Sunday, 25 February 2018

Rachel Howard; Study (2005)

Rachel Howard's painting Study, currently on display in London's Newport Street Gallery, is a rendition of the infamous photograph of Ali Shallal al-Quisi being tortured by US military personnel in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

It's being exhibited alongside 14 other paintings, each of which was created by pouring paint and varnish down the canvas, to produce an effect similar to that used to reproduce al-Qaisi's robe in Study.

Those paintings are all mostly abstract, and might not have brought much to my mind. But because Study is figurative, and perhaps because I'd been prompted by TimeOut's review of the exhibition - opening sentence: "Humanity is capable of abominable acts of violence and degradation" - I found myself thinking of the runs of paint as representing humanity literally draining out of the world in response to the horror of the situation; colour and richness drawing away in abhorrence or despondence.

From that point of departure, the other paintings, despite their abstraction, can be seen as extensions of the first, if you choose to view them that way - as showing life in flight.

Probably that's not what Howard had in mind, but that was my take.

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