Nigel Howlett is a London-based artist whose monochromatic drawings and paintings focus on anonymous, futuristic characters. His minimal and recognizable style draws on elements of the surreal and uncanny to explore complexities and nuances of human experience. Fear, love, violence; we witness Howlett’s ensemble in the midst of high drama expressed through emotional and referential poses, yet much is left to ponder as we examine these faceless figures.
In our era of avatars, facial recognition software, and artificial intelligence, Howlett’s figures suggest a post-human or cyborgian future. Devoid of discreet identity markers, his figures move through a sleek, seemingly frictionless world. It’s not difficult to imagine this place: soft evening light, pools of silver water and canals glittering from horizon to horizon. The tantalizing mystery—how did they arrive here? Was there an earlier planet which became inhospitable, air too thin, nations too violent? Perhaps advancements in technology birthed this world. Either way, as the works in the exhibition reveal, patterns continue, conflicts (internal and external) unfold in forms symbolic and pictoral.
Ever in conversation with the past, Howlett revisits art historical and classical references. Neither revealed nor hidden, the largest work in the exhibition, receives its title from 12th century Persian poem The Conference of the Birds, an allegorical and mystical poem describing the arduous journey and search for truth. Narratively, this work borrows from Picasso’s 1939 Cat catching a bird, a painting directed toward tumult and horrors of war which continues to resonate. His drawing The Hunt hearkens to Titian’s Venus and Adonis, where goddess Venus is seen trying to restrain her lover Adonis from going off to the hunt. Venus fears (correctly) that Adonis would be killed. The work echoes Howlett’s tension of moods: at once sensual and romantic, it is a love story colored by tragedy.
Howlett’s process is slow and patient. He works with extreme parameters for color and tactility of the surfaces. Reducing, condensing, leaving only what is absolutely necessary, silent figures emerge solid and monolithic like polished stone. Weathered marble, pearl, or chrome, Howlett’s scenes of futuristic androgynes offer space to reflect on something greater than ourselves.
Nigel Howlett (b. 1979, England) received his BA in Fine Art from the University of East London, London United Kingdom. In 2021 he exhibited his work in a solo exhibition at Ojiri gallery in London, UK. Selected group exhibitions include Ramp Gallery, London, UK; WOAW Gallery, Hong Kong; and Studio 1.1, London, UK. This presentation of work at Felix Art Fair is the first time for the artist to exhibit in the United States. Howlett lives and works in London, UK.