Often intimate in scale, the enigmatic, meticulous paintings of Charles Houghton Howard (1899–1978) bridge figurative, surrealist, and abstract currents in early to mid-twentieth-century art. Active in New York, London, and the San Francisco Bay Area, Howard developed an arresting style that is characterized by fluid lines, suspended forms, an exquisite sense of balance and proportion, and controlled brushwork. Hailing from a Berkeley-based family of artists and architects, and son of John Galen Howard—the supervising architect of UC Berkeley—Howard had an active and distinguished career in both the United States and England.
A self-taught artist, Howard worked rigorously and painstakingly to develop his paintings and works on paper, often laboring slowly over extended periods. He began as a satirist and muralist in the 1920s, working in the Manhattan studios of Louis Bouché and Rudoph Guertler; his first solo exhibition took place at the Whitney Studio Club in 1926. He moved to London in 1933, and his works from the 1930s show his movement back and forth between Surrealism and abstraction. These early works portray the land undergoing an architectural transformation, typically marked with flags and banners balancing in space. In his later, more abstract pictures, he maintains an emphasis on the depiction of a state of metamorphosis. Howard said that all of his pictures “are closely related. . . . They are in fact all portraits of the same general subject, of the same idea, carried as far as I am able at the time.” What this subject is, however, Howard leaves open to his viewers to interpret.
The BAMPFA exhibition surveys Howard’s artistic trajectory with key examples from each decade of his career. Through approximately seventy-five drawings and paintings, Charles Howard: A Margin of Chaos demonstrates the exceptional nature of this underrecognized artist’s work.