Sidewalk Sagas is the latest project of painter and sculptor Busser Howell. It consists of a series of wire sculptures depicting the perils of pedestrians maneuvering throughout the city of New York. Reminiscent of the interactive figurative narratives showing daily life, wars, and great events in paintings, wall decorations, columns, and entablatures in ancient architecture, these sculptures recreate experiences that the author had while using his service dog or that he saw or was told about. This new series of three-dimensional narratives reveals the influence of modern technology on life in our metropolis, the anxiety of today’s city dweller, and the mania and addiction to cellphones, which produces a dangerous cyber-oblivion. The result is a potent mixture of aggression, sidewalk rage, myopia, amnesia, and a sense of entitlement that too many pedestrians seem to embrace. There are people walking their out-of- control pets and sidewalk obstacles from the never-ending construction, outdoor tables, signs, and the homeless and their fleets of possessions. There are five pieces in the new series, which measures 36” x 10” x 26” in all. The figures are composed of mild steel wire mounted on hollow steel bases. The figures and bases are sealed in translucent black lacquer which allows for depth and variation in the finished appearance. Descriptions of Sidewalk Sagas: Park Avenue: In this sculpture, five people are crossing Park Avenue, meeting on the divider. The blind man with his dog is unaware of the oncoming mother and her baby carriage. The mother is looking up Park Avenue, unaware of the pending collision. An elderly person on a walker looks at the baby, while a man distracted by texting is about to crash into disabled person. A teenager dribbling a basketball adds to the noise and confusion as he slips through the intersection. 35th Street and Lexington Avenue: On the north side of the narrow sidewalk of 35th Street, with houses and their stoops on one side and trees and tree guards on the curb, the blind man and his guide dog try to move through all the dog walkers who make no effort to contain their pets, their leashes fully extended. A couple drinking coffee and sharing gossip are oblivious to their three little barking dogs that will jump between the feet of the blind man causing him to trip on the leash while the dogs distract his service animal. A person is texting while his poodle poops on the tree, and at the end of the block, a woman is deeply involved on her phone while her dog at the end of its leash joins in the mayhem. Third Avenue and 36th Street: On a rainy morning during rush hour, pedestrians plunge ahead using their umbrellas as people prodders while they text or push aggressively with a sense of entitlement, oblivious to the other pedestrians. Second Avenue and 56th Street: On a Sunday morning the blind man and his dog walk unaware that a father with his small children wearing a harness and leash form an unidentifiable barrier across the sidewalk. The father tries to point out the “cute little doggie” to his children, while the blind man just tries to get by the trio so that his service animal is not distracted. A street vendor is blocking part of the sidewalk with his grill, cooking hot dogs. Following the father and children are three girls with large shoulder bags, walking side-by-side while texting. Fifth Avenue at the Empire State Building: A family of four tourists stares at the Empire State Building while a man obliviously texting approaches and cuts off a man in an electric wheelchair. Down the block, a homeless man sits with his grocery cart filled with his collection of objects and a fire hydrant adds to the obstacles. Each of these multi-figured sculptures depicts a moment in time just prior to the collisions and run-ins that are part of the daily fabric of walking the sidewalks of New York City. Most show actual events that have happened to the artist as a blind man using a guide dog on his daily walks. The other two that do not include the figure of the artist render events that he witnessed or that were described to him. The sense of entitlement of so many pedestrians either on their phones or simply feeling they have the right of way is something emblematic of this cyber age, a form of self-involvement that is directly connected to the current technologies. People act as if cyberspace is real and what is happening around them is the fantasy. This series is intended to be exhibited as a one-man show in a large space where the viewer can approach the work from all four sides.
Seven Deadly Sins
After making wire roosters, horses and a few circus people, I decided to interpret my impressions of archangels. Archangel Michael is an important to me personally, Gabriel is as familiar as a motif for American weathervanes, and after researching a bit, I found Archangel Rafael and his rod.
The next move seemed obvious to render the antithesis making Lucifer, Satan, or the Devil. I had read Milton’s Paradise Lost, and have attempted a few tries following his description of Lucifer and his minions, but never to my satisfaction. My cerebral excavations brought me to the seven deadly sins. After researching these symbols of character traits, I settled on the archaic mythological imagery referencing Greek red ware paintings of frolicking satyrs, the images described to me of the paintings of Luca Signorelli as seen in the cathedral of Orvieto, Italy, and memories of some of Michelangelo’s robust, sensual sculptures. The horns, cloven hoofs, tails, and phallus are my interpretation, but I think Aubrey Beardsley contributed a tad there as well. The work is one sculpture and is meant to hang as a unit…
Wire Sculpture Revisited
My first museum show was in1959. I exhibited wire sculpture that was mostly horses, but included a few figures of dancers inspired by Degas, and oh yes, one duckling. The duckling was included because when the man responsible for setting up the exhibit asked me to make a sculpture while we visited. I was unsure what to make, but as I had a pet duckling at the time that was walking amongst us, he asked me to portray it in wire. Thus the one duckling sculpture.
Since that time, I have never made another sculpture. I suspect the reason is based on my resistance to sculpture because of my lack of vision, but also because my father used to say,” If I could make $50.00 for a few hours work, I would make them all day!”
