Traces of America in Welsh Artist Neale Howells’ Profuse Paintings
Neale Howells’ paintings are a banquet for the senses. A melange of graffiti, Pop Art, Abstract Expressionism, and Symbolism, his style recalls elements of works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Banksy, A.R. Penck, Willem de Kooning, and Jackson Pollock. Howells creates his paintings on wood using acrylic, spray paint, pastels, pencil, and “anything he can get his hands on.” These huge works, some four by seven feet long, can take Howell up to 12 months to complete. Looking at some of the pieces closely, you can see why. Howells covers every inch of the canvas surface with cartoon figures, spatter, scribbled text, ribbons of different colored paint, stencils, and shapes. Your eyes can roam around one of his paintings for a long time and still not catch everything contained within it. They require multiple visits.
Though born and based in Wales, traces of American culture crop up frequently in his work. Several of his paintings’ titles allude to America: American Skins (2010), Mr. America (2013),and American Summer (2012), for instance, and stars and stripes appear frequently. In Pacman We Trust (2011) shows the shield and title from Captain America comics in the foreground, painted over with stars and drips of paint. Wonder Woman’s unmistakable visage is left relatively clear in American Summer and a direct reference to the Iraq War appear in its scrawled text. The text “Forgive USA” is written on Iraqi Miss World (2011) and in Don’t Be Afraid (2010), the focal point is a cartoonish figure wearing a star sweatshirt congenially extending a bottle.
At times it’s difficult to determine Howells’ intentions when including these references; they range in tone from satirical to serious, and are often ambiguous. When Howells discusses his work, he often compares it to film. He has said that his decision to work on a large scale is an effort to “compete” with cinema, and aims for his work to be as thrilling an experience as seeing a movie. Indeed, they are hard to turn away from. Every painting contains a persistent, compelling energy, which can be experienced in various ways, depending on how and where you look.