Artist David Howell

David Howell, Peacock Island, ca. 2006. artwork (c) the artist.

David Howell, Peacock Island, ca. 2006. artwork (c) the artist.

Growing up with a mother who was an artist, David Howell (born 1952), a painter in Philadelphia, Mississippi, recalls sleeping beside a Rousseau-inspired mural in the childhood room he shared with his brother, Mark: “We had bunk beds, and I was bottom bunk and the lion in that painting was right by my head. Always. And the eyes were always. . . you know they were real strong. I loved that, that painting, and I loved that wall.”

He remembers always creating and seeing the abstract paintings that his mother, Millie Howell, and her friends were producing. “So we had a good dose of, you know, what could be possible, not just . . . [put] in a box. . . you can be whatever you want to be.”

David Howell, Ant Movies, ca. 2006. mixed mediums. artwork (c) the artist.

David Howell, Ant Movies, ca. 2006. mixed mediums. artwork (c) the artist.

Except from learning from his mother, who encouraged her children to draw outside the lines, he didn’t have any formal art training until he went to the Memphis Art Academy.  Howell says that one year of art school “drove the creation right out of me.”

Several years later, to pursue a dream of being a comedy writer, he enrolled at Ole Miss and studied English. “I was there for two years, and I took creative writing. Ellen Douglas was my teacher.”

In 1982, he moved to New York City. His brother’s friend, the saxophonist George Cartwright, knew that David Howell was looking for work as a painter and told him, “Okay, I got my boss. He’s going to call you up, and he’s going to ask you if you know how to glaze walls, and you tell him yes.” Despite not knowing what glazing walls meant, he got the job and tells this story about the first day of his career as a faux-finish painter:

So the address was right across the street from Central Park and the Guggenheim Museum. Top floor suite. It was Mort Zuckerman’s apartment. Mort Zuckerman used to [own] U.S. News and World Report at the time. And also at the time he was dating Gloria Steinem so there’s pictures of him and Gloria Steinem all over the apartment.

So I walked in. There’s like 20 people, and the place was a madhouse. Everybody’s doing everything. There’s all these craftsmen doing different things. And, so, I walk in. George is there, and Mark, the boss, and he was having a heated discussion with one of the decorators. But anyway, they kept talking about this word, faux bois. ‘Faux bois, faux bois, faux bois.’ I kept thinking, ‘What the hell is faux bois?’

And I asked George, ‘What’s this word, faux bois? What the hell is that?’

[George] says, ‘Well that’s fake wood.’

[I] said ‘Yeah, so what is that?’

‘So we’re going to paint this wood to look like another kind of wood.’

I said, ‘Wait a minute. It’s already wood.’

‘Yeah.’

‘So we’re going to paint it to make it look like another kind of wood.’

He said ‘Yeah.’

I thought, ‘Man, only in New York City would people pay other people to paint wood to look like another kind of wood.’

And we had these guys from England would come over. And at the time, London had the only school of faux finishes. And they would show us different techniques. And after a while, I’m painting wood to look like another kind of wood. And it was, you know, the best learning experience I ever had. The best crew I’ve ever worked with. . . . everybody was either a writer, a musician or something else, you know.

David Howell, Deep Sea Summer. artwork (c) the artist.

David Howell, Deep Sea Summer. artwork (c) the artist.

Howell loved working as a faux finisher, but was ready to return to Mississippi after about five and a half years in New York. In his home state, in addition to faux finishing and painting exteriors and interiors of homes, he was commissioned about a year an a half ago to create a mural for Dick Molpus’ cabin. The result was five panels, each four feet by eight feet, of the history of the four-corners area of Neshoba, Leake, Attala, and Madison counties.

David Howell, study for murals at Dick Molpus cabin in Philadelphia, MS. artwork (c) the artist.

David Howell, study for murals at Dick Molpus cabin in Philadelphia, MS. artwork (c) the artist.

Before the mural commission, though, Millie Howell went behind her son’s back and entered one of his paintings in the Meridian Museum of Art’s BiState Art Juried Competition, one of the oldest juried art competitions in the region. It was selected, and she surprised him on his birthday, some years ago on January 11, with the acceptance card. His painting won an award that year, and his work continued to be shown in future competitions. He also shows at the Neshoba County Fair, where he laughs about the chicken wire separates the viewer from the artwork, and at Horne Gallery in Meridian. 

David Howell, Modern Moon Bride Magazine, 2001. artwork (c) the artist.

David Howell, Modern Moon Bride Magazine, 2001. artwork (c) the artist.

He prefers layering colors, textures, and even objects onto canvas. He explains,

I use spray paints. I like the immediacy of a spray paint. I like spraying on top of another color. Combing through it. Wiping it away. Doing another color. Just putting the objects on top of objects. Blocking things out. And I’ve gotten pretty good at controlling the spray from. . . close, far away, whatever. I’ll stand over the canvas and paint that way.

David Howell, Spectral Forest, 2015. mixed mediums. artwork (c) the artist.

David Howell, Spectral Forest, 2015. mixed mediums. artwork (c) the artist.

David Howell, Who Ordered the Chicken. artwork (c) the artist.

David Howell, Who Ordered the Chicken. artwork (c) the artist.

In addition to paintings with humorous titles, like Who Ordered The Chicken, David Howell also paints his cats. “I thought they should deserve just as much attention as a portrait,” he says.

David Howell, Self Portrait. artwork (c) the artist.

