Grace Howl is not your traditional artist. Her art does not come from years of classical training in art school, but instead from somewhere within herself. Grace invited us to her gallery to see her pieces and talk inspiration, process, and about how finding the humanity in both creates an experience unlike any other for both Grace and her audience.
What were your biggest inspirations starting out as an artist?
My start is unusual. I began creating art in 2008. This is my lemonade; life handed me lemons in the form of a car accident. I had this whole disruption within myself. My brain shifted to the right side, and I started seeing the world in color. I began pushing paint around as a form of physical therapy. But as I played more with paint it became an intuitive process, so my inspiration comes somewhere from within.
What is your artistic process?
Like with my inspiration, there’s no thought process whatsoever. I look around and I still can’t believe I created any of this. My mind goes into this mystery world— I call it my “no brain space,”— where I can’t even tell you what happens when I paint. There’s a thing that hangs in my studio that says, “No Fear, No Rules.” And that’s what I live by when creating my art. I’m just a tool to get the compositions out.
So you focus more on the experience between the piece and the viewer?
Yes to me that’s what it’s about. It’s about what my work does to them, what they see and how they feel, rather than how I created it. How I’ve created it is insignificant; it just comes out. Had I been classically trained maybe I’d take better care at describing the process. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value. I think it’s more valuable because I don’t have to know the rules to break them
Much of your work is abstract, but you did an installation earlier this year. How did that differ from the rest of your work?
I started reading the book, My Faraway One, a book about the letters between Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz. I looked the actual letters up online and I was so inspired! I mean it was this bunch of handwritten, cursive letters with marks and postage. It was real. It was human. I wanted to capture that with my installation.
How did you bring their letters to life?
I did a voice memo, and just started spewing thoughts out: I’m going to create a room with two sides, her side and his side. It’ll be staged as bedrooms because their letters always started with, “Good Morning,” or “Goodnight,” and O’Keeffe would have a stack of letters jammed into the drawer by her bed, so they had to be reading these in the morning or at night from bed. I hunted for vintage furniture that represented O’Keeffe’s side and Stieglitz’s side. I wallpapered the entire room with their letters and hung them from the ceiling so it became this immersive experience.
How was it received?
When people walked in, they’d get goosebumps as if O’Keeffe and Stieglitz were there. And that was what I wanted. When you descended into that space, it was like their spirits were right there with you. And that is what I strive for in my art- to move my audience, whether it’s an emotional or bodily experience.
You recently completed another exhibit. Can you talk about it?
I worked with a group called the Institute for Psychogeographic Adventures (IPA) and the Ringling Museum. IPA interviews people, runs them through a track, and then re-interviews them to find out how their thought process has changed. The geographic part comes in because IPA interviews people who live in those backwater places, rather than the big cities.
What did you work with IPA and the Ringling Museum on?
I figured since all of the great artwork is out in the museum, the facilities workers should have their own great piece of artwork in their building to look at to brighten their work day. I made up a story that I had snuck into the Facilities building of the museum, and I’d ask those people who passed through to help me paint the walls.
How did your audience respond to it?
Every single person to walk through the space said yes, except for one, who wanted to watch us paint! I’d ask everyone what their favorite color was, and then we’d start painting. Each person who participated really opened up to me! They got emotional, telling me what was going on in their life. It was an incredible experience because I figured a lot of people wouldn’t want to paint, that they’d be intimidated. When in fact the opposite happened! I’d show them how to scrape through it or to paint over it if they weren’t happy with it. And it was super successful, people just felt so comfortable!
Did that direct what you did next?
Sure! I got involved with ALSO, an outreach program for LGBTQ youth. I’m a part of IDS, the Interior Design Society, and we took on the renovations of ALSO. I showed ALSO what I had done with the Ringling Museum and IPA, and I volunteered to work with the youth. I know they’re going through a lot of uncertainty and transitions in their lives and they needed support. So now there are three huge plywood boards primed at the ALSO building, waiting for the ALSO youth members to sign up and paint these boards with me so they can express their emotions. That way whenever they come in they can see the impact they’ve had on their space and ALSO.
What do you think makes people so comfortable when painting with you?
I really do love people. I like peace. I like calm. I like doing good, I really do. I want to share the good energy and vibrations with people. I want them to feel like they can make lemonade out of the lemons that life gives them, like I did. And I want this bright artwork and energy to translate to the Rosemary District.
Speaking of! Why did you move to the Rosemary District?
What I really wanted was to get into a walkable neighborhood where I can have my work and display space right there, and walk a block or two to my home, which is possible there. Also, the Rosemary District is growing, and I want to be a part of it.
In what ways do you see the community growing?
It’s a fresh canvas with lots of potential for opportunity. I love the new modern inspired buildings being built. It can be that hub for design, visual arts, studios, and restaurants. It needs to be a destination for those living downtown and surrounding areas. I hope that someday people visiting will realize they don’t have to go to NYC to find unique art!
What are you looking forward to for the future of the Rosemary District?
I’m looking forward to a unique community that offers a lot to its residents and visitors. What I’m wishing for is that they open up the Rosemary District to the creative people of the area. There are a lot of architects, designers and furniture stores, and retail spaces. I would love it if they had a whole area dedicated to gallery space here. Rosemary should be that aesthetically pleasing neighborhood people from Downtown and other areas want to spend time in. It has the potential to be that funky, edgy neighborhood of Sarasota.