Some years ago, I remember Chris K. Howard reaching out to friends and family over social media requesting they send him selfies that he could draw to help him perfect his drawing abilities. This was years ago, I would say about 4 or 5 years, if I am remembering correctly. Fast forward since then Chris Howard has created many works of art from drawings to paintings to digital works of art and he is now exhibiting these artworks.
Recently while viewing his Instagram profile @chriskhoward. I saw an art piece that I simply had to write about. Just so you know, my observations will be based on the digital art image of a profile of a nude woman against a red background. The artwork is found at Howard’s Instagram profile @chriskhoward posted on November 5, 2017. The art image remains untitled with a quote from Elizabeth Gilbert’s author of “Eat Pray Love.”
My thoughts about the artwork are not a thorough examination, more like notes about how I perceived the image. The image is digital, created using a program such as Photoshop as the artist noted in his hashtags. I really couldn’t resist discussing the artwork and I will try my best to explain why the image is so expressive and striking to me.
A nude woman stands in profile against a warm red background. At first it seemed like all the brush strokes were expressive and quickly applied as some of the red background is brushed against the head, arm and legs of the woman. However, the artist mentions that a palette knife is used, as he notes in the hashtags of the post. Using a palette knife on “its edge creates effects like reflections… that add texture and detail.”* You can see this effect where the light is applied to areas along the figures body that makes my eyes move from the figures mouth and neck area to her breast to her gluteal and thigh then I am drawn back to the figures mouth again. The light on the figure’s body is not dramatic I would describe it as more of an impressionistic style perhaps this is the artist way of working out the balance of colors within the entire composition. This type of sgraffito application help to blend the red background with the brown skin of the woman.
I would like to note that there is a subtle dark mark to the left of the figure’s knee. If I look at this work as expressive, which I do, I like to think it was left there by the artist on purpose, as an imperfection. Howard adds a comment with his Instagram post, including a quote from author Elizabeth Gilbert and a few of his own words.
“Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions.”** “Express yourself and let those emotions fly free. Don’t let anyone or anything hold you back.”***
These are words are thought provoking and inspirational. It makes me wonder about the artist journey over the years and I find that these words are coming from a humble place. I’d like to add another quote from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love.
“So now I have started living my own life. Imperfect and clumsy as it may look, it is resembling me now, thoroughly.”****
Other than the, very subtle dark mark to the left of the figure’s knee the background is two shades of red, one just noticeably darker than the other creating a warming effect. The woman depicted stands in a contorted and uncomfortable position. The artist painted the figure with her neck stretched out and her head tilted back with a wide-open mouth. Her back is arched while her glutes are pushed out and accentuated. The woman stance looks uncomfortable, even though we can’t see the bottom of her feet it appears she is on her tip toes and she appear to be under distress, her positioning gives the impression of physical pain. I tried to stand this way and I couldn’t, it was quite uncomfortable and unnatural for me. Not saying someone couldn’t do it, I just couldn’t do it.
Her back is arched in a c-shape making the torso appear elongated in an almost unrealistic way. The application of the paint on the lower back, forearm and upper thighs is more abstracted than other portions of her body, such as the frontal area of the figure’s face and chest. The strokes along the edges of the figure’s body in this area, the face and chest, are sharper compared to other areas of the figure’s body. The artist may have used this technique to add the illusion of three dimension.
The composition of this art work is expressive of an emotion, pain. As I mentioned before when I first saw this image I was fixated on it. I thought about many topics in art such as how the human body can be depicted as a form, or how the body can evoke emotions in art, women being depicted in art, how the topic of race could play into this piece I thought of even the historical Venus Hottentot. I had so many thoughts about the references that could be attributed to this art piece and the art work has rekindled my interest in discussing and writing about these topics more. I really enjoy this art work. I would love to hear your thoughts about the art piece.
*How To Use a Painting Knife: A Technique Tutorial You’ll Love website at https://www.artistsnetwork.com/art-mediums/oil-painting/painting-knife-techniques/
** Elizabeth Gilbert (2010). “The Complete Elizabeth Gilbert: Eat, Pray, Love; Committed; The Last American Man; Stern Men & Pilgrims”, p.127, A&C Black
***Chris K Howard on Instagram: “”your Emotions Are the Slaves To Your Thoughts, and You Are the Slave To Your Emotions.” Express Yourself and Let Those Emotions Fly Free….” website at https://www.instagram.com/p/BbIoRQ1gkoX/?hl=en&taken-by=chriskhoward_
****Elizabeth Gilbert (2009). “Eat Pray Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything”, p.100, Bloomsbury Publishing
sgraffito – a form of decoration made by scratching through a surface to reveal a lower layer of a contrasting color, typically done in plaster or stucco on walls, or in slip on ceramics before firing.
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