Howard, a native of Phenix City, has exhibited his paintings everywhere from P.S. 1 in New York to the High Museum in Atlanta. His work has appeared in the pages of Italian Vogue (thanks to his esteemed set designer wife, Mary Howard) and has been included in the tony collections of the Rubell Family and Harvard University. He was accepted into the coveted Whitney Museum Independent Study Program while studying art at theUniversity of Georgia, and was thrust into the New York art world glitterati when he began working with minimalist Donald Judd in the early 1970s.
“I was doing paintings before I knew I was going to show down there. They were all cows and haystacks and some hunting scenes. Troy is where my grandmother and grandfather had a farm. So it just fit perfectly, the theme of the paintings and Troy being where most of the paintings originated from.”
And the aforementioned Rosa Parks Museum on Troy’s Montgomery campus. The exhibit is being put together in collaboration with the museum’s director, Dr. Felicia Bell, and will consist of existing works (the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., slain New York City graffiti artist Michael Stewart) and new paintings (Parks, the first Selma march and his “The Death of Eric Garner” depiction of Garner’s 2014 death).
Artist Mike Howard’s New York studio displays his work on the last few paintings for “Resilient,” a show at the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery.
In his nearby studio, he is working on wall-sized paintings for a show that opens Wednesday at the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery.
Atlanta Contemporary calls Howard a “‘faux’ realist, borrowing from Edouard Manet and Thomas Eakins in order to paint still lifes of fast food, bars and beer.”
His subject matter has an atypical breadth and variety. Cows, haystacks, MoonPies and RC Cola are developed alongside portraits of civil rights icons, the Gowanus Canal, Unabomber shack commemorative plates, death scenes of everyone from Albert Patterson to Jean-Michel Basquiat, and replicas of Warhols and other artists’ work. He attributes the freedom to paint whatever he wants to his decision to leave the formal art world behind when his daughter Mimi was born.
But “It’s not what you paint, it’s how you paint,” he explains.
New York artist/curator/critic Joe Fyfe has called Howard’s work unguarded, egalitarian, generous and spirited. Art Dealer Michael Walls, who gave Howard his first NY gallery show, adds tough and rambunctious to the pot. All words that could also be used to describe Mike Howard himself. To him, “It’s just fast.”
Howard has an easy, wry wit and a fun, mischievous spirit. In addition to being a painter, he is a husband, father, grandfather, competitive cycler, former Marine and boxer. He’s a great storyteller, in person, via his paintings and on his Facebook page, which is peppered with tales from all aspects of his life’s passions – what he’s painting, where he’s racing, his work on his Columbus or Hurtsboro houses, bragging about his grandkids (one of whom he calls T Bone), memories of growing up in Girard, and bemoaning that “Phenix City has destroyed/demolished my childhood places.”
If you’re looking for the most interesting man in the world, I promise you he’s not sipping a Dos Equis somewhere. He’s most likely either drinking coffee or eating Key lime pie at Fort Defiance in Red Hook, Brooklyn, or holding court at the “round table” at City Grill in Hurtsboro, Alabama.
Mike Howard is a Girard, Alabama, native who splits his time among Brooklyn, Hurtsboro and Columbus, Georgia. His “Resilient” exhibit at the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery opens May 4 and will be on view through November.