THE PLEASURE GARDEN
The Pleasure Garden, Catherine Howe’s first exhibition with the gallery. The exhibition is accompanied by an essay by art critic and journalist Sarah Schmerler. Recently, Howe exchanged her studio in Midtown Manhattan for a barn in the Hudson Valley as a means of retreat and healing from a world spinning out of control. Seeking the calm of nature, Howe established her studio in a rugged, forested area. Yet nature, as Howe portrays it, is anything but tame and quiet. Howe combines Abstract Expressionism, Surrealism, and Pop among other references to create strangely feminine hybrid forms that assert themselves in expressive, larger-than-life works.
Howe’s “pleasure garden” provides a space for her to observe and reflect upon nature in its wilder form, where she is engulfed in the cyclical destruction and renewal of the landscape. The struggles and triumphs in the natural world are mirrored in Howe’s own practice. She works directly on the floor and uses her entire body in the painting process, working from the belly instead of the wrist, embracing spontaneity and chance. Her materials—powdered mica, silver, copper and gold leaf, beeswax, Carborundum grit, synthetic pigments, and Mylar sheeting—are selected for their ability to combine and transform in her pictures. The layers of color, textures, and the play between transparency and opacity create visual effects that are unlike anything that can be achieved with traditional painting practices. The gritty, glittering, or deeply matte surfaces have shifting hues and slippery, suggestive imagery that is hard to pin down.
There is a subtle yet persistent feminism that unites Howe’s work throughout her career. In The Pleasure Garden, she explores time-old metaphors of women and nature within fresh, new cultural contexts. Here, Mother Nature indeed gives life and nurtures, but she also insists on being heard. The floral, womanly shapes Howe creates are multi-dimensional and always complex, their surfaces changing as the viewer moves around the space. They are strong and together they are overwhelmingly powerful.