Syntax Issue 10
Denver Syntax

{enter gallery above}

I am sitting in front of Mark Howell and I could swear that he is older than me, albeit not by many years, but still – he is older than me. And while I would place money on this table before me, there is also something incredibly childlike about Howell. Playful. Maybe even goofy. As our conversation progresses I begin to feel old, my words – stodgy and unimportant. For there is something in how Howell shifts in his seat and says what he says – there is a life inside of him that part of me admires in the way that I did when I was a child, looking up to the heroes around me.

Mark Howell, a recent transplant to Denver, is an artist’s kind of artist. He dropped his previous life in advertising and with the support of his wife and family, has put himself out there – on the limb of the inherent belief that he really can produce the kind of art that people will connect to. Understand. Find humorous and create meaning within.

All it takes is a cursory glance at his work and his move into a full-time working artist appears to be a very intelligent one.

When you make the kind of moves that Mark Howell has, at the age of forty: leaving his native city of Chicago for Denver along with the work he has known since he was eighteen – and you have to say that he is brave. With a wife and family, this is not a bohemian rhapsody. No, this move is intentional. And in large part, the pressure is on. But really, what kind of pressure is this and where does it come from?

Working as a creative director for an ad agency for many years, the impetus to constantly create, work on tight deadlines and be a literal idea factory taught Howell many of the skills that he now holds tightly to his chest. This coupled with the fact that he’s not getting any older seems to be part of his engine’s drive, forward. But if you synthesize all of that with the fact that Howell has a strong, vibrant aptitude for creating provocative art and this transformation makes a world of sense.

Mark Howell grew-up creating art. Certainly, he possessed a natural aptitude that was recognized by those around him, including his family. And while friends around him ventured into careers as working artists, Howell took a slightly different approach in entering the world of advertising. Finally, after over twenty years of service, the time finally came to answer the question: when is it time for me to make a living as the kind of artist that I’ve always envisioned myself to be?

The answer? Now.

In his short time in Denver and Howell has created the kind of affirmations around his work that he probably needed. He was juried into a space at the collective, Core Gallery. He has since been lauded with myriads of compliments, both in the form of peer and industry acceptance as well as the selling of his work.

Mark Howell’s work plays on a multitude of fundamental dichotomies, both within the images and the inherent statements of the pieces. And really, this primary idea pulls apart like Play-Doh when you take Dick and Jane and couple it with some industrial apocalypse. Sometimes, especially with the pieces that have phrases, the meanings are simple and enjoyable to wrap your head around. But don’t mistake this for the idea that his entire catalog is simple. For, as with any artist, Howell’s work is complicated – if not in its conceptualization and production, then in its myriads of meanings. In all, is work is wry, often ironic, sensible but also humorous and yes, even playful.

Howell’s creative aptitude is stunning – from his preliminary process of collecting images and ideas from places like 1970’s bride magazines and Boy Scout manuals to his scouring of soldier’s blogs and newswire photographs, Howell begins with a collage in-mind – the creation of the mash-up is a favored facet of his process. Compositionally, Howell creates a foreground, mid and then background, and then layers his primary characters within the narrative with acrylic paint, gel transfers, ink and paint pens.

In many of Howell’s pieces, one can find a strong display of typography. Phrases. Words. It may be through this vehicle where one can find a most-provocative and integral component to Howell’s entire process and even his end-result: free association. The ability to move and shuffle and skip around a composition, in the same way that a poet condenses, arranges and punches language in order to construct, is the kind of aptitude that is pushing Mark Howell’s work into a place that speaks of the constructs of so many facets of the world around us; and even, the world that Howell himself has constructed. For apparent in his work is his background in advertising, but more importantly so too is his martial adroitness in playing with color, texture and composition in that kind of way that is so fundamental and playful that…

Sitting in front of Mark Howell and I am reminded of many things: The drive to externalize what boils-up internally; the balls to push it out and into the world at all; and yes, the simplicity and fire that playfulness can create.

Stay tuned, for this is merely the beginning of Howell’s journey in Denver. This fall he will exhibit at the Denver Modernism show. And in the future he plans on possibly taking a more-commercial approach and combining furniture and art, as well as a provocative and complicated project centered around social networking.

And the wheels keep churning…