Portland based artist, Meghan Howland, brings a moody ambiguity to the very traditional genre of figurative, expressive oil painting. Notoriously quiet on the subject, she leaves the meaning of the work up to the beholder. It’s the viewer that paints the final brushstroke. So often we see the blank stares of subjects with a halo of flowers or birds, but hold still for just a moment and you’ll discover something more.
So let us start with what we can see.
Masterly, gestural, subdued and muted, there’s still an echo of traditional art historical canons. Florals are depicted like Dutch still lifes. Subjects have that earthy, compassionate ruddiness like a Degas or Manet. There’s that raw, sculptural rendering of subjects reminiscent of Lucien Freud or the stillness of an Andrew Wyeth. Meghan Howland paints with a tenderness and honesty that hints towards her sense of documentary. But beyond this comfortable familiarity sits a disarming level of vague. Those moments before and after the capture. The narrative beyond the frame.
Why are her subjects so still beneath the chaos of birds and nature? Do they feel safe or suffocated? Is it peace we’re seeing or yearning or grief? There’s a beautiful tension between the artful excess of fabric, flowers and flying things and the restraint held by the human in the center. Perhaps one way of viewing the work is that the external frenzy reflects the internal struggle. Or maybe we’re just freeze framing a moment of chaos and in it’s stillness we witness the exquisite symphony of it all. There isn’t one answer. Howland is emphatic about this. When it’s left to the eye of the beholder to fill the blanks, the work often reveals more about the viewer than the artist.
Take your time . . . it’s more than just flowers and girls.
Hold still. This may hurt a little.