Artist Statement

As an artist, I explore themes of creation and destruction,  the illusion of permanence and the inevitability of change. Just as nature transformed the earth over millennia resulting in the world as we know it, including us, so too does humanity both destroy and recreate our planet with an outcome that is both profound and uncertain.

My works serve as an analogy to the powerful forces of both nature and humanity. Using found objects, impermanent media and imagery whose original purpose has become obsolete, I have rearranged their parts to create new and unexpected forms. My work also often contains multiple levels of visual interest, withs pieces having abstract and geometrical structures at a distance, colors and tones with, with closer inspection, reveal remnants of information and additional layers of patterns, forms and materials.

Rearranged World series

My “Rearranged World” series serve as an analogy to the destructive and creative processes of both nature and humanity, and how humans try to transform the chaos of nature into order. Each piece begins with letterpress typeset tray, discarded from a Chinese print shop that used a technology that has been supplanted by digital reproduction. Inserted within each niche are strips of maps taken from old atlases, with representations of a “rearranged” world from our recent past, one that has since been further altered by humanity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cartography series

When I conceived of Cartography series piece, I wanted to work large but was not in a location where I could purchase and transport large canvases, so I made the work from small pieces of cardboard I found in the street and piece together. I made a couple of important discoveries working this way. Using “recycled” materials freed me up to be less precious about the work, allowing me to explore themes and styles in a way that I resisted previously. The modularity also allowed me to continuously expand and contract the scale of each work, swapping and exchanging entire sections of a work that could theoretically be any size that I want.  I’ve worked on sections of Cartography since 2000 and most recently combined a very large and previously unrelated portions into a mural installation.

Cartography, 2010-2016. Mixed media, 96″ x 300″ in. more or less

  

 

   

 

New from the studio

I’ve recently continued my work on the Rearranged World series, exploring some new forms ad colors. The future of this series is up for review as I have created works with all of the original type trays I originally found and there are unlikely to be more in the world just like them as they were painstakingly handmade with strips of wood and tin.

 

 

 

Cartography

Cartography, 2010-2016. Mixed media, 96″ x 300″ in. more or less

Cartography began as a continuation of my ongoing themes, combining map imagery with wrestlers, symbolizing how human conflict has effectively reshaped the earth in our image and to accommodate us.

When I conceived of the piece, I wanted to work large but was not in a location where I could purchase and transport large canvases, so I made the work from small pieces of cardboard I found in the street, each scrap additing it’s own aesthetic and history to the piece. Working modularly and with “recycled” materials also freed me up to be less precious about the work, allowing me to explore themes and styles in a way that I resisted previously. As another bene t, I could choose to work inany size I wanted and to con- tinue to grow the piece in any direction.

I’ve worked on sections of Cartography since 2000 and most recently combined very large and previously unrelated portions into a mural installation, pictured above.

Fall 2016 Open Studios at Arc Studios

 

mural-composite

Cartography, 2010-2016. Mixed media, 96 x 360+ in.

ArtSpan’s SF Open Studios provides the public with an opportunity to see artists in their workspaces. Art lovers are invited to meet the artists and build their art collections. Join us in the South of Market (SOMA) neighborhood to view a multitude of artists in their workspaces, all within walking distance.

Arc Studios

Location: 1246 Folsom Street, San Francisco, CA 94103 (map)

Preview Reception:  Friday, October 21st, 6-9PM

Open Studios:  October 22nd & 23rd, 11AM to 6PM

Arc Studio Artists

Kathy Fujii-Oka, Dianne Hoffman, Peter Howells, Soad Kader, Bonnie Levinson, Sasha Merritt, Priscilla Otani, William Salit, Debra Cook Shapiro, Tracy Starr, Denise Tarantino, Samanta Tello, and Stephen C. Wagner

Guest Artists

Carrington Arredondo, Johnny Botts, Jeanne Hauser, Mike Kimball, Barbara Kleinhans, John Kraft, Erin Malone, Alan Mazzetti, Michele de la Menardiere, Sean O’Donnell, Ken Sloan, and Tanya Wilkinson

​”Identity” Arc Studio Artists Group Exhibition

howells-identityI moved into a new studio this year and the resident artists have a group show in the spring. I’ll be showing some recent work in the gallery space on the first floor and large installation piece in my studio workspace on the second floor. You can visit me in my studio during the reception on Friday, March 25 from 7-10 pm and on Saturday, March 26, 12-3 pm.

Exhibition

Arc Studios & Gallery
1246 Folsom Street, San Francisco, CA 94103
March 22 – April 30, 2016

Opening Reception

Friday, March 25th, 7-10PM

Arc Studio Artists

Kathy Fujii-Oka, Dianne Hoffman, Peter Howells, Soad Kader, Bonnie Levinson, Sasha Merritt, Priscilla Otani, William Salit, Debra Cook Shapiro, Tracy Starr, Denise Tarantino, Samanta Tello & Stephen C. Wagner, with Matthew Frederick

Arc artist studios will be open during the Opening Reception for an opportunity to see artists in their workspaces – Art lovers are invited to meet the artists and build their art collections.

Full details at arc-sf.com

The cover design for my sister’s debut album, Melange

melange-1600x1600My sister and brother-in-law, Karin and Mike Kelleher, recorded an album that’s a fusion of jazz and classical styles, and asked me to create the cover art. I took the photo for the cover in Humiston Woods, outside of Pontiac, Illinois, during the fall, catching the mix of the color of the leaves with reflections in the water.

