‘Feast’ for the eyes

Joan Sullivan
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Jonathan Howse opens first solo show tonight at Christina Parker

— Submitted photo

The 23 works in Jonathan Howse’s “The Feast” (his first solo exhibition) are often about ritual and observance. People gathered around a kitchen table. Asian dishes arranged just so. “Food is what we might call a cultural ‘quilting point’,” Howse writes. “It is often believed that one of the greatest displays of a culture is its culinary tradition.” But they also tackle quite literally explosive subjects like environmental disasters. As Howse continued: “My goal is that this series of paintings will make you think about painting, and what a painting does.”

In terms of the medium, the paint is very physical, it has muscle. Water, whether sprayed from a hose or lapping a beach, is solid, and has heft. Mountains hunch and breach, exposing vertebrae. Even the visionary haloes Howse frequently incorporates are tactile.

And the paint also scuds and pools outside the formal shapes. In “Rig” (oil and acrylic on canvas, 40 x 40, 2013) specks and pods of colour seem to be flicked away from the superstructure.

The palette is bright and expressionistic, with lots of apricot, yellow, pale greens, and all shades of blue. The style is quasi-naïve (with people often looking straight out at the viewer, and a deliberate, playful flatness with perspective and spatial relationships) and incredibly assured (with zesty compositions that swirl representational imagery with recurring patterns and motifs). It works well with an eclectic range of subjects, such as portraits (among them several “Saints”, none of which look like a typical saint), landscape, offshore industry worksites, still life, and abstracts.

In “Blowout” (acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30, 2012) boats aim streams of water at a burning rig. In “Grandfather and Child” (oil and spray paint on canvas, 9 x 9, 2010) the figures’ realism has been almost completely occluded by wedges and splodges of paint.

In “Saint #1” (oil on canvas, 40 x 30, 2013) a brown and white collie sits with great alertness on a wooden chair by a round table, framed by greenery in an orange vase and a purple wall, while “Saint #2” (oil on canvas, 48 x 30, 2013) is a man, bearded, wearing glasses, staring off to the left, and “Saint # 4” (acrylic, oil and spray paint on canvas, 24 x 24, 2013) is face in black and white, on a sheet with ragged edges, against a  grainier background, all dappled with blue. Throughout there is a unity of approach, with Howse’s thick applications of paint, and his dynamic manipulation of it, which creates a visual harmony that buzzes and hums.

This still allows for quiet moments. In “Evening Camp” (oil on canvas, 8 x 10, 2011) a solitary figure makes a fire on a calm, crepuscular lakeshore. In “Saint #5” (acrylic, oil and spray paint on canvas, 30 x 30, 2013) white capsules and their dark ballooning undershadows drift upwards over a background that is part honeycomb, part catacomb. “Food #6” (acrylic on canvas, 14 x 12, 2013) is a poised configuration of three white plates and chopsticks on a lime cloth. This, like all the others, supplies food for thought.

     “The Feast” continues at Christina Parker Gallery until April 27.

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  • Critic Critic
    April 05, 2013 - 15:05

    Quasi naive is artspeak for not being able to paint.

  • Ninja Boy
    April 05, 2013 - 08:16

    Well, what a descriptive article. You could have saved fifty sentences by just showing more pictures instead of describing each one. Or is that quasi-naive of me?

    • Meander
      April 05, 2013 - 13:21

      Ninja boy said: "You could have saved fifty sentences by just showing more pictures instead of describing each one." Isn't the purpose of an exhibition review to describe the work as it is perceived? I love Joan's articles, great review.