This survey of paintings by Mike Howard examines some of the artist’s consistent themes, including hunting and fishing, food, art, and popular culture. Howard grew up in Phenix City, Alabama, before moving to New York in the early 1970s. He has had a modest career as a respected, if under-appreciated, Expressionist, best known during the heyday of the East Village scene in the 1980s. His intelligence and humor were most evident in the 1985 Win a Trip to Paris Sweepstakes exhibition at Gracie Mansion Gallery in New York, which included 100 numbered canvases, each with an image of a plane flying over the Eiffel Tower. The canvases were sold as raffle tickets to win the trip, slyly commenting on the concept of “art as investment.”
Howard’s work has always focused on masculinity and desire from a populist point of view, and while he has painted scenes of hunting and fishing with great verve, he is not a sportsman or outdoor enthusiast per se. His work relies on bank calendars, L.L.Bean catalogues, and advertisements for their inspiration and authenticity, as befits a latter-day Pop artist. Howard is a “faux” realist, borrowing from Edouard Manet and Thomas Eakins in order to paint still lifes of fast food, bars, and beer.
Good Ole Boy includes works that Howard created in 1991 for a show at the Baby Doll Lounge, an unspectacular topless bar in lower Manhattan frequented by neighborhood men. At the time, the artist thought the location would be the perfect site for paintings about “the hunt” and would poke fun at what he considered his underwhelming career trajectory. Clearly aligning himself with the dancing girls rather than the male customers, Howard hung his paintings like backdrops for their gyrations, and he included bold statements like “Tips Are Appreciated.”
Good Ole Boy coincides with an exhibition of the artist’s “murder-related” paintings at the Illges Gallery at Columbus State University, Georgia, Oct 1-22, 2011. Included works are about Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lennon, and the assassination of Alabama Attorney General-Elect Albert Patterson, an event that occurred in 1954 in the artist’s hometown.
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Baby Doll Lounge (with Beer), 1991, Acrylic on canvas, Courtesy the artist
McDonalds, February 22, 1987, 1987, Acrylic on canvas, Courtesy the artist
Untitled (detail), 1974, Acrylic on canvas, Courtesy the artist