Born in 1969 in Easington, County Durham, Rachel Howard lives and works in the United Kingdom. She received her BA from Goldsmiths College in London, and in 2004 she received the British Council Award and shortlisted for the Jerwood Drawing Prize in 2008. Internationally renowned, Howard’s work has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions and projects. Throughout the past 25 years, Howard has explored and challenged the capacities of paint, creating works that grapple with notions of uncertainty, fragility, beauty, and pain. Revelling in the sheer joy of her chosen material, Howard’s intensely physical approach to painting encourages tensions to play out between control and chaos, order and entropy, making and unmaking, beauty and destruction.
From now until November 14, 2021, Simon Lee Gallery presents You Have a New Memory - Rachel Howard’s inaugural exhibition with the gallery in London. This show brings together a new body of work that continues Howard’s pursuit of the possibilities of painting through experimentation. In this exhibition Howard returns to colour with zeal, presenting paintings that endeavour to express the instability of life, the absurd, along with fantasies of an unknowable future. A series of new, large canvases includes works such as You Have a New Memory, (albeit a synthetic one), which gives us a reminder of things past. Similarly, the subject of the painting Laughing Tree, is not a real tree but a simulacrum of a simulacrum. Synthetic nature is scrolled on the canvas, veils of ‘fake’ flowers and leaves flow down the surface, dissolving into the distance, atomised into a haze. Sharp lines slice through the spray, prompting the viewer to contemplate whether this is weather, static of a glitch?
Elsewhere in the exhibition, Howard focuses on the vista - the path to the edge, walked, painted, drawn, photographed, and filmed by the artist for over a decade. These small works are painted sometimes in situ, sometimes from photographs but often from memory, or a memory of a feeling. Some are intensely worked, others swiftly transcribed. For Howard, the repetition of rendering the view acts as a form of security and certainty in an ambiguous world: this place does exist, this is real and the artist is not mad.
Downstairs, Howard’s ongoing series of flower sculptures map her curiosity with what paint can do. She presents fake plastic flowers that have been submerged and resubmerged into buckets of acrylic primer, then left to hang upside down to drip dry. The plastic stems and petals become soft curves; their forms manipulated by the force of gravity on the liquid medium. Formed by a blend of artifice and chance, the works are finally dipped in household gloss paint, giving a deceptive appearance of porcelain or bone. The sculptures bring to mind the rocks of Chinese scholars’ - the process has parallels: the stones would be chosen, cut and carved, then left in lakes so water would erode their forms. Not quite nature, not quite art, the rocks become both at once. In Howard’s sculptures, time is suspended in the curves and surfaces of an evocative object of contemplation. She integrates her synthetic floral forms within wooden plinths, choosing to place them not on top of the structure but in a recess underneath the surface, as well as using the floor as the final resting place for the sculptures elsewhere in the gallery. As you walk along this imaginary avenue of memories, is it still necessary to distinguish between true and false? Allow the scenes that unfold before you create new memories for you to cherish.