Celebrated artist Katherine Howard, whose work has been showcased internationally with magazines including Vogue, The World of Interiors and House and Garden, explains how art has led her to an ever increasing respect and wonder for God’s animals.
How did you first develop your passion for art?
All members of my family were engaged in some artistic activity, mostly art or music. So it was an environment sympathetic and encouraging to my own burgeoning love of art. At school art and maths were my best subjects, and while my first two careers have been in business as an accountant and governance consultant, art has always been present in what I do. It is now my full time career.
Have you always had an interest in animal concerns?
My youth was grounded in Christianity, not least brought to me by a Franciscan Nun who lived with us for much of my early life. It was drummed into me at an early age to think for myself and stand up for what I believe to be right, however emotionally exhausting and lonely it might be. From that beginning my key ethical focus has been forged. It has come to revolve around how we humans use our power, as individuals and together. We are so powerful, yet we largely fail to realise our impact, short or longer term. We fail to use the power effectively, ethically and with love. Our abuse of power is overwhelming, adversely affecting fellow humans, the environment and other species. Animals in particular suffer, because, we humans usually believe we have the right to use and abuse them as we wish.
How have these aspects of your early training developed during your life?
During my earlier life in business, my experience of auditing slaughter houses and laboratories turned me vegetarian immediately. In the slaughter houses there were the horrific sights, sounds and the smells of burning hair, sawn bone and flesh, hot blood, and above all the smell of fear hanging on the pigs or sheep standing in line for the kill. In the laboratories the animals would either cower as one approached them or were too ill or drugged to be aware. The attitude of laboratory employees remains stark in my memory. Some thought it was a worthy mission, for others it was just a job. But there was the unmistakable expression in the eyes of many which clearly revealed the power and control they enjoyed over these creatures.
These experiences were instrumental in developing my focus on use of power, and have driven me towards educating hearts and minds about animals, in whatever way my skills allow.
From what artistic influences do you derive your inspiration?
For colour, shape and imagination I look to Kandinsky and Dali, for nature and environment to Constable and Turner. The spirit and empathy which Gerald Coulson manages to capture in his paintings I find very inspirational. There seem to be few instances in art history where the wonder of animals and their sentience are satisfactorily depicted. Mostly the focus of the artist is to capture their physicality. One important painting for me is by Joseph Wright of Derby ‘An experiment on a bird in the air pump’, This very well captures the range of human attitudes to animal cruelty. It has influenced me at several levels.
How is your spirituality reflected in your work?
I’m not really sure. My sense of transcendence and through the godliness in nature is very strong. All I know is that I continue to work at a piece until I feel I have captured the spirit, atmosphere or soul of the subject. I don’t know whether or not I achieve it. This is for viewers to say.
Has you art deepened your connection with animals and nature?
In trying to capture the spirit and nature of animals and their activities, I have certainly become more observant of them and of humans too. What has particularly developed is the recognition of the connections across species (including humans), the interrelatedness and interdependence. My experience has only led to ever increasing respect and wonder for us all as God’s animals.
We have a saying that ‘pictures speak louder than words’. I think this is true. Art in any form, harnessing the senses, can be used to help fight against wrong doing. Speaking personally, I have read a lot about cruelty to animals but it was that early assault on my senses visiting slaughter houses and laboratories which has had the greatest affect on me over the years.
How can others explore spirituality and animals artistically?
We are brought up to assume low levels of emotional and intellectual intelligence amongst non human animals. Science, for instance experiments to identify if animals do have such faculties, their hypothesis starting from the presumption that they do not.
Our pervading hard core culture is to start with our minds closed to animal sentience at any level. I can only recommend working hard to being open to the notion of animal emotional and intellectual intelligence. Observation can then help in trying to interpret their slightest movements and behaviours. In my experience, the actual act of trying to transfer that experience to paper or canvas really endorses and deepens the understanding of what has been observed. Spending time quietly watching and listening to animals in their own environment has given me much joy and some small insight into to the wonders of the world about us.
For more information on the work of Katherine Howard, please visit: www.katherinehowardart.com