Patrick Howlett
the possible and the real

8 September to 16 October 2010


"The possible relation of title to image is an indeterminate one that plays one role in the creation of work and another in the experience of it. Some think a title is a kind of anchor, giving the painting too much reference, and I read about painters who leave everything untitled for this reason. I believe that is often true. But a title doesn’t necessarily fix a position. There are ways I use it as a cornerstone, in other ways it is a guide and in another way it is meaningless. My titles exist before the work does so it is not a case of naming. Although I can’t be sure what it does for the viewer, they are usually more evocative than declarative. Having a title creates awareness of the gap between meaning and thing, feeling and knowing, intellect and intuition. If there is a strain, perhaps it can function as an antidote to the abstraction that takes place through language all the time.

—Patrick Howlett

Henri Bergson’s 1907 publication Creative Evolution argued that evolution is propelled by a “vital force” —a concept he dubbed élan vital —but manifested as a natural intuitive impulse. Bergson argued for a reality composed of multiple possibilities, and was intended as an alternative explanation to the mechanistic, linear trajectory of the Darwinian model. As he explained, there is no difference between the possible and the real as the real is a representation of the possible, yet the possible is something that is manifested only as soon as the real comes into being. We can imagine these possibilities as simultaneous events deviating from a trajectory of present time, but a more tangible example might be a work of art, a possibility manifested into a new visual fact. These things are part of reality in a deterministic, material way, yet have an indeterminate function in terms of their resistance to be categorized, even within the realm that they are produced.

Similar to Darwin’s ideas, Patrick Howlett’s enigmatic works on panel partly evolve through an automated process, but he is innately more aligned with Bergson, using intuition as the driving force within their creation. Howlett culls pithy excerpts from influential source texts (ranging from exhibition reviews to philosophical tracts,) inputs them into Google’s image search function, and then uses the resulting images to generate a digital working sketch. This recycling of text and image offers a wry take on the relation of form and idea, and is a strategy that acknowledges a simultaneous opening and filling of the gap between the work and our “reading” of it. Here, Howlett’s new suite of geometric abstractions on panel are accompanied by a number of new works that reveal more recent explorations of depicted space. Among these, Howlett’s cut and routered works on plywood contribute a palpable quality aligned with his considered material and design sensibilities and exemplify his characteristic, thoughtful restraint.