I arrived at Howard’s studio armed with burritos and tortilla chips for a quick lunch. I was starving and couldn’t wait to devour the massive chicken filled guacamole slathered tortilla. On the drive over my taste buds were being titillated by the smell of grilled poultry and onions. I was ready to bust a grub and devour el burrito supremo. The plan was to eat, glance at some new work and leave in time to make it to my afternoon spinning class. The extra helping of sour cream I ordered would require immediate calorie burning.
It had been a while since I had visited the warehouse and I had forgotten how raw the studio actually was. The concrete floors were splattered with a myriad of colors and Howard’s tools were scattered everywhere. I had to watch my step in fear of walking into one of the many blank canvases awaiting its transformation at the hands of my brother. Howard was deep in thought as he added finishing touches to his latest piece. Lunch was going to have to wait for him and proper etiquette stated I must wait too. So I sat down, elbow on table cheek in palm, and pondered the meaning of life. That lasted for about thirty seconds.
“Almost done?” I asked.
No answer. Howard was in a zone.
“Hello? Earth to Howard.”
“Aw, the hell with it,” I said and dug into my lunch.
As I chowed down, I watched as my brother took a piece of charcoal and struck the corner of the canvas. The initial movement down the right side of the painting was fast and ferocious but suddenly his velocity changed. Howard contained himself midway through his violent blow and ended the dark black line with a slow delicate gesture.
He stepped backwards folding his arms in front of his chest. He stared at the painting with laser-like intensity. Then he turned towards me with the same look.
“What do you think?“ he asked.
“I like it,” I said in between bites.
“Well, what stands out?”
I hesitated, “Um, the dramatic colors?”
“Okay, but do you see a faint purple within the black paint?”
Honestly I wasn’t sure how to respond. I knew every mark on the canvas had an intention. Just like a writer carefully chooses his words to tell a story, a painter does the same with each stroke. I knew Howard’s painting spoke with its shapes and colors. I also knew each mark was intentional with the purpose of eliciting a specific response. The problem was I just didn’t see how.
My art knowledge wasn’t that of a novice. I had worked in art galleries and museums years ago, yet I still felt clueless discussing Howard’s work with him. I took my last bite, wiped my mouth and walked over to the painting. I planted my feet firmly on the ground in front of it and this time I really looked at the art in front of me. I ingested it. There were different textures projecting from the surface. The colors bled together in some places and hovered over each other in other spots. The lines and shapes had purpose now. Some conveyed multiple meanings. At times I saw several images from just one shape. The painting was now alive to me.
I ended up missing my spinning class because I chose to stay longer at the studio to continue studying the artistry in front of me. It was worth the additional cellulite. My afternoon resonated with me on my drive home and days later. I was moved by the experience and decided to put pen to paper, or in this case, fingers to keyboard. Yes, when I first glanced at Howard’s new work I was moved by it. It projected so much frenetic energy and this was a good thing. The art immediately shook me. The colors and gestural markings were evocative and grabbed my attention. That is probably any artist’s goal. However, I realized the real talent is when that first glance is over and you want to stay and see more. Howard’s work is layered and purposeful but also has conceptual underpinnings. It’s bombastic imagery makes the viewer believe the painting was created fast without a specific intention but I learned that day that’s a false interpretation. I now know the energy should pull you in but it is sophisticated structure and multiple facets that keep you looking and analyzing for more.