The title Der Kuss, the kiss, suggests a delicate point of intimate contact, of love or betrayal.
The exhibition is divided into two rooms, in the first are paintings of grids and lines, disintegrated surfaces that hint at unstable worlds, entropy and collapse. There are also crashed planes here; based on everyday press images they reflect the relentless menace of death as depicted in the news. Howard suspends the image in a pastel haze, transmuting these snapshots into images of universal suffering, or perhaps they are self-portraits installed into a delicate afterlife, where we can look at them forever.
In the same room, with her new series of sculptures, Not the last (RSM) #1-7, Howard has taken packs of kitsch plastic flowers, the type you might find at a makeshift memorial, to reflect on everyday suffering with even more ambiguous forms. Dipping the flowers into an acrylic medium, she repeatedly coats them before they are hung upside down to drip and dry. The plastic stems and petals become soft curves, their forms carved by the force of gravity on a liquid medium. Formed from a blend of artifice and chance, the new objects are then cast in bronze. A simultaneous nod to nature (erosion, gravity, death) and unchangeable synthetic form, time is suspended in the curves and surfaces.
In the second room are the four large abstract paintings that form the quartet titled On Violence (Spring), On Violence (Summer), On Violence (Autumn) and On Violence (Winter) (2017). On Violence is a reference to Hannah Arendt’s book that distinguishes between violence and power. When applied to Howard’s paintings the title takes on a new rhythmic force. Even as the seasons change, violence persists – even foregrounded – as if it were the driving force to all human history. Meanwhile, the seasons come around again, tucked away in brackets, powerless. The paintings start with a large curtain textile that the artist uses to push paint onto the canvas, revealing patterns, reapplying with varying intensities to create smudges and areas of pooled pigment. The seasons are demarcated subtly by the artist’s choice of pattern, which might vary within the same painting. For spring, we see figures from nursery rhymes, while summer is lush with flowers and leaves, and winter’s bare tendrils are more rigid and formal. For Howard ‘the pattern conjures an interior with a history…’ and alludes to the raw fragmented nature of memory, as the pattern is forced onto the surface, but then slips away or is erased. Howard says ‘We are presented with endless imagery, shorn off walls of homes in war zones exposing the intimate everyday environment within, broken walls of private spaces of supposed safety.
Rachel Howard asks us to consider how memory can fix on banal imagery as a reference point for a dramatic or traumatic occurrences such as war. She questions what lies beyond the wallpaper, beyond the surface, beyond the fissures that so often open up in an otherwise unbroken layering of paint.
Der Kuss is accompanied by a new publication featuring colour plates of artworks from 2013 – 2017, museum installation images, reference materials from the artist’s archive and texts by Darian Leader, Craig Burnett and poet Kate Dent.