As in most of Patrick Howlett’s work of the last ten years, his starting point is a text. The Personal Atmosphere is a 1908 self-help book with a jauntily esoteric vibe. At a time when cubism was diagraming the picture plane and abstraction becoming central to understanding and disseminating advances in science, The Personal Atmosphere suggests one can influence the world around you by being aware of and controlling unseen psychic forces. Loosely connecting this early gem of power pop ‘psychology’ to modern roots of current individualism is an exploration of the two-part relationship of figure (positive space) and ground (negative space), a pictorial predicament that has echoes in relations outside the canvas as well. Consider a diagram fragment as wireless router, or bricks so thin they look like paint chips. Two-word phrases run throughout several works (selfishly altruistic, indolent energy, gloomily cheerful) often embedded within a jelly-like multi-colour field. In containing an inherent contradiction, these phrases actually resist the either/or scenario of dualistic thinking. They demonstrate that apprehension is never at rest, but rather a continual meeting and crossing of influences.
Image Credit: Patrick Howlett, Positron, 2016. distemper on linen, 40.5 x 31 cm