Linda Howard's sculpture inherits
many characteristics of a long modern art tradition of metal
constructions, but in her hands the potentially cool, mechanical and
intellectual nature of the work is transformed into energy and
movement, with an emotional content approaching devoutness.
Her work exists in contradiction.
While it is composed of rigidly straight lines, visually it suggests
waves, folds, and cartwheels. While it is constructed of hard metal,
it softly reflects light and gracefully envelops and denotes space.
While it is painstakingly constructed weld by weld, it has a
spontaneous, lively appearance independent of its facture.
These contradictions are not
accidental. The artist says, "On philosophical and perceptual
leve1s, I look for connections between opposites and distinctions
In the late 1960's, the welded,
constructed sculpture tradition begun thirty years earlier in
America by Julio Gonzalez, and advanced in the 1950's by such major
figures as David Smith and Richard Stankiewicz, under went notable
changes. While some artists continued to explore the expressive
possibilities of gestural, hand-made, found-object imagery, others
introduced imagery of a more impersonal, industrial, machine-made
1970's, the Minimalist philosophy -- reduction of the image and
materials to the most basic form, often in repetition and wrung of
any emotional undertones -- dominated sculpture. Some artists
assumed the role of remote designer, removed from the act of
fabrication of the finished product. Exquisitely made stainless
steel boxes, lined up or
stacked for cumulative effect; unadorned commercial steel plate laid
in patterns; white-painted geometric constructions; and transparent
glass partitions all came to exemplify the Minimalist esthetic.
Linda Howard came of age as an artist in the formative years of
Minimal art, and her earliest successful work is linked to that
philosophy. However, she has always kept an element of a hands-on
quality in her work, so that her sculpture, while minimal in its
choice of materials, retains an emotional underpinning that minimal
art eschewed. In fact, while her work is constructivist in nature,
relying on principles of engineering and balance, she derives from
these principles images that are engaging, spirited, and highly
unique to her.
The elements she uses are deceptively simple: polished,
wheel-ground, or white-painted square aluminum tubing, cut,
assembled, and welded into elaborate geometric forms. The
straight, inflexible aluminum tubes, organized into certain
configurations, simulate fanning, curving, billowing shapes that
evoke images of wings, sails and other wind-filled forms.
Wheel grinding the surface of the tubes by hand gives them a
light-catching, sparkling surface that enlivens the sculptures and
suggests further movement within the work.
Howard has explored the seemingly limitless applications of a
few basic forms that emerge from her arrangements of the
tubular lines. Because of the inherent structural strength of her
forms, she has been able to enlarge the size and scale of her
work. When small, the sculptures work well as visual objects, or at
large scale can environmentally engulf the viewer and evoke
surprising empathy. Critic Donald Kuspit has written about Howard's
work: "Looking modern, by reason of its industrial materials, and
looking as though a mathematical game was its basis, yet having a
peculiar aura of transcendence."
Linda Howard says, "The archways are gateways to transitional
spaces, moving one, step-by-step, from a personalized human scale to
a larger space, and then on conceptually to the expanded universe
In much of Howard's larger works, the architectural scale and the architectonic imagery can
suggest cathedrals especially Gothic arches. Kuspit observed,
"...Howard has succeeded, in modern terms, in realizing the old task
religious architecture: to create a
clear order that emanates-spreads joy."
The sculpture that Howard has
developed for the specific environment of the Ham Museum
Rotunda is approximately 16 feet high and occupies a floor
area of about 14 feet square. Accompanying the central work
are four small maquettes - studies for the finished
piece - so viewers can observe the evolution of its design.
The design involves mirror-image
halves suggesting her "gateway to transitional space" leading into
the depth of the work which changes to a more enclosed and protected
"inner sanctum." As indicated by the title, the unfolding wing-like
shapes and enclosing, spatial center of the work suggest a huge
transparent blossom that invites one into the luminous interior.
The reflection of natural light
in the rotunda emanating from all the surfaces of the
aluminum elements adds a mysterious sparkle that contributes the joy
Kuspit cites. Challenged by the light and space in the museum
rotunda, Howard has invented a new formal content in this work which
suggests a direction toward more nature inspired subjects.