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L’appel du vide, an exhibition of new work by Rachel Howard

Blain|Southern New York is to present L’appel du vide, an exhibition of new work by Rachel Howard. The artist’s first exhibition at the New York gallery, L’appel du vide will include painting, sculpture and works on paper.

Rachel Howard, L'Appel du Vide, 2019, Courtesy the artist and BlainSouthern, Photo Prudence Cuming
Rachel Howard, L’Appel du Vide, 2019, Courtesy the artist and BlainSouthern, Photo Prudence Cuming

The title of the exhibition translates as ‘the call of the void’: it is the voice that tells you to leap off the edge, the fleeting impulse to swerve into oncoming traffic, the curious ‘what if?’ call of self-destruction that’s ultimately ignored. It is this slippage between control and chaos that fascinates Howard.

The exhibition opens with five large-scale paintings dominated by a single hue – alizarin crimson. Howard pushes paint through lace curtains to imprint the complex patterns onto canvas. In some areas the pattern is distinct, in others it is obliterated as the blood-red paint pools under the synthetic material. Applying and reapplying the fabric with varying intensity causes the pattern to emerge and re-emerge in a cycle of gesture and erasure. Howard uses repetition, changing contrast and the shifting colours of the ground to create textures that draw the eye into and across the surface. On the top and bottom edges of the canvas, the glow of fluorescent yellow paint gives the paintings a forensic quality.

Elsewhere in the exhibition, Howard’s treatment of the grid echoes that of the lace – an ordered repetition which she then disrupts. In Missive to the Sad and Missive to the Mad (both 2019), there is an alchemy of sorts, as the artist experiments with the characteristics of oil paint, working out how much solvent she can apply to ‘unpick’ the densely lined plane, turning the canvas to use gravity and varnish to ‘tear’ the paint. An allusion to the forces of nature (erosion, gravity), Howard has described these paintings as ‘… an exploration or metaphor of uncertainty and instability’.

Sisters & Daughters (2018-2019) is a new sculptural installation comprised of 37 hazel sticks adorned with found material including feathers, animal skulls and plastic flowers the artist has encased in paint. The duality of staves as support and weapon reflects Howard’s interest in the world around her and its inherent contradictions: order and disorder, nature and the synthetic, the internal and external.

She brings a similar set of concerns to the works on paper, a series of figurative ink drawings created using a wet-on-wet method. Here, traces of the artist’s hand soften and dissolve into fluid, hazy lines evoking psychological and emotional themes.

Private View: Thursday 5 September, 6-8pm
Exhibition dates: 6 September – 26 October 2019

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