Edgar Rowley berates the art lovers of the North West for failing to embrace the work of their best artist.
IMAGINE having a living artist in your midst of such established reputation you can buy mere photographs of her work from the rapacious money-spinning machine that is the British Museum.
Now imagine that not only do you chose not to buy her work, but instead favour an amateur Sunday dauber because you had been convinced, by the wily dealer, that the amateur was in fact the better long term prospect.
Welcome to the narrowly provincial world of northern art.
The trouble with the artist Ghislaine Howard is that she is just too cerebral and earnest to fit easily within the “Northern School” art market which now dominates regional sales above a certain level.
She is, one can say confidently, a little perplexed, that an artist who has an international reputation should be so neglected in her own back yard. Lowry, having exhibited in London, Paris and New York before Manchester, knew the feeling only too well.
The artist, who lives in Glossop , but is represented by galleries in Macclesfield, Didsbury and London is tackling important subjects with astonishing bravado and yet she is selling for barely more than second-rate painters trotting out endless stick figures walking beneath Stockport Viaduct.
This pseudo-Lowry school which offers the Prestbury businessman an infantile illusion of art, bedevils the regional art scene and has dragged many fine painters down the route of trotting out endless versions of the same Lowry pastiche.
For every Lowry, Theodore Major and Alan Lowndes, there are scores of pretenders throwing out what can only be termed dross for thousands of pounds.
Even those living painters whose talent has allowed them to the ride and escape the Northern School broncho – Geoffrey Key, Liam Spencer and Ben Kelly spring to mind – have spent precious artistic time denying their membership of a movement whose collectors provide them with the majority of sales.
Howard’s response has been to totally ignore the school, to look beyond it to a more classical vision of painting – ironically the same vision which helped create the “ school” which now parodies itself.
Her expressive and painterly style follows closely in the footsteps of Degas and Walter Sickert and in fact of Harry Rutherford a pupil of Sickert and one of the most important influences in the formation of a clear style for northern art.
As the high seriousness of both Sickert and Rutherford have been overwhelmed by today’s brightly painted daubings of Albert Square – Howard has had to rely on her own vision.
It has been served her well. She has shown her large cycle of paintings The Stations of the Cross / The Captive Figure to great acclaim at the two Liverpool Cathedrals, at Canterbury Cathedral and at Gloucester Cathedral as part of an ongoing tour of cathedral cities in UK. Her 25 foot high Visitation Altarpiece can be seen in Trinity Chapel at Liverpool Hope University
Her current project , The Seven Works of Mercy, show an artist of breathtaking self-belief (think of the arrogance of the concept) and consummate skill.
It should be no surprise to her admirers, and there are many in the UK, that such artistic boldness should be considered. She previously became arguably the first artist to depict the reality of child birth, a human function that male artists have tended to ether ignore or sanctify. Howard’s treatment was both brutally honest and tender and earned her the rare accolade of a one-woman show in the hallowed corridors of Manchester City Art Gallery.
It is the type of exhibition venue about which most living artists dream, but for Howard, who has exhibited in the Whitworth, the Imperial War Museum and the British Museum, it was hardly a breakthrough.
In fact before the Seven Works of Mercy, Howard was the only living artist to be included in a groundbreaking exhibition at The British Museum. Described as an exhibition 40,000 years in the making, it brought together masterpieces from the last Ice Age, the world’s oldest known scupltures, drawings and paintings and from more modern times her pregnant self-portrait (owned by the Whitworth) and works by Henry Moore, Mondrian and Matisse. A-List.
As she has matured so her painting style has developed. She still, like Lowry and Freud, has some difficulty in depicting human hands and her palette sometimes edges towards the dour, but these weaknesses are obliterated by her strong compositional skills and the compassion and painterly confidence she brings to her work.
It is no exaggeration to say that the painter, born in 1958, is a direct descendent of the Old Masters.
Article by Edgar Rowley via Cheshire Today
In 2013, Howard’s drawing Pregnant Self Portrait, 1987 was at the centre of the British Museum’s ground breaking exhibition Ice Age Art: Arrival of the Modern Mind, where it hung alongside 30,000 year old sculptures of pregnant women, some of the earliest representations of the human form. Read more.