- March 15, 2018
Grace Howl doesn’t play by the rules.
In fact, she never learned them. So why start now?
“No fear, no rules — that’s the mantra of my studio space,” the contemporary artist says. “I just put onto the canvas whatever I feel like on any given day.”
A white and black sign propped up behind three mannequin heads reminds her of the slogan when entering her new studio and gallery, which opened Nov. 3 in the Rosemary District.
The origin of the motto is best understood by learning the atypical nature of her path to art.
For about 22 years, Howl was a Sarasota real estate agent who represented landlords on the commercial side. It was a demanding job, she says, but she was excelling and loving it — until an otherwise routine drive home changed everything.
In 2007, Howl’s car was T-boned, leaving her with a concussion and impaired vision and speech. Throughout the physical therapy and other treatments that ensued, she says images and vibrant colors kept crowding her head.
“The doctor suggested I do something to help my neurons knit back together in my brain, so I started painting,” she says. “It was a way for me to communicate.”
With no art education whatsoever, Howl began smearing tubes of paint on paper, canvas and any other medium she could get her hands on. She didn’t know what she was doing, but something came over her when she started painting. In almost a trance-like state, she was able to translate everything she felt and saw within her into a piece of visual art.
It wasn’t long before she was flipping through art books, educating herself by taking in the works of artists she admires, especially Picasso and Matisse. She never attempted to copy the images she found among those pages. Instead, she analyzed the way the images laid and the effect they had on her.
Soon, she was hooked.
Initially, Howl was apprehensive about beginning a career as an artist. She had attempted to return to her job as a real estate agent, but found it too hard to focus and communicate the way she did before the crash. Eventually, she realized pursuing art could make her happy and help her earn a living when she retired from real estate.
Howl says it was never truly about making money, though. She was painting purely for the joy she got out of doing it, so she was surprised when people started taking a liking to her work.
She was embarrassed by her lack of training, but it didn’t show. People started buying her work, and soon interior designers were putting many of her first works into homes.
Howl created a small series of paintings for the elevator lobby of a commercial building in downtown Sarasota, but she still wasn’t thrilled by the business of selling her art. Instead, she took some time to paint for herself.
After a few years, however, she looked at the inventory piling up and decided she needed to make a change. The small villa she was working in wasn’t large enough for people to come look at her work, so she started searching for something larger. In 2015 she saw a listing for a small (yet larger than her last) work space on 15th Street, checked it out and made a promise to herself.
If she could make enough money selling paintings to pay for her lease, she could renew it after six months. She ended up renewing it every six months until opening two years later at 419 and 421 Central Ave.
“That brought me to 2017 when I got brave,” she says. “I committed to this space, and the biggest thing for me was being able to work and display in the same location.”
Indeed, the double address includes two window fronts: a gallery on the right and a studio on the left. This was quite a change for Howl, and not only to have so much room, but because she was used to painting in private spaces without a street view.
Now, with an abundance of both foot and vehicle traffic in perhaps the busiest area of the Rosemary District, Howl has people knocking on her windows and giving her a thumbs up to say they like what they see her doing.
Howl says she loves the Rosemary District because it’s up-and-coming. She likes its edgy vibe and the fact that she’s surrounded by so many other art organizations and businesses.
It makes sense then, because of the creative nature of the neighborhood, to have an open-door policy for her space. Even if she’s lost in the middle of a piece, Howl allows curious passers-by to step in and observe the process.
She doesn’t care if they buy. She just wants visitors to find a visual they connect with while getting a slice of who she really is.
“It’s not so much selling my artwork, it’s sharing my passion with people and letting them enjoy looking at the artwork.”
Accompanying her pieces in the gallery are small, fragile sculptures made of natural and manufactured elements. Nothing keeps the pieces together after Howl balances them atop one another, so each work would fall apart by the slightest shuffle of shoes against it.
And that’s intentional.
“There’s a great deal of patience that’s required with assembling those things,” Howl says. “But I like that. It presents a challenge for me.”
And it’s the obstacles she faces in the creation of her art that prove to be the best learning experiences for Howl, she says. Through trial and error, she’s learned what works best for her, from brush type to paint color.
Instead of following techniques emulated by so much of the artistic community, Howl says she would rather create from her heart, intuition and imagination.
As she become more involved in the local art community, Howl says giving back has become one of her top priorities.
Through Interior Design Society, Howl recently created a work made of three pieces of primed plywood for the new home of ALSO Youth in the Rosemary District. With Institute for Psychogeographic Adventure, she outlined a mural in the facilities department of The Ringling that strangers helped her paint.
“It takes me out of this world and puts me in the world in my head,” she says. “How I felt when I first painted (post-accident) was way different than how I felt trying to do anything else in my life. That’s the moment when I knew it was my saving grace.”