Artist shares grand vision of ‘Coming Home’ in new exhibit
Published 3:00 am Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Viewing Mike Howard’s huge canvas paintings is like taking a Sunday afternoon drive to Needmore, Sandfill or along other rural roads in Pike County. It’s like being away for a long while and then “Coming Home,” said Vicki Pritchett, executive director, Johnson Center for the Arts.
Howard’s exhibition at the Johnson Center is titled “Coming Home” and includes landscapes and scenes from the rural South.
Howard was at the Johnson Center Monday to oversee the hanging of the giant canvases that include rural scenes from Alabama, Georgia and New York State.
Although his paintings feature farm animals from A to Z and field and stream scenes, Howard admittedly is neither a farm boy nor a sportsman. In fact, he has, at times, gotten his inspiration from the L.L. Bean catalogue.
“I don’t know where this comes from,” Howard said as he gestured toward the canvases that covered the floor of the JCA. “I just don’t know.”
But what Howard does know is the rural areas of Alabama provide some of the most magnificent landscapes anywhere.
He has studios in Brooklyn, New York and Hurtsboro. He said the stretch of roads from Hurtsboro along State Highway 51 wind through “absolutely beautiful country.”
Howard’s mother was from the Sandfill community and he has family in and around Pike County. So, he has roots in rural places.
And, perhaps, it was those roots that inspired him to paint rural scenes even when immersed in the sophisticated New York art culture.
“I wasn’t going to change what I did,” Howard said, with a smile.
Howard was born and raised in Phenix City and attended the University of Georgia. He was accepted at the most prestigious college art program, the Whitney Museum Independent Study program in New York City.
Before he became a professional artist, Howard was a curator. He was impressed by, but not influenced by, the works of artists including Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol.
“We were hanging a show for Andy Warhol and had all of the artwork spread out,” he said. “We got word that Warhol was on the way. He walked in, took a quick look and said ‘that’s good’ and walked out.”
Howard was more involved in the hanging of his show at the Johnson Center than Warhol was in his. First, Howard was involved in selecting which pieces would show and which would be rolled and tubed.
And, it took a village to hang the show. City workers, artists who just happened to drop by, Johnson Center staff members and anybody else who could hold the ladder steady.
“We have never had an exhibit like this,” Pritchett said. “Some of the canvases are huge and others are just big. The paintings look like you could walk right into them. It ‘is’ like you are riding along the roads in Pike County and enjoying the views. This is an incredible exhibit.”
Howard and noted photographer Jerry Siegel will present an ArtTalk from 6 until 8 p.m. Friday at the Johnson Center. The public is invited to the reception/art talk and to view the exhibits of both artists. Howard’s “Coming Home” and Siegel’s “Responding to Home: In the Heart of Alabama” exhibits are now open at the Johnson Center on East Walnut Street in downtown Troy.