Nick Howson

The World Is My Village

August 25 - September 8 2018

The title of Melbourne-based Nick Howson's latest body of work is not, as might be imagined, to do with the idea of a global village where the world is considered a single community linked by technology It may rather be thought of as the observed world simplified and transfigured within a village of creative ruminations. Reference is however made in a number of paintings to the inexorable growth of ever more closely connected communities, or ‘villages', on the physical plane.

Although his home and studio has been in the inner-city suburb of Richmond for many years, Howson grew up in Geelong and often journeys back to visit family members still residing there. In recent times he has witnessed the once rural landscape of patchwork-like paddocks being rapidly subsumed under generic-looking housing estates that now stretch along the freeway linking Geelong to Melbourne. Driving home across the Westgate Bridge Howson had happened to glance down upon the multitude of rooftops, the shapes of which triggered new art-making possibilities.

Howson's paintings have never been literal representations. Although triangular-roofed houses inform the imagery, they exist as a visual language. His concern lies more in using them as vehicles for abstract investigations into colour value and pictorial structure. Every geometrical shape and motif has been carefully composed to produce aesthetic outcomes. The utilisation of a flat, two-dimensional format with extraneous detail pared away encourages the viewer to relate to the subtle compositional relationships at play within the works. The scumbling of multiple layers of oil pigment into coarsely textured Belgian linen creates Howson's signature, indefinite atmospheres.

The small work Cairns is a wonderful example of Howson's artistic process. Unconcerned with realistic depiction, the imagery is completely the product of his imagination - he has never been to Cairns. Characteristically, this painting evolved without premeditation or preliminary sketch. Howson prefers to allow the energies of colour and shape to suggest placement. The unusual, inverted roof structures on the foreground buildings were inspired by the aerial perspective of rooftops when he crossed the Westgate Bridge. Juxtaposed against contrasting front elevation viewpoints and the absence of a horizon line, it is a thoroughly abstract piece, satisfying in itself. The suffusing warmth generated by the palette and the strong tonal variations, along with the addition of stilts and a palm tree, gave subsequent rise to the title.

Seemingly anomalous to the theme of human habitation objectives, the exhibition is interspersed with paintings of wild creatures. A possible environmental relevance imbues the Tassie Tiger work. Enveloped by dense nocturnal foliage, the animal has been rendered as if in a state of heightened awareness. Peeking over a dark frond in the background, an amorphous being surveys the scenario. Howson maintains it is a bird, as in his earlier works where the placement of birds ‘gave voice to the subject'. However, the dome-shaped head and disposition does bring to mind the WW1 graffiti character, Foo Was Here (foo: acronym of Forward Observation Officer).

Narrative has never been Howson's primary focus. His art communicates a visual experience beyond the strictures of traditional landscape painting. The images exist as masterful reflections of his search for harmony in an orchestration of colour and shape.



» Back to previous page