New York

Michael Howard

Michael Walls Gallery

Four big paintings in Michael Howard's show are modeled on illustrations for hunting tales in magazines. These scenes of confrontation between armed hunters with dogs and wild bears gave Howard the format for painterly demonstrations. The colors on these large two-panel canvases—mainly brown, black, blue, green and red—form a palette as simple as a woodsman's plaid. Howard doesn't reproduce his magazine models. He brushes his pigment on freely, brusquely indicating the figures of man and beast and making the areas between them into partly independent spiky shapes. Maybe Howard doesn't care what subjects he paints. For four days prior to his show, he hung nine other artists' paintings, all of them based on the cover picture of a sporting goods catalogue. That pre-exhibition implies that Howard thinks of his subjects as mere containers for style. But then his treatment of manly outdoor scenes smacks of painterly bravura; the implicit equivalence is painter as hunter. The theme of man, dogs and bear appears on comical billboards throughout the Southwest to advertise a Reno gambling club. The Howard painting I'd put in my saloon depicts a roaring bear struck by an arrow to the chest, ripping off a thick branch as it falls away from the tree it had been climbing.

Three four-foot-square paintings recall the Surrealist “battle of fishes” theme, the weightless underwater as a metaphor for pictorial space. In them Howard paints not only fish, but fishing lines with fly hooks and spinners depicted as if thrown inward from the canvas edges. These are corollary images for the drips, spatters and other painterly marks in the composition. Several of these square paintings (including portraits of Pollock and Cézanne) were composed from the inside out, onion style. Enframing bands and sometimes rows of silhouette shapes derived from shooting gallery popups are used in a quasi-hierarchical fashion to reinforce a central image.

Alan Moore