I first featured the British painter Rachel Howard on this site in 2018, when I saw a stately and sombre show of hers in Damien Hirst’s cavernous Newport Street Gallery. Back then, she showed works based around the stations of the cross. This new exhibition, Howard’s first at Simon Lee, is a more intimate affair, both spatially, in that the Mayfair gallery’s a bit pokier, and in the subject matter.
Howard’s famous for large-format gloss paintings, like the ones she showed at Newport Street. But in this new show there are a set of smaller-format oil paintings, each featuring the same view: a country lane, with an overhanging tree and a gate. Path to Edge (gold), pictured below, is an example.
According to the show notes, Howard has obsessively painted this particular view, “the path to Edge”, for a decade. I guess it’s a country road to the town of Edge in Cheshire. Perhaps it’s near her studio. Perhaps she paints from photos. Perhaps it’s just a scene in her mind’s eye that she can’t let go of.
More extreme formal experiments can be seen in the larger format works, though Howard maintains the pastoral theme of the exhibition.
Laughing Tree, pictured above, features the vertical drip pattern I noticed - and loved - in the artist’s Newport Street Gallery exhibition. Horizontal colour blocks are overlaid with a stencilled, wallpaper-like designs of trees and flowers. These slowly fade out as the eye travels down the large canvas.
Howard has made increasing use in recent years of spraying paint over and through stencils, lending works like this a formal regularity.
She brings the medium of paint together to create a mood of emptiness. Of almost-but-not-quite harmony. Kind of like a country road as the night draws in. Pretty, but with a sense of something sinister lurking in the shadows…
Rachel Howard: You Have a New Memory is at Simon Lee (London). 01 October - 14 November 2021