RACHEL HOWARD & SUE HUBBARD

Over the Rainbow

03 May 2013 - 28 Jun 2013
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Suicide is known in all human societies. For Freud, it was one possible outcome of severe manic depression, of being caught between feelings of intense love and hate or in an unresolved oedipal conflict. The sociologist, Durkheim, claimed it was the result of anomie - the breakdown of social bonds between an individual and their community - which causes feelings of powerlessness, lack of meaning and isolation.

For women, a sense of self-worth is still largely based on appearance, youth and relationships. Yet the lives of many are dominated by the fear of rape, unwanted pregnancy, male violence, poverty and ageing. While some women experience a fundamental lack of autonomy and self-determination, others are lambasted as ‘over achievers’, who are assumed to be ‘unfeminine’ ‘difficult’ or ‘feisty’. For the creative woman – even in this post-feminist age - there is still a constant pull between the demands of motherhood and creativity, along with the sneaky, guilty belief that she does not have the right to pursue her own vision. The reasons for suicide are, nevertheless, varied: depression, the loss of a relationship, shame, a sense of failure and despair, all play their parts.

Celebrities live under a particular set of pressure-cooker circumstances. Often an innate low self-esteem has been bolstered by a life-style full of unrealistic expectation and false notions of perfection. Those whose careers are failing or who have become enmeshed in scandal are often forced to play out their battles with loneliness, depression, alcohol and drugs in the public domain.

Rachel Howard’s ‘’Suicide Paintings’’ were first shown at the Bohen Foundation in New York, in 2007, and exhibited at Haunch of Venison, London in 2008. The series evolved after an acquaintance of Howard’s committed suicide. He was discovered, not in the imagined drama, ‘swinging from the rafters’, but kneeling in a pose almost of prayer. It was this particular detail that Howard found most disturbing, and which led her to create the series, coupled with the fact that for her, suicide is one of the last taboos. The source material came from trawling through forensic magazines and internet sites. These images were then abstracted from their contexts within Howard’s rapidly executed line drawings.

In response to these the award-winning poet, novelist and art critic, Sue Hubbard, who has written about Howard’s art work, has created a series of poems that sit alongside the images in an emotional and visual dialogue, and illuminate the deaths of women as various as Diane Arbus, Judy Garland, Dora Carrington and a female suicide bomber. Taken from her newly published third collection, The Forgetting and Remembering of Air, these disarmingly, direct and evocative poems explore in a language that is muscular and lyrical, painterly yet spare, the psychology of these very different women in extremis.

This brave, bold, collaboration between two women artists, each highly regarded in her own field, demonstrates that there is still something important to say about the poignancy and tragedy of the human condition.

Rachel Howard is represented by Blain Southern and Sue Hubbard’s new novel, Girl in White is published by Cinnamon Press and her new poetry collection, The Forgetting and Remembering of Air, by Salt Publishing.