2011 is shaping up to be an important year for Ann Howie. With a solo exhibition currently showing at Qdos Arts, several upcoming group exhibitions, a significant commission, and a book about Roar Studios to be published later in the year, Howie has found the pace intense but is revelling in the creative opportunities.
“It’s all happening and it’s amazing. I mean it fell into my lap which was very nice,” Howie laughs. “That’s something to really appreciate because it doesn’t happen like that all the time. Appreciate the opportunities when you’ve got them.”
Since the heady, pioneering days of Roar Studios in Fitzroy (she was one of the founding members), Howie has continued to forge a successful artistic career and is a highly respected painter in her own right. Qdos Arts in Lorne is exhibiting a series of her recent paintings which are inspired by the coastline of some of her favourite places such as Anglesea on the Surfcoast and Cape Conran in south Gippsland. Although she lives in Melbourne, Howie has holidayed on the coast for years and finds it brimming with artistic possibilities.
“The paintings are really an amalgam of me responding to all the beaches I know,” she says. “Just being there and knowing it and loving it – it becomes a part of you, so I draw on that and create dreaming pictures. Quite a lot of my work is imagined landscape so it’s not really connected to specific localities.”
The ongoing Australian obsession with its coastline is the underlying theme of Howie’s latest paintings. With most of Australia’s population living on the coastline, it’s a place that has become part of the Australian psyche. “I think the coast is where a lot of our imagining is these days. It’s always been a great escape. There’s a sense of adventure about it. It’s a very engaging place, very rewarding, and it’s a spiritual place to be. You can renew yourself at the beach.”
Howie is also interested in the accessibility of the coast, not only in how we actually get on and off the beach which she explores in her Beach Steps series, but also in the bigger picture of immigration. Although the beach is a public space and hosts a casual lifestyle, she is concerned “how hard it is for some people to come to our shoreline” referring to asylum seekers being detained at Christmas Island. “It seems so idle lying on the beach when there is so much stuff happening in the world,” she muses.
Her paintings have a layered appearance; shapes of colour build on each other. She likes to fragment the image, like a patchwork quilt, flattening the perspective yet creating different views within each space. Horizon lines are fractured, patterns are repeated. In her Holiday Home paintings Howie combines interiors and exteriors with elements from her backyard and the coast. She says they were “a bit of a break out” and she is keen to explore some of these themes in future works. “Sometimes when you are doing landscapes you worry you are just doing chocolate box stuff so you have to test yourself. If you don’t take risks you don’t get anywhere.”
Howie paints her canvases with a warm, neutral palette, well suited to the colours of Australian scrub. “I like to use browns, Raw Umber, Pilbara Red, Yellow Ochre, Paynes Grey,” she says. “I used to use a lot of black but I have thrown that out lately and I don’t use much blue which I find quite tricky because it opens up a whole new rainbow of colour.”
With 29 paintings in the exhibition at Qdos and another 8 in the Seven Seas exhibition opening at Salt Contemporary next week, Howie has been prolific. It is a lot of work by anyone’s measure. “I can be very disciplined. I like the process of it at this time in my life. I like the fact that I can get up and be in a studio at 10 and leave at 6, and I can do that day after day when the days are mine.”
You can find out more about Howie’s work on her website www.annhowie.com.au
The exhibition of Ann Howie’s paintings runs until 12 March at Qdos Arts, Allenvale Rd, Lorne. www.qdosarts.com
Seven Women Make a Splash in Seven Seas Exhibition (featuring Roar Studio artists)