Louise Howlett is a London based artist who also goes under the name, Paper Scalpel Paint. She makes modernist inspired images using a repertoire of re-appropriated imagery, incidental markings & collage to create a new visual vocabulary. Louise is currently preparing for 2 shows in the South West, one as part of Stroud’s annual SITE Festival. She works from her home in Brockley, South East London under the watchful gaze of her beloved black cat, Mars.
01. What were your early artistic influences?
My first memories of being affected and slightly fixated by an image were as a young child. We didn’t have that many books at home but I remember being captivated by the pocket sized Penguin Book of Modern Art. My favourite colour plate in the book was Broadway Boogie-Woogie by Piet Mondrian. I remember staring at it for a very long time. Even at a very young age it spoke to me on another level, beyond literal representation. Here was a whole new vocabulary. Then when we moved out of London in 1976 I was lucky enough to have access to a good local art gallery, the Towner, in Eastbourne.On permanent display was a Henry Moore sculpture of a seated couple and an Edward Burra painting ‘Soldiers Backs’. They also had a huge Eric Ravilious collection. My dad was a printmaker too, so there was art in the house. He taught me how to make lino cuts and I loved the smell and sound of “inking up”.
02. What sort of Art and themes do you gravitate towards generally?
It’s hard to say as my tastes are so much more catholic now. I’ve always loved graphic art which is why I studied illustration, but I’m not an illustrator. I suppose there is a core group of artists and movements that I always return to such as early Modernism or a painter like Phillip Guston but then countless other things outside of that. I love textiles for example. I think these days in terms of new artists I look for work that has restraint & a lightness of touch, things that I find hard to do myself. Saying that, I went to see the Auerbach at the Tate three times, so the opposite also stands.
03. What have been the main inspirations in your working themes and style?
When I was younger as I mentioned before I discovered Edward Burra, I got lost in the detail, humour and the dark strangeness of his paintings. I suppose he made me want to paint people within environments and I was excited by the graphic elements in his work too. These days much of the work I gravitate to is non objective. Every so often you discover long dead artists who blow you away. A few years ago my boyfriend and I went to Stuttgart and we stumbled across a huge collection of paintings by modernist artist Willi Baumeister which were a revelation. You rarely see his work in the UK. He was politically persecuted during WW2 but carried on painting alongside working in a varnish factory in Wuppertal, Germany. Julius Bissier is another painter that is little known, there was a tiny painting of his in the Miro foundation that I couldn’t stop thinking about. I almost can’t look at his work as for me it is so delicate and precious. I love the drawings of Eva Hesse who was in the back of my mind when making some black and white collage drawings. I suppose little bits of everything filter through and then you have to make it your own, again creating a vocabulary. That is a long and continually evolving process.
04. What about the different mediums and techniques that you use or employ? Do you use modern technology and if so how?
I use a computer sometimes but it’s just a way of bringing everything together easily as I use elements form a large variety of sources. I also don’t have a studio so space is tight. I’m using a combination of found, hand drawn and painted imagery at present to create collages and I’m enjoying the way I can work very intuitively using software like photoshop. Every mark and line is scanned and reassembled to make an image and there are things that I might use repeatedly that become like little motifs. I also like the way quite inconsequential marks can become key players in the images composition. Chance and accident also feature quite heavily and I only plan things to a limited extent. I create a basic framework and often lay waste or ”trash” it, so things can end up very different from my original expectations. The basic driver is feeling that the image is resolved and is something I can walk away from comfortably.
At other times I won’t switch on the computer for a week and will busy myself making something physical or trying to do something useful in a sketchbook. That material might then find it’s way into a digital image, most things get used at some point even if they aren’t immediately visible. I also don’t like things to be too ‘clean ‘ so I’ll leave a lot of dirt and grot in there to build up textures etc.
05. What other current Artists do you find appealing? Heroes and Zeroes?
Well there are many heroes but Richard Tuttle is up there, his subtlety and intimacy. Juan Usle for his confidence. Christian Rosa caught my eye recently, his work is very spacial and kinetic. There’s a painter called Andrew Seto whose work I really like but I know little or nothing about him. Rose Wylie, I saw her show at the turner in Margate. She’s like, 80 plus years old and her work has more energy than many younger artists, she’s just always done her thing, without compromise. I also look at a lot of photography although when I think it most of them are dead, Luigi Ghirri, Tony Ray Jones, Raymond Moore, Saul Leiter. Alive? Chris Killip, Richard Wentworth. Friends of mine who make work are probably the biggest inspiration as they all deserve more success.
06. What can we expect to see from your current body of work right now?
I’ve been working on a series of prints that are quite architectural in feel. They look like a cross between skewed looking floor plans and designs for some fantastical modernist house. The technique I’m using is quite laborious but ultimately quite satisfying. I’m also making some work that might work well as some form of textile. I need some curtains!
07. Anything that you really dislike and why?
Wastefulness. General ignorance. Rude people on the internet! Laziness and procrastination, especially in myself. I find myself ironing hankies as an
08. What about Commissions and awkward Clients?
I don’t generally take on commissions, I’m not very good at doing what I’m told.
09. Tell us what you are up to at the moment and where can we view your work etc?
I’m currently preparing for a last minute show at the Meme Art Cafe Bar in Stroud which opens on the 7th April for 3 weeks. I’m showing 6 prints and some wooden, painted constructions /reliefs made from balsa wood. I then have a show at a new gallery space called JunKroom Art Projects (also in Stroud) run by artist and vinyl obsessive Sean Roe. I’ve been making the work for this since late last year. The show opens on the 22nd April and runs until May 22nd and is part of the Arts Council funded SITE Festival, the work is loosely inspired by classical and Jazz record sleeves from the 1950s & is all record sleeve format, so 12″ x 12″ in dimension. I’ve really enjoyed making the work for this exhibition.
My work is also online via Tumblr & Instagram. A website is in progress!
10. Your thoughts on the future and things that excite you beyond Art?
I’m playing music again after a very long break. My partner and I have thought about forming a group called Teachers Pet Shop or The Incredibly Highly Strung Band. I’d also like to work with some new materials so I’m always on the look out for a new means to an end.
11. Have you met or worked with anyone interesting on your Artistic journey?
Yes and without those people life would be very tough.
12. What does the future hold in store for you and your work?
I’m hoping there will be more opportunities to show work but the most important things is to carry on making. I gave up my secure job a year ago in order to go back to making art, I’m determined to continue to make space for it in my life.