Featured Artist: Brenda Howell
with: Karen Hunter McLaughlin
See more of Brenda’s work at – brendadhowell.com
Karen (L) and Brenda (R) at the NY Botanical Garden
Good friends and MamaCITA members, Karen Hunter McLaughlin and Brenda Howell sat down recently for this conversation…
Karen – So, how do you choose a subject for your work?
Brenda- I actually paint/construct what inspires me at that moment. I’m not an artist that will do multiple studies of one subject. To be honest, I find that boring. Despite that, think my work holds together because it’s all me.
Right now I am working on a series of encaustic mixed media ‘portraits’ of derelict Philadelphia buildings and I am going back to my Fiber roots…I am embroidering common weeds on handmade paper made from trash.
K- Yes I LOVE those pieces! I especially like seeing them in progress. I can’t wait to see the finished work. Will they be in our Fall anniversary exhibit?
B- Well, that’s one way to light a fire under me! I hope so.
K- You know I have always loved your aesthetic, which I’ll describe as gritty. Why do you like to use found objects in your work?
B- I don’t know why. I just know I am drawn to the ugly, the neglected, the unloved–smashed bottle caps found in parking lots, anything rusty, trash blown against a fence. I truly find beauty in these things. When I heard the Japanese word wabi-sabi for the first time I was relieved. I’m not as weird as I thought.
K- HA! I love your weirdness. It’s one of the reasons we get along so well.
I know you were a Fiber major at Tyler. How did that evolve into your amazing encaustic work, did you find a connection between the two?
When I was at Tyler, one of my instructors was an encaustic artist. I saw her work and knew it was what I wanted to do. The textures you can achieve, the luscious paint colors, the ability to incorporate found objects as well as it’s unpredictability, it all resonated with me.
K- What work are you most proud of?
B- I am most proud of two things actually. My four children are truly amazing despite my best efforts. Ha!
The other is whatever I’m working on at the moment. Sometimes it takes a herculean effort to get in the studio, to stay in the studio, AND be present. I probably should reread that Art and Fear book.
K- I have a very dog-eared copy of that book myself, and I agree your kids are kind of amazing.
We are, like, some of MamaCITA’s first members and we’ve gotten to know each other really well, which means a lot to me. Can you share what the cooperative has meant to you and your art practice?
To the Shulamite Woman
B- I know all members are deeply appreciative of MamaCITA. I joined at a time when all my children were at home or moving back home to save money. Making artwork was not happening regularly, if at all. I joined because I need the accountability and I need women in my life who ‘get’ that raising children and making art is daunting and frustrating. I’m not sure I’d still be making art without this group.
K- With you on that one. Even with children who have moved on to adulthood, it’s still difficult to make art. Our group of similarly situated artists is such a inspiration and motivation, right?
B- Absolutely. Happy 10th anniversary MamaCITA!