Recently I had been thinking of including more wire in my paintings. I was lucky enough to find the same type of wire that I had used in the 50’s to make the wire sculpture, and it has been sitting in my studio for a year. A month ago, I just started to make the first rooster. I know that the image came from a dream that I had early one morning. As the first evolved, then two more appeared, and now a circus horse with a ballerina has appeared.
The difference from the original work is the actual size, the new work is bigger, and I feel freer. If I continue making this work, I am hopeful that it becomes more abstract, but it is already expressions of the objects and not copies.
Busser Howell, a New York based artist paints about time. His new reworked collages create visual maps that allow the viewer to glimpse into the artist’s mental and physical progression.
My new work continues to deal with a vedantic search for harmony and truth. The basis of these works started several years ago as paper collages on canvas. By revisiting these works, adapting new techniques, and making them new, I attempt to merge time in search of a greater universal message that extends beyond a particular period or emotional state. Through the addition and subtraction of both paper and paint, I reduce the image to a more simplistic geometric form in an attempt to uncover the true essence of the work while releasing the luminosity contained within its structure.
I created my new body of work in the last part of 2008 and beginning of 2009. It evolved from a new process I started over a year ago that incorporates a new technique and new format. My objective has always been to reduce my work to its minimal form while still maintaining a strength of design, color, and form. Starting with the contrasting of vertical and horizontal, I progressed to a circular motif, a strictly vertical motif, a random pattern and finally evolved to the square motif that I now find to be the strongest form. The contrast of vertical and horizontal within the square format introduces a contradiction of separate forces that oppose eachother while still forming a whole. Although it gets elongated and turned into a more rectilinear pattern, it is still the square that dictates the center of the contrasting vertical and horizantal forms.
These large geometric pieces are worked in heavy impastos of acrylic paint. I apply the paint with my hands, and the irregular lines are made with my fingers, making these works the most physically involved paintings I have produced to date. This is reflected in the sculpted, irregular surfaces and rough sides of the canvas.
When viewing these works, one sees first the overall form. One experiences the sense of a geometric form that is pleasing to the inner self. On another level, the viewer sees the impression of shapes with the overall form, and finally is drawn into the piece through the random lines, slight variitions of color, and the awareness of contrasting colors underneath the surface that bring forth a sense of becoming and change.
A Journey Within – A Book
Dancing Series – Disco Dancing 1993
After years of painting people in stationery positions, abstracting them, combining them, dividing them and anything else I could think of that never went faster than a walk, I finally settled into my dancing Disco people which exhilarate and energize me as I work on them, and I hope express inner joy and a sense of well-being. Although they may appear to be having a great time, the eyes express that beneath the smiling facade other human emotions are taking place but in the long run everything will work out for the best. These figures evolve in my head as I work and it seems each canvas has a life of its own as I apply more shapes and color. Various parts of the human anatomy and their apparel become bold shapes that are more important to the whole painting than they are to the figure. My choice of colors is a mental function and I have always been a great lover of brilliant primary vivid paint.
Dancing Series – Country Dancing 1994
After years of painting people in stationery positions, abstracting them, combining them, dividing them and anything else I could think of that never went faster than a walk, I finally settled into my Line dancing country people which exhilarate and energize me as I work on them, and I hope express inner joy and a sense of well-being. Although they may appear to be having a great time, the eyes express that beneath the smiling facade other human emotions are taking place but in the long run everything will work out for the best. These figures evolve in my head as I work and it seems each canvas has a life of its own as I apply more shapes and color. Various parts of the human anatomy and their apparel become bold shapes that are more important to the whole painting than they are to the figure. My choice of colors is a mental function and I have always been a great lover of brilliant primary vivid paint.
Political Pornography – 1995-1996
With the political series, my first goal was to open up the usual solid forms I have been using by combining solid shapes with lines that only imply shapes, hopefully involving the viewer to comprehend what I am drawing. Along with this technique, I have painted a background that implies energy if hopes that this too will make the image more fluid and intensify the sense of involvement. The bright pastel colors and whimsical costumes are to indicate a mock Italian Renaissance feeling, a Broadway Camelot as such, which for me has the sense of the American political scene: kings, queens and jokers running around rather willy-nilly often exposing themselves for all to see.
My most recent works are abstractions that I like to think of as twenty-first century ballet or dance posters. The shapes are totally abstract, but are at the same time the elements of the human form, dancing in space and inter-playing off and with each other. They evolve as I work and seem to come as if a chain reaction to each other. The “non-writing” writing is to typify the new computer age with jargon and messages in codes that only a few understand.
Blindsight describes the world of the blind artist with sensitivity, humor, and hope. The title of the manuscript is engaging and intriguing. Through the author’s account of his creativity and his interviews with fifteen vision-impaired artists who discuss their creativity, we understand more deeply the creative stirrings, the issues, and the triumphs in their lives. The author’s choice to address this complex subject in the first person is very appropriate, because the interior process of perception and creativity is subjective, intellectual, and personal. Each artist accesses creativity in the mind’s eye.
Sometimes seeing work in the buyers environment is a perfect opportunity to see the works power and what it can do to a space.
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