Busser Howell is an abstract expressionist painter and sculptor who lives and works in New York City. In his latest project, “Sidewalk Sagas” (2018), he returns to sculpture and a material he hasn’t visited for decades: steel wire. The new work is a series of wire sculptures depicting the perils of pedestrians maneuvering throughout the city of New York and experiences that the artist had while using his service dog. Like Howell’s previous work in this form – “Circus Figures,” and then “The Seven Deadly Sins” – “Sidewalk Sagas” is both figurative and yet abstract and evocative. Composed of densely wound and snaking wire, the new series produces both recognizable situations and a hypnotic and purely abstract visual field. In contrast to the previous works, “Sidewalk Sagas” has a theatrical panoramic breadth and revisits the explosive figurative wildness of his series of paintings, “Disco Dancing” (1993).
His painting has undergone a steady and restless evolution, from the exploration of geometrical shapes as a vocabulary for generating harmony and luminosity, to a series of tar paper and mastic aerial-view collages evoking the landscape of night bombing at the beginning of the Iraq war, to a period of more densely-textured works that were both more formal in the rectilinear division of the canvas but wilder and more experimental in the use of texture in paint and through the introduction of accordion-folded or twisted paper applied as a substructure that Howell would then work over with paint. He underpins work to create an optical “chatter” to draw in the viewer. The heavy impasto paint then applied creates a kinetic surface that changes with light. In Howell’s paintings, the use of color ranges greatly, from a series in all blacks, vibrant rhythmical color studies in blues and greens, sober almost architectural compositions in blacks and whites, and presently a new aerial series of patchworks of cultivated landscapes and blocks of neutral grays, creams, and pale blues inspired by his rethinking of the work of Jackson Pollack for a lecture he gave at the Metropolitan Museum in 2018. “All of my work,” he has written, “is based on spirituality, energy and seeing the whole as made up of objects in ever changing motion.”
Howell’s tryptic painting “Never Forget 2” is in the 9/11 Memorial and Museum collection in New York. Other work is in the collection of the New Britain Museum of American Art, Connecticut. His paintings have been shown at the Rockland Center for the Arts (Oct-Nov 2019), the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Smithsonian, and the Museum of the Permian Basin, Texas. His wire sculpture has been exhibited at the Morgan Museum, Lexington, Kentucky (1961).
Howell speaks and lectures periodically on art, his own evolution as an artist, and the role of vision in art. In 2018, he delivered a lecture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Jackson Pollock. “My blindness,” he has written, “has brought me to the realization that the universe is not how we see it. It is ever changing energy, motion, and regeneration.”
Originally from Ohio, Howell attended the Dayton Art Institute, Wright State University, and Boston University School of Fine art. He spent twenty-five years as a partner in a restoration and design firm. During this time, he was on the board of the Overfield Tavern Museum, Troy, Ohio, and was involved in the restoration of this museum, which included a major architectural excavation, and the cataloguing of the museum’s collection.