TERRA HUMAN | AUSTIN HOWLETT
Published June 14th, 2022
Artist Interview conducted by Abend Gallery's Associate Director Samantha Manion-Chavez
You mentioned in your interview with The Creative Brick Road Podcast that you are interested in the theme of emotional vulnerability. Why do you believe that is? How have the current times affected that theme for you personally?
Austin: For me, the concept of emotional vulnerability has always been a key aspect of how I live and interact in this world so it only seemed natural to explore this concept in my artwork. I created the visual style of my Terra Human series as a way to illustrate the human condition in all of its beautiful complexities. Showing humans seamlessly blended with nature as a way to say that we are at our most vulnerable when we are enveloped in the natural world. And in my opinion the world needs our vulnerability and self-reflection now more than ever. Our quickly changing world would benefit greatly if we can be open and honest with ourselves and to those around us. Thoughtful and real communication is desperately needed for us to build strong and lasting relationships that can bring incredible meaning to our lives. My ultimate hope is that if I am genuinely vulnerable with myself while I create each painting, that piece will in turn encourage its viewers to look inward and reflect on themselves and think about how they can live authentically and openly.
Sower of Seeds
Oil on Artefex panel
10 x 14 x 1 in
What do you think about when you paint? Where does your mind wander to?
Austin: I try to paint for at least 6 hours a day and those hours add up very quickly. While I paint I tend to listen to music, podcasts and audiobooks. So when I am listening to something like a podcast or audiobook, I am mostly thinking about that subject and trying to understand it. I usually reserve this for a particularly mindless part of a painting that doesn’t require as much thought about technique. But when I am really needing to focus of my technique and rendering abilities I usually stick to some sort of background music that gets me excited to paint.
When I am really in the zone while painting, it feels similar to a flow state that I’ve experienced in athletics. In this state, my mind feels fully present in what I’m doing but slightly removed so that I don’t overthink anything. Every brushstroke feels perfect and purposeful and I don’t want to stop. My mind tends to jump around between distinct memories, specific people or things that might happen in the future. But most of all I feel purposeful in these moments, like I am doing exactly what I am meant to do and nothing is more fulfilling than that feeling.
What is something that people don’t usually know about your practice?
Austin: Working in photoshop is a huge and invaluable tool in my creative process. I started to teach myself the basics of photoshop in my senior year of college and since then it has been a staple for creating ideas that can then be translated into paintings. Creating in photoshop allows me to work out key aspects of a piece like composition, color palette and the overall look before I even touch a brush. This is incredibly helpful for me since I can work out these big factors early on in the process with no risks and the once I start the piece I can just focus on painting and enjoying the creation process.
I tend to think through my painting process before I start a piece. I try to decide where I want to start, where I can paint in single layer, what areas will require several layers and what areas will require the most time and attention. I usually think about this in the background while I’m sketching or mixing colors and it helps me formulate a plan for tackling even the most intimidating paintings.
Outside of your role as an artist what other roles do you play in your life? How do these other roles affect your artistic practice?
Austin: My parents can attest to the fact that growing up, physicality was one of my hugely defining factors. So in addition to me learning to enjoy the physical act of creating art as a child my other role has always been athletic. As I grew up practicing and/or competing in gymnastics, basketball, volleyball, surfing, Tae Kwon Do and mostly springboard diving I learned how much I value the idea of developing a skill with thoughtful repetition and conscious learning. It wouldn’t be until college when I would start to discover that art and creativity were just more skills that I could develop with practice and hard work. As a collegiate diver and art major I found myself walking back and forth from the pool to the art studios constantly and the two started to connect in my brain. As amorphous and complicated as art can be, it helped me to start seeing it as a skill that can be developed just like all of my athletic abilities over the years. The more I practiced that act of being creative and honing my abilities to bring that creativity to life with paint, the more I improved and learned about myself. So it is safe to say that this was the single biggest mental shift that changed my relationship with art and led me to where I am today.
As someone who has straddled the worlds of art and athletics for my whole life, I have been happy to allow them to bleed into one another. I’ve started to view the act of painting as a daily habit that is a skill that can be developed with consistent practice. I try my best to keep a regular schedule that gives me plenty of time at the easel so that I can always enjoy the physical act of painting. I feel so happy to have learned that these two worlds of athletics and art don’t need to be separate and can in fact enhance each other because they are pieces of my identity.
One Hundred Years
Oil on Artefex panel
15 x 10 x 1 in
What are you grateful for?
Austin: I am incredibly grateful for the support I have received over the years in my artistic pursuits. Every small piece of encouragement has served as a supportive stepping stone guiding me to embrace my passion. I cannot emphasize enough that me and my wife’s families have been instrumental in making my dreams a reality. From sharing my art to anyone who will listen, to attending shows and even moving me into my first studio, they have been there every microscopic step of the way telling me “yes you can”. Their belief in my abilities gave me the courage to take each terrifying and exciting step forward and I honestly think about their support every time I paint.
Oil on panel
16 x 12 x 1 in