19 May 2018

Rachel Howard at Newport Street Gallery

The series, "Repetition is Truth - Via Dolorosa" includes 14 paintings, in parallel with the Stations of the Cross, and standing in front of each does make you pause. The colours are subtle, the content is abstracted, the finish is extraordinary. And the connection to violence, horror, atrocity isn't immediately obvious.

But the subject matter is based on a famous photograph, The Hooded Man - showing the torture of an Iraqui detainee at Abu Ghraib prison in 2004. 
Study, 2005

A small painting that started a large series
Walking between the paintings in the large rooms in the gallery is rather like visiting a cathedral...

Howard's method of creating these works involves a process stretched out over time. She uses household gloss paint, and allows it to sit in the can so that pigment and varnish separate. Standing on ladders and scaffolding, she pours "vast swathes" of the pigment down from the top of the canvas "before using the varnish to add weight and momentum to the medium, pushing the paint down the surface to produce a veil-like effect". Each layer is left to dry for a month. Sometimes she applies a layer of acrylic paint before the gloss, "giving rise to occasional glimpses of fluorescence".
Shiny, glossy, smooth, subtle
The layers of paint and the veil of varnish create a subliminal surface, catching the internal and external lighting in subtle ways -
More glimpses of under-layers at the edge

Howard became fixated by the box the hooded man was standing on - an interplay with the cross in the crucifixion - which emerges and dissolves in some of the paintings -
The fascinating box - with "glimpses of fluorescence"

 The information leaflet offers a fuller explanation -

Showing till 28 May.

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