David Howell, Self Portrait. artwork (c) the artist.

David Howell, Bob and Scoob Are Accidentally Abducted. artwork (c) the artist.

David Howell, Bob and Scoob Are Accidentally Abducted.

David Howell

David Howell, January 2016, Philadelphia, Mississippi

More of David Howell’s work can be seen and ordered as Giclée prints on the website Society6.com/davidhowell.

Michael Ashley

As I mentioned in previous posts, I interviewed Michael and Laura Ashley of Ashley Studio Pottery in Tupelo in early March, 2015.

Michael Ashley of Ashley Studio Pottery

Michael Ashley of Ashley Studio Pottery

Michael Ashley makes pots to be used and to be experienced, not in an abstract way, but in a daily-life way that brings us to notice the food that we’re about to enjoy or to feel the warmth of the hot tea on a chilly evening. In 2005, he went to Taiwan as Artist in Residence in the Masters Ceramics Program at Tainan National University of the Arts. He took few belongings with him and lived in a small room with basically one suitcase and a tatami mat. He recalls making some pots when he arrived, to add to his small collection of pots from his friends and purchases in Tainan.

I sort of lived with them everyday, and they became my friends and I understood them in a different way because I was actually using them and I hadn’t really used pots before. [. . .] I think that’s one of the biggest things I learned in Taiwan was making and using handmade objects sort of everyday and I realized that it was something I wanted to do no matter where I was.

Prior to moving to Tupelo, Michael and Laura traveled together for school, to attend workshops, to teach, or for other work. Michael, who is passionate about cooking, said he paid attention to the cultural differences among regional foods, music, and climates, as all of it affects what he does. For example, he talked about a recent gathering they hosted in Tupelo:

We had a crawfish boil this weekend, and I want to make some big pots with the right kind of foot and just fill it with crawfish and have the corn on the top of it. You know, you don’t have crawfish whenever you’re in New England. You have clams and shrimp, so you have other things, but there might be a different idea associated with it.

A footed pot by Michael Ashley

A footed pot by Michael Ashley

Michael sums up his artist statement with one sentence: “Make something, use it, and then make more.” He explains:

That’s really kind of a credo that I’ve adopted, that I make something, and then I go cook, and I use it, and I put something in it, and I see what that does. Not necessarily just from the standpoint of, well, it’s too heavy or it’s too light or gravy looks good in this or potatoes look good, but more about just taking the pot and putting something in it and then making another pot. That’s pretty important to me, actually. I think not just because I get information from it, but [. . .] you know, I think it does something to me inside. Like if you’re a musician. [. . .] I just get fuel for the next thing by using pots.

 

Laura Ashley

Beth interviewing Laura Ashley 3-3-15_photo by M Ashley

Laura Ashley (left) being interviewed by Beth Batton on March 3, 2015. Photograph by Michael Ashley.

Most of this post is excerpted from my interview with Laura Ashley at Ashley Studio Pottery in Tupelo in early March, 2015.  At the studio, Laura and Michael Ashley design, create, and sell ceramic wares for the house and table.  They also teach classes there.

Laura's vase_750

A vase by Laura Ashley

Laura also is executive director of Gumtree Museum of Art. After having grown up in Tupelo, Laura earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in ceramics at the University of Mississippi in 2010. She talks about leaving Mississippi for graduate school:

Whenever I decided that I was going to be an artist, I sort of resigned myself to following the wind, I guess, or, following the jobs is more like it, because I knew that it was going to take leaving a place to learn from other people, especially the teachers that I wanted to learn from. They were not here.

I went to New York State College of Ceramics in Alfred University. It is a graduate program very, very specific to ceramics and also glass. [. . .] There’s a lot of material knowledge there that’s available to artists, which is really great. [. . .] It’s a very big program. There’s six faculty [members] as opposed to maybe two or three in the typical sort of art program. And so I got a huge range of opinions and thoughts from. . . and also technical knowledge from these sort of giants of the ceramic art world.

After graduate school, Laura spent a year at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia as Artist in Residence. Working in an urban experience taught her a lot and was enjoyable, but required working in a tight space with others and being as efficient as possible. “You know, again, there’s the whole issue of kiln firing and we were working in old city Philadelphia.”

She describes the transition in her work after graduate school from conceptual based tableware to focusing more on “functional, archetypal vessels that people can use in their homes and want to use”:

My work changed whenever I left graduate school to go to Philadelphia because all of a sudden, I wasn’t making work for the gallery per se anymore. [. . .] I wanted to sell to a specific person who would then take it and assimilate it into their domestic space. My pots at that time had a lot of ego attached to them: they had their own personalities, and it was almost as if they didn’t need you. You know, they had a very specific aesthetic. They were sort of a finished thought, and they didn’t need to travel to a domestic space to complete the concept. They were done. [. . .] I think I changed toward making more functional, traditional shapes and work when I went to Philadelphia and even more so when I came to Mississippi.

Glazed stoneware canisters by Laura Ashley

Glazed stoneware canisters by Laura Ashley

Being back in Tupelo, she says,

It’s really interesting, especially, you know, you leave maybe a place not knowing exactly who you are and what you’re going to become and then you come back and that’s completely changed and you have a path and sort of a purpose. I felt like it was time to come back. I think Mississippi is a really great place to be, especially to be an artist. I’m finding that I’m drawing a lot of inspiration just from being back home and feeding off that.

Michael & Laura Ashley 2_750

Michael & Laura Ashley