March of the Romantic -- Jaya Howey at Marginal Utility

The In Acts Out: Jaya Howey at Marginal Utility.
Mr. Howey, I’m confident, does create a “humorous contrast” between the highly-considered surfaces, and the flippant, banal titles of his paintings – but there was no way I could really know. Marginal Utility decided to hang the paintings – runic slabs of  mostly wet-clay, warm-gray, over various brightly-colored underlayers – without any text or explanation, save a cryptic newsprint scrap such as Marginal Utility is fond of. Only the ebb and flow of Howey’s thicket of marks were there to guide the viewer – and I’m entirely fine with this. Though it may turn off the casual visitor, or the “post-painting” painting neophyte, those who are already very interested in both the materiality of painting and the nascent ideas of painting, will feel themselves drawn in regardless. (A risky hang tends to divide the art-adults from the art-children, anyhow).
As I discussed afterward with a friend along for the visit, my frame of references includes many artists whom I, upon meeting new work, will almost unconsciously associate and categorize them with. It’s a mental sorting which helps with both looking and articulating. Upon viewing Howey for the first time (and it must be said, that I only know this Howey body of work well; his practice is widely divergent in style) within a minute I was thinking of Warren Rohrer. Rohrer is one of the local painting scene’s best hidden secrets (unfortunately); he was at the height of his powers during the eighties, dying in 1995. He utilized a similar push-and-pull exercise as Howey with the materials of paint, and with the possibilities of surface as a repository of ideas and belief. Brightly-colored, heavily influenced by drawing, calligraphy and the agricultural landscape (a kind of Updikian painter), Rohrer’s work is decidedly painting; there is little credence given to the possibility of post-painting – he is still feeding fundamentally off the abstract expressionist’s tap. Whereas Rohrer created an internal language of marks within each piece – only incidentally connected to the whole, his personality really being the consistent touchstone – Howey’s works are strongly reliant on the whole. The sparseness of stimuli almost requires this, so it does not collapse under its own weightlessness.  Indeed, as the press release states, Howey’s pictorial surfaces are pushed just shy of “compositional stability”. But again, whereas in Rohrer this is accomplished by an overwhelming flood of color, strata and mark-upon-mark, we’re given the most economical of means by Howey – but to the same end essentially: co-identification. Howey wants us to find a way in as much as Rohrer, but because each of them is drawing off quite different tributaries, their flow is divergent. But the same wide river of painting is nonetheless fed.
This paucity of “compositional stability” is what really appeals to me the most – that is of course, after the pleasingly moist-clay gray oil; the subtleties of brightness under the murk, and the beauty of the scratching – put simply, the gorgeous formality of it all. In fact, compositional stability increases, as the implication of painting being legion tells us, the more one takes in (or is taken in by) the entire show. Rather than being given a collection of short stories (there’s Updike again; how modernist!) we are seeing the chapters of a novel. In German, “novel” is Roman (pronounced roe-monn) – and the role of neo-romanticism is evident. The romance in Howey’s paintings though, is not of the hero, the hapless sidekick or the wooed woman – it is rather the story of painting itself. Each scratch into the paint, creating the buzz of moist burrs, tries to accomplish what all romantics are after – a direct line from the body to the heart…not a cord to be twanged at whim, but to function as a real tap for real emotion. In the current environment of high irony as craftsmanship, and winking, humorless humor, this is a tall order. But I believe this neo-romanticism will continue to march in, even if on matchstick legs such as Howey’s. Bravo to him for realizing it, and bravo to Marginal Utility for verifying it by making us rely on the old-fashioned gaze for information. How romantic is that?

(top, Jaya Howey; from
(below, Warren Rohrer, from

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