Meet Gallery 263’s Summer 2022 Artist in Residence: Mike Howat

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a painter and educator currently based in New Hampshire. I’ve been in the studio full time for around five years now, teach part-time, and strive to do what I can with art initiatives and organizing exhibitions in the area.

What kind of work do you make?

My work focuses on portraiture of cityscapes and buildings in acrylic, graphite drawings and occasionally monotype. The paintings are often individually framed vernacular buildings with a focus on apartment buildings and corner stores.

The work focuses on regional architecture, so I’m often wandering on road trips to find new imagery in the gaps between teaching and studio days. I’ll pick a direction and drive, or pop between East Coast cities taking photographs or marking places or buildings to come back to. Currently I’m working on a series from recent trips to NYC, but I often pick a geographic area to document and use it as a framework to explore my own memories, or ideas of culture and Americana.

What concepts does your art explore?

I’ve always been interested in the idea of place, and how certain spaces hold memories. My work focuses on architecture for that reason. The buildings provide a framework to inject a lot. With apartment buildings specifically, I enjoy playing with the idea that each resident leaves a fragment of themselves, and how we leave our mark on the spaces we inhabit.

The idea of “collective memory” and universality of experience are major themes in my work too–and buildings and neighborhoods seem a good vessel to explore that. I often collage different places, objects and experiences in the paintings. They often include flashbulb memories from different parts of my life, or contemporarily relevant objects and themes. My focus lately has been paintings of windows as they offer a way to combine still life (on the window sill), landscape (the view through the window) and interior. It’s been a way to combine different places into a single image to create narratives. The works explore urban isolation and detachment among other things.

What do you hope you accomplish during your residency?

Within my time, I’m hoping to break away from working exclusively on smaller-scaled paintings on panel. My vision is larger works that are looser and more experimental with possible installation features, large-scale drawing or sculptural elements. I want to create work that pulls from the surrounding to create an immersive experience.

Years ago, I spent time traveling and doing a lot of drawing on-site. That’s a part of my practice I’d like to come back to. I had ideas in old sketchbooks of interviewing local people in apartment buildings to recreate a city block punctuated by the stories people tell. I’ve often seen my paintings as stage-sets, and I haven’t quite gotten around to adding characters or stories to them. I’m hoping by working more directly on-site, and by incorporating more immediate aspects of the area it’ll add depth to the work.

My work is tethered to place and I find being closer to what you’re painting, both in memory and proximity, makes for more honest paintings. I’ve always loved the Cambridge and Somerville area. It’s going to be great to wander and to pull from imagery directly outside of the gallery and studio.

What are your most used materials? Most unusual?

So far in my practice the materials themselves are fairly ubiquitous—mostly acrylic paint, graphite drawing and occasionally monotype printmaking which I deeply enjoy. I’ve been interested in playing with sculpture or combining found materials, like fragments of places or buildings materials on-site. Those elements could further connect the pieces to the places that inspire them.

What historical or contemporary artists inspire you?

Having lived in northern Maine for a good portion of my life, I’ve had a long affinity for Lois Dodd and Fairfield Porter’s paintings. There’s a directness to both their work that gets me—it’s such a celebration of light and place. A strong feeling of light and a sense of place are major components of my work along the same vein. Eric Aho inspires me for the same reason—he paints stunning abstracted landscapes that are immediately recognizable as the colors of New England. He had a quote in an interview that as an artist you “ultimately you paint the way you live in the world”. That quote always stuck with me. There’s so many artists, historical and contemporary, that I pull from constantly.

The tight knit artistic community of New England has also provided me space to meet a remarkable array of artists. I get the most ideas and direction from those who I work with and exhibit with personally. Those are the people that inspire and push me daily.

Save the dates for upcoming residency events!

Online Demo via Instagram Live: Monday, August 8, 6–8 PM
Open Studio: Sunday, August 14, 1–3 PM. RSVP>>
Workshop: Sunday, August 21, 1–3 PM. RSVP>>
Showcase: Monday, August 22–Sunday, August 28
Showcase Reception: Friday, August 26, 6–8 PM. RSVP>>