James Howell: Survey

James Howell: Survey

Friday, June 3, 2011Thursday, June 30, 2011


Santa Fe, NM USA

Charlotte Jackson Fine Art is honored to present the exhibition, Survey, by James Howell, which will run from June 3 and extend through June 30. The gallery is located at 554 South Guadalupe Street, in the Railyard Art District.

It is a rare thing to enter an exhibition and feel simultaneously that you are walking into a room of radical, contemporary art and yet also that you are somehow walking outside, in nature. It seems an impossible response, especially as Howell’s works are not figurative in any sense. The pieces in Survey, representing a study of James Howell’s work over several decades in a variety of media and formats, are achromatic studies of the color (or non-color, or rather all-colors-in-balance) gray. Yet somehow Howell’s minimalist works suggest entering a cave, or walking into diffuse space, cloud, fog, rain.

Howell creates this effect of seamless, open depth and movement of gray by a very precise process of gradation.

Mathematical formulae, based on the parabola, are used to determine the ratios of his mix of titanium white, ivory, black, and raw umber (to avoid a bluing effect) and to create progressive bands of ever lighter gray moving up the canvas. This careful exploration of saturation is not only produced on a single canvas, but is carried out between paintings—with works moving through stages from the palest breath of gray-white to the depth of gray. His ongoing project, systematically moving through the infinite subtleties of gray, is boggling to the imagination. This exhibition, with its range of works, allows the viewer a unique opportunity to catch a glimpse of the scope and range of what can be done with such a seemingly reduced set of parameters.

The temptation might be to focus on these elegant, spare canvases as presenting the height of culture, as an intellectual or conceptual study, but that would be to deny the reality of how these works effect the viewer. To step forward and peer into the depths of one of Howell’s pieces is to fall into a space of boundlessness, to move into and somehow be enveloped by a living, breathing space. The paintings require you to slow your breathing, your thoughts, your mind, your eyes. To pause and cock your head, almost as if in addition to seeing the piece, you might hear it.

Sculptor Alberto Giacometti once said, “If I see everything in gray, and in gray all the colors which I experience and which I would like to reproduce, then why should I use any other color?” This motto might equally ring true for Howell’s work. There is something infinitely possible about gray as a place of pivot, a place between. Gray glides between black and white, between yes and no, between question and answer. In Howell’s paintings it becomes almost possible, in the soft opening upward of their movement, to sympathetically feel how light fills up the space between instants of shadowy black. As you move from painting to painting and your attention sharpens, it also becomes possible to notice variations and emissions within Howell’s order. Howell purposefully omits certain ratios within a group of works so that what the eye expects is heightened. Howell, thinks of this process as accentuating time. The dialogue between seen and unseen, like the dialogue between black and white, becomes a part of how the viewer reads the exhibition.

As Howell says, “Limits reveal freedom and endless opportunity...” One has only to imagine the baffling chaos of choice an artist faces in the moment of creation, to begin to understand what Howell might mean. Howell, in the process of reductiveness, limiting himself so severely, has managed, paradoxically, to provide the viewer with a threshold onto the infinite.

For more information, contact: Press, Charlotte Jackson Fine Art, press@charlottejackson.com

554 South Guadalupe Street, Santa Fe, NM 87501, tel 505-989-8688, fax 505-989-9898, www.charlottejackson.com