canvas, 61 x 61 cm, © Rachel Howard 2006.