Abstract Illusionism to Art Brut: A Painter’s Evolution at Bill Lowe Gallery
Like many great artists, James Havard has worked in a variety of mediums—paint, resin, sculpture, mixed media—in his 40-year career. But Havard’s experimental tendencies don’t end with his choice of materials.
His styles, techniques, and cross-cultural inspirations are all over the map, earning his works their places in key permanent collections across the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian, LACMA, the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe, and the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm, Sweden, to name just a few. Atlanta-based Bill Lowe Gallery shows a small but intriguing selection of Havard’s work from the late 1990s; these pieces stand as a sort of time capsule, or snapshots of that particular place and time in the artist’s creative trajectory.
In this collection, the medium is oil and wax on wood. The style is pared-down—a signifier of Havard’s shift from the “Abstract Illusionism” that first earned him recognition in the 1970s to figurations that recall Art Brut. And the subjects—vaguely discernible in the images themselves, and confirmed in the works’ titles—reveal one of Havard’s primary interests. Throughout the decades of his career, the artist has returned again and again to portrayals of indigenous cultures, both Native American and African. There’s a cave painting-like quality to Mohave Lecture (1996) and Fang (2000), while Woman Holding Apache Doll (1996) and Four Eyes (1996) could almost be mistaken for children’s drawings. There’s something more ominous about Head in Fossil Field (1999) and Brown Figure (1996), in which the central figure is near-monstrous in appearance.
What makes these subjects come alive is the artist’s skillful use of color. As Julie Sasse, chief curator at the Tucson Museum of Art, writes, Havard is “a master colorist, manipulator of paint, and conjuror of images and associations... Havard’s ability to mix cultures, eras, media, and techniques lies in his keen eye for juxtaposing shapes, colors, and textures.”