Artistry Of Lancashire – Michael Howley
Northern Sky 2 (Oil Painting)
Michael Howley, having lived for much of his life “beneath the benevolent shadow of Pendle Hill” is an artist deeply attached to, inspired and influenced by the real and rugged landscapes and skies of Lancashire: his work captures the emotional and spiritual response to the surrounding world, and the moods triggered by our experiences. Some work seeks to capture the essence of what a mood is in itself.
His work, as I interpret it, is impassioned; it is very introspective. To use a cliché: it comes from within. Listening to him describe his process, you understand he plays both an active and passive role in the creative process.
Sunbeams over Pendle, Roughlee (Soft Pastel)
His landscape pictures I think are a reflection of how close we live alongside the natural world, yet in some respects have so little control or influence on it. The skies change, the clouds tumble, gathering weight and drama, the light fades and strengthens. The skies form their own compositions: ephemeral, expressive and abstract, stretching out across landscapes and seascapes that can be playful, wild, still, embracing or haunting and infinite. We are left to observe and to consider how it makes us feel.
Michael responds with his Moodscape paintings. Moods are captured by use of colour, tone and shape, sometimes an abstract arrangement like the work of Mark Rothko. Sometimes suggesting the forms of landscape or seascape; the process itself is somewhat abstract by dint of just letting go; the painting almost paints itself.
Light Breaks over the Moors - (Watercolour Moodscape)
Michael also has a series of paintings he calls Innerscapes which are a direct expression of feeling and emotion: both the bold, impactful statement works of anger, and the quiet, formless and empty painting of loss or grief.
The materials he uses change according to his intentions. He has always had a strong affinity to soft pastels which, for him, are somewhere between a drawing and painting medium. He can depict detail, yet also build and blend atmospheric layers of colour. For his Moodscapes, he utilised the flowing nature of watercolours to reflect fleeting memories of certain landscapes. This in turn lead to the use of acrylic, a fast-drying medium requiring a direct, intuitive and expressive approach using broad brush strokes, palette knives and largely gestural movements.
Michael doesn’t recall a distinct point of ‘becoming’ an artist; he feels creativity is inherent to his character. His creativity was encouraged and supported by his parents and by his teachers and he marks his own progress with personal breakthroughs – mastering a new technique, for example. As well as having been a resident artist at Gallery 34 in Skipton and Favell’s Art & Design in Clitheroe, he has also held a programme leader role at Nelson & Colne College providing art to adults and working with community mental health groups.
With his partner, poet and photographer Jo Aldersley and the textile artist Jacqueline Smith he has established Soulspace Art Studio. Housed in a former mill, the studio space is a place for creativity to flourish, for the artists themselves and for those who attend the regular workshops they hold (see website for details). They also show and sell their work here, including the collaborative work of Michael and his partner: ‘Naked Soul’. A combination of poetry and painting that “reflects the unfolding of their lives and the journeys of their souls.”
Sunset Reflections - (soft pastel) Gentle Sunset
Michael also provides online tutorials via Art Tutor (https://www.arttutor.com/artists/michael-howley
) Despite the prevalence of free online courses, the site still draws a wide audience across a comprehensive range of media, subject and technique, catering to all abilities and provided via a very navigable online platform. During lockdown the site did offer half price courses and (like so many others) saw a huge upsurge in participants, but Michael is confident the take-up will now remain strong.
Michael believes that in the modern world where so much is mass produced and disposable, original art remains a tactile form of individual craftmanship and expression. Like music and poetry, it can both shock and nourish us; it helps us to see things differently. He says TV shows like Home Is Where the Art Is (daytimes, BBC1) show how profoundly moving art can be particularly in response to a significant life event. Artists, he says, explore and express themselves through colour, tone, composition, even their choice of materials and techniques.
Original art certainly brings people together, both as creators and appreciators. Michael thinks original art remains accessible to the people of Lancashire through the various local galleries, fairs, open studios and art trails (in Lancashire and surrounding areas): for example Clitheroe Art Walk and “Art in the Pen” (an annual event held since 2005 usually held in Thirsk and Skipton, cancelled this year due to Covid and at risk of permanent closure - www.artinthepen.org.uk
), Staithes Arts & Heritage Festival and the Rossendale Arts Trail.
Art in Lancashire is becoming increasingly diverse and Michael believes that alongside the larger, franchised galleries offering popular art en masse, there are more smaller, independent galleries that sell individual and quirky collections of art, craft, photography, jewellery, glassware and even offer studio and exhibition space for artists and workshops.
Until this year the local fairs and trails were growing in size and number and open studios at shared studios as well as artists’ residences were becoming more frequent, allowing people to buy directly from the artist. Of course, more and more artists are selling online, directly or through gallery sites, which do reach a wider audience. Beside transferring all the workshops he offers to an online platform and setting up a makeshift studio in his garage office at home, during lockdown Michael also made progress to expand his online presence, particularly his engagement with Facebook groups and communities.
It is hoped that post-pandemic Lancashire art can remain as accessible as Michael believes it was. Pendle Heritage Centre re-opened August 1st to visitors and hopefully they will continue to provide exhibition space to rent throughout the year and perhaps the £92 million Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage can help local museums get back ion their feet to keep providing space to local artists to hold talks, workshops and immersive experiences for members of the public.
Michael’s work, to some extent, is also immersive. He draws inspiration from the work of Turner and Monet, for “their technically brilliant handling of atmospherics” that surround the viewer, and the work of (James Abbott McNeill) Whistler and (Caspar David) Friedrich for their “sense of mood and stillness.” Mark Rothko, as mentioned, is an inspiration: Michael would choose him to work alongside and learn from. Michael believes Rothko would understand his own way of working, how he feels and expresses his work rather than just applying paint to paper. Michael says Rothko’s works are “to be experienced rather than viewed” like when, for example, the beauty of a natural vista leaves you speechless, stunned to a silence. Michael’s works, perhaps, are his own experiences, captured on canvas. Michael also feels that Rothko would understand his own modern conflict: the tension between the personal desire to follow his inner artistic ‘spirit’ and its directives, whilst having also to respond to the demands of a commercial art market.
Despite this difficulty, the perpetual unknowns and uncertainties of being a professional artist, Michael enjoys the sense of “unbounded possibilities” that art gives him. He feels connected to the beauty of the everyday, and through his response to landscape and nature he experiences a form of contemplation and meditation.
Being in touch with his “inner craftsman” allows him to be “completely free, expressive, wild, un-tamed and alive.”
For those inspired to view and to experience Michael’s work, head to Soulspace Art Studio, in Sough, Nr. Kelbrook (www.soulspaceartstudio.com
) or the Longitude Gallery, Clitheroe (https://www.longitude.gallery
His recent series of “Mountains and Mist, Scotland” has been accepted by the prestigious Resipole Studios Fine Art Gallery, nr. Strontian, Scotland (www.resipolestudios.co.uk
Discover more of Michael’s work online at www.michaelhowleyart.com
or on Instagram @michaelhowleyartist