The design represents the theme of the album called “Melange,” which “not only blends jazz and classical compositions and styles, it also combines different eras, with unique instrumentation, including string quartet, acoustic bass, drums, guitar, oboe, and voice — all acoustic instruments and performances.”

Check out their website kellehermusic.com. Melange is available for download on iTunes and on Amazon.

Camp Humiston Pool, Pontiac, Illinois

One of the few remaining above-ground public swimming pools, Camp Humiston Pool in Pontiac, Illinois is impractical to restore and will likely be slated for demolition unless it can be repurposed. Built in 1925, is has been left to decay for many years but is still fondly remembered by many who came here during summers past. This video is for my friend Diane.

Do Do Do

Do Do Do

Do Do Do, 2005. Mixed media (colored paper, oil marker), size variable.

I wish I could tell you that the production of this work was not the result of obsessive rumination, but… The “tasks” I captured on these hand-crafted “Post-its” were internal imperatives, bottled up as I prepared for a one-person show in 2005. I had also just completed a mixed media workshop, allowing myself to stretch beyond representative painting and drawing into works that could more directly and quickly communicate my feelings. As I prepared my exhaustive “to do” list for the show, I started to question my motivations for creating art and my need to express myself, and these notes to myself took on a life of their own.

Do Do DoI chose paper and colors carefully to provide a degree of separation from literal sticky notes. I also wanted the work to read on a couple of levels, as an abstract work from across the distance but revealing an entirely different layer of meaning when viewed close up, with word play and inversion of clichés to disrupt the viewer’s expectations.

I showed this work for one week, then took it down and stuck in a Ziplock bag for 10 years. Last year, I decided it was time to recreate it and was surprised that I still find it both amusing and compelling. Many of the sentiments I captured were genuine and still resonate with me, representing my hopes, insecurities and under-realizable dreams as an artist and as person trying to create meaningful life while conforming to societal expectations of acceptable and admirable behavior.

Zoom in

 

The Cost of Not Getting Lost

I recently disconnected from the internet for a week, intentionally curtailing my use of my various iGadgets. I did not check Facebook for the latest witticisms from my friends, didn’t read the latest Kardashian gossip on Gawker nor skim the news headlines for the latest outrageous quote from a likely Republican presidential candidate or failure of our government to pass meaningful legislation. In the simplest terms, I stopped relying on technology to fill my spare moments and to answer every minor question. I would go to the internet if I needed to, not when I felt like it and had the opportunity (which is now all the time). Since my job is in the Internet, being completely offline was not really an option. And wasn’t the point.

I wanted to remember what it was like before being constantly connected. In the past few years, I have noticed myself being compelled more and more to reach for the phone each time my attention wasn’t otherwise required. If I think hard enough, I can remember when I used to read books and magazines. I used to watch TV shows when they aired or I missed them. I used to do housework, to make art, to write long, personal emails and even letters or made phone calls. Out and about, I watched other people, cruised, looked at the leaves falling from the trees or just had private thoughts and wandered, not doing anything at all.

But are those days in the past? I need to be reminded about what I’d traded away by making the choice to be online all the time. Clearly the time spent on Facebook and surfing the internet is now using almost all the time I used to spend doing something else.

In the course of being disconnected, I had an interesting and unexpected experience. I was driving to a store in Mountain View to observe how the layaway program was being implemented as part of my job. While on the freeway, I realized I hadn’t set up the route in the GPS on my phone. No matter, I thought. I didn’t need to use the phone to find my way and it was my third trip there. Surely I would be able to remember the exit. Turns out, I didn’t know the name of the exit and overshot by a couple miles.

Missing an exit like that would have been unimaginable for me before having a phone with GPS. I used to look at maps and visualize the route in my head before going somewhere new, with every sign, exit and intersection reinforcing the memory of the route on the way. Now, I hadn’t learned the route well enough to retrace my previous two trips–I didn’t even know the name of the street to look for.

So beyond having a simple moment to have my own thoughts, here was a concrete example of what I had traded away–my sense of place and direction. For many folks, traveling to a new place can be stressful. Maps can be confusing and directions can be wrong, leave out important details or be simply unintelligible. For me, that’s not really the case but even I don’t bother trying to figure out the route. Now, an address can be found with a search or even a link in an email, which is then transferred to your GPS without even reading it or thinking about it again.

After recognizing my own failing, I have since watched several people who rely on GPS drive to unfamiliar locations. When setting out, all they really care about is that the system recognizes the address they enter and tells them how long the trip will take. The GPS can be relied upon to call out each turn and correct you if you miss a street. You can be blissfully unaware of what direction you traveled, what town you’re in and even the name of the street your on, and only aware of the time and perhaps the miles traveled since you started your trip and the ease with which you could comply with the guidance of the GPS.

Of course, with GPS you are much less likely to get wildly and hopelessly lost and you can enjoy the view and companionship without constant anxiety of missing a turn or realizing too late you don’t have the right directions or just getting lost. You’ve essentially traded off learning how to get somewhere new and how to be resourceful in finding your own way with maps, knowhow and the help of the surly gas station attendant should the directions fail.

So I’ve learned that, with access to a constant fix of information, I traded away some of the difficult aspects of life, like being bored or getting lost. It’s not that I’m against the ubiquitous exposure to media and information that our new technology allows, but I do think that a quality of simpler, less purposeful living means less chance for growth that comes from uncertainty and adventure. While technology provide the benefit of allowing us to enjoy moments that we otherwise wouldn’t have, it also means that we are not learning from experiences the way we used to nor having unexpected experiences.