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Rachel Howard Paintings of Violence (Why I am not a mere Christian)


  • Exhibition

  • February 17, 2018 – March 10, 2019

Paintings of Violence (Why I am not a mere Christian) is a single installation comprised of ten paintings and one sculpture, in relationship to the sculptural assembly, Lightning with Stag in its Glare, by Joseph Beuys. In her work, Howard examines religion, mortality, and violence, specifically the more subtle kinds of “controlled violence” that are meticulously planned and calmly executed. The title is taken from two opposing polemics, Why I Am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell and Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.


Over a period of five years, from 2011 to 2016, Howard methodically developed this suite of ten paintings, the dimensions of each mirroring the artist’s height and arm span. A T-square — its form reminiscent of a disproportioned crucifix — steadies the artist’s hand as rich blood-red paint is dragged downwards, staining the luminous pink surface dark crimson. This process is then repeated; placing, slicing, swiping, and wiping. Finally, towels used to clean the T-square are folded and placed on the plinth, as evidence of the aftermath. “The essence of this work,” as Thomas Krens of The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation describes it, “is performance: painting as dance, movement, intellectual rigor, and extreme economy in the application of an intense, layered, disciplined, and infinite gestural difference.”

Howard has referred to acts of violence planned on a scale that overwhelms; these threats to the stability of everyday life she describes as “…not about a bacchanalian violence, but rather the acts of a steady calm hand on a greater scale: maximum damage, planned and calmly carried out; hence the slow slice through the alizarin crimson oil paint, exposing the fluorescent beneath, raw and defenseless, the repetition of canvas after canvas, the same but different.”

Members Opening Reception was held on Saturday, March 24, 2018.

Paintings of Violence (Why I am not a mere Christian) (detail), 2011 – 2016
Oil and acrylic on canvas, wood, 7 towels, and pigment
10 canvases, each 168 × 168 cm / (10 canvases, each 66⅛ ×66⅛ in) / Box: 77.5 × 35.6 × 33 cm (30½ × 14 × 13 in) / With towels: 109.2 × 35.6 × 33 cm (43 × 14 × 13 in)
Courtesy of the artist and Blain|Southern

Massachusetts Cultural Council