Vivid and contemplative, inviting and open, over 40 works of Kearns, Utah landscape artist Tom Howard will fill the Eccles Community Art Center Main Gallery September 5-27. This solo show will be Howard’s first opportunity to display at Eccles. “Ogden is the closest I might get to my hometown of Tremonton as far as finding an exhibition place to show my work,” he says. “I think about trying to find ways to exhibit my work to the people of the Bear River Valley, try to show them what the place has done for me, what the love of the landscape has done for me.”
Howard’s practical parents rarely reveled in the natural beauty surrounding them. “Any trips that we took were always purpose-filled. Seeing the landscape … was just something we did because we were at a family reunion or going up into the sinks of Logan Canyon to cut timber for firewood,” he remembers. “Those opportunities were rare enough that for me that when I had a chance to be in the open, unfettered, untouched landscape, I was just that much more significantly impacted by it,” he says. “It just kind of sunk into my psyche a bit more, and it just became the thing that I craved that much more.”
Born in Las Vegas, Nevada, the painter moved to this inspirational area at about age three. Since those early years, Howard has felt compelled to create. “I’ve always wanted to be an artist, ever since I can remember,” he says. “I used to spend hours up in my room just drawing with magic markers and pencils and crayons and stuff, just to make images.”
The Springville Museum of Fine Arts was the setting for what the artist describes as one of his earliest, most formative experiences. While enjoying a weeklong stay with his grandparents, a young Tom Howard accompanied his grandmother to the museum, where she practiced as a violinist with the Utah Valley Symphony. While the musicians played, Howard found himself alone with the art.
“I just had the whole museum to myself. I got to walk around and see the art on the walls,” he says. “I remember at that time, I had a very specific response to what I liked and didn’t like. Abstraction, anything remotely resembling avant-garde, I just categorically denied,” he recalls. “The landscapes I loved. I loved looking at them, studying them.” Howard was about four years old. “Even at that time,” he says, “it had an impact on me.”
This impact followed Howard through his childhood, pushing him to pursue a career in art. After completing high school, the painter studied graphic design and illustration at Utah Technical College (now Salt Lake Community College). While the school offered only commercial art programs at the time, one course veered from practicality. “I studied water color painting the whole way through because it was the first medium, the first opportunity I had to access this thing called fine art,” he says. “Developing drawing skills and seeing skills and design and composition skills apply across the board,” says Howard. “But, for me, I knew that it was fine art that I loved and somehow I wanted to be there some day.”
After being fired — “mercifully,” says the artist — from a post-graduation graphic design job, Howard returned to school, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Utah. While this education moved him closer to his passion for painting, after graduation, the artist chose to support his family of seven by working again as a graphic designer. Until the nineties, Howard poured his talent into projects for Wasatch Front Regional Council.
“Finally I decided I was going to go for it and get a master’s degree and try to pursue fine art more full-time,” Howard says. In 1995, the painter received a Masters of Fine Arts from Brigham Young University. “I’ve been working as an artist ever since,” he says. “I paint and teach.”
An adjunct faculty member at Salt Lake Community College, the educated artist is very aware of his deliberate creative process. “I just lay my wash down and then begin to wipe-out the highlights and paint in the dark areas as I want them to be,” he says. “The image begins to build from there. By doing that,” he says, “all I have to do is basically worry about drawing and value. And then I paint the local color on top of the image.”
With palette knife and brushwork, the artist adds color in carefully texturized strokes. “When you get up close, suddenly the details just breakdown into strange marks,” he explains. “That’s what I enjoy doing: laying the texture, being not only descriptive of form but also just an interesting mark in and of itself,” he says. “When you step up, you see evidence of how the piece was made. You see that it’s a painting. But, when you step back very far, it all pulls together,” he continues. “That’s the fun part of it: to create those two levels of reading, that type of interaction for the viewer.”
Throughout this process, says the painter, “I try to be as honest and straightforward as possible about my representation of the landscape. I’m not trying to necessarily aggrandize it,” he says. “I guess that’s part of what makes me a realist more than anything. I’m just trying to paint it for what it is as I find it and just paint it in a loving manner,” he continues. “I just try to bring all my skills to bear to make it as correct and beautiful of a representation of that scene as I can make it and let it stand for what it is.”
To view the stunning landscapes of Tom Howard, visit the Eccles Community Art Center at 2580 Jefferson Avenue in Ogden. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., closed Sundays and major holidays. The gallery will host a reception during the First Friday Stroll September 5 from 6:00 to 9:00 that evening. Admission is free. For more information about Howard and his work, including names and locations of additional galleries featuring his pieces, visit tomhoward.blogspot.com.