Diaphaneity. When was the last time you encountered that word? Perhaps never. But you likely embody it almost at all times.
It's hard to locate the image in each painting as you walk among them. Because of the density of their arrangement, you're too close to make out the human figures without a real effort of attention. Each painting reveals just enough of a figure (asked if the figures were all female, Howard impishly answered "yes-ish") to make you feel like you're alone in an ambivalent crowd, but they're also pictorially indeterminate enough to seem naturally occurring like trees, prompting curious exploration of the space. You have to figure out how to experience this: as individual paintings or as a whole installation.
Against a peach background wash, a dancer squats in profile, back against a wall, arms over her head, extended to a mutual fist. Her body outlines burst with blue and purple like ink emerging from an underwater crack. The yellow that fills parts of her body bleeds into the line colors. The interpenetration of the colors balances a kinetic impression against the meditative posture of the woman. She's both at the mercy of and impervious to the inchoate blurs that comprise her.
In another piece, an upside-down figure hovers both behind and in front of a green shimmering field. Her body wavers and fades. But her closed eye and open mouth visually jut from the piece in emphatic, unmodulated browns, drawing the eye away from the gentle greens. "Yeah, she turned into a zombie," Howard joked about the facial contrast. Nonetheless, this sleeper is both peaceful and threatening.
The afternoon before the opening, Howard perched on a ladder, sanding the backs of the banners to thin the fabric in certain areas in order to allow more light through. "You have to break it in and play with it a lot for the fabric to accept the paint," she explained, implicating the limited randomness of the polyester's role in her painterly gestures. "Everything was a kind of quick mark or split-second decision."
Something multiple and singular—like, for instance, you or anyone—should be hard to look at. Form and meaning have as tenuous and problematic a relationship as body and identity. These relationships will be addressed in a panel discussion in the gallery on Saturday, Oct. 8 at 1 p.m. entitled "Female Bodies, Female Artists: Reclaiming Gaze and Promoting Positive Self-Image," hosted by the Duke Center for Eating Disorders. Howard and others will share how making images can express issues in a way that possibly feed positivity back upon the viewer, as well as the artist who creates them.