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PICTURE IN FOCUS


Volunteer Gallery Steward, Richard Marchant, has written this week's blog and reflects upon Rachel Howard's Cat Amongst the Pigeons, 2014 - 2015.

I've been thinking about this work prompted by our visitors' response to its accessibility, the title gives the game away and some of our younger visitors not only readily identify the animal elements they sometimes spontaneously re-enact the drama in front of the canvas.
 
But it’s not quite as simple a scene as that because Rachel Howard's trade mark patterning recalls flock wallpaper and sculpted-pile carpets so the action is taking place indoors with no doubt serious consequences for the pigeons and the furnishings.
 
My search for parallels started badly with the Looney Tunes cartoon escapades of Sylvester the cat and Tweety Pie the bird. This became a dead end as there is only one bird, and that character always betters the cat.
 
I found a really sinister cat terrifying a caged goldfinch (to the point of the bird's total collapse) in Hogarth's quadruple portrait The Graham Children, 1742 (Tate). Hogarth is our most theatrical artist and this incident is a by-play to the main event which is the depiction of three girls and their brother. Also in the Tate Collection is Holman Hunt's, The Awakening Conscience, 1853. This painting is so full of symbolism it needs a dissertation but crouching under a chair in the lurid drawing-cum-music room is a cat with its feathered catch.
 
Then there is an arch-backed black cat caught mid-screech in Manet's Olympia, 1863(Musee d'Orsay), a work that ruffled many feathers in the art-world of Paris and beyond, but there is no bird in the picture.
 
Finally I settled on Turner. The work of his I chose used to be called Interior at Petworth (not by the artist, he left it untitled) but its present keeper, the Tate now title it Interior of a Great House: The Dining Room, East Cowes, c. 1830. When it was associated with Petworth the confusion in the image was blamed on Lord Egremont's dogs. Anyway there's lots of action going on with dashes and splashes of white that could represent armfuls of paper flung ceiling-wards, or doves taking flight indoors. So it’s much more in keeping with Rachel Howard's fluidity and again leaves the interpretation to the viewer.
 
Rachel's work also echoes Turner's achievement of depth without substance although her working methods are very different as she manages without impasto or palette knife. She has total control of her media and relies on wiping and the working of turps through the applied paint- then selectively swiping more paint across the surface. All her work in this show is enigmatic. It defies any forensic examination which seeks to establish the actual sequence of application so perhaps just stand back and appreciate a remarkable artist.
 
And if you can't get to London or Paris then the other artists' paintings can be found via good old Google, the images are only a click away!

Rachel Howard: At Sea runs until Sunday 4 October 2015
15 September, 2015
Written by Richard Marchant