Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

The Sea-change of Howard Brough: New works at Finch Lane


Nothing of him that doth fade,

But doth suffer a sea-change,

into something rich and strange

In a now-legendary time, Howard Brough carried primary responsibility for the splendid, if spatially challenging gallery on the fourth floor of the City Library. During those years of service he must have dreamed, like so many creative industry adjuncts, from gallery directors to gallerists, from publishers to publisher’s reps, of one day having his own show in the space that had accommodated everyone from eager tyros to living legends.

And then, one day, he did it: left the gallery after, as parting gesture, he’d filled it with the substantial product of an entire life’s art making (see our article here). Or so it seemed at the time . . . but it wasn’t true. Rather, Brough’s gentle manner camouflaged a prolific painter: an incisive observer, ruthless poet, and merciless social critic. As evidence, a dozen brand-new, genre-blending icons appeared in Finch Lane this January, each boasting a crowd of satirical figures, ranging from Holofernes—a chicken named after the vengeful, Old Testament marauder—to Miss Judy—a neck-wringing chef resembling the Biblical Judith, who seduced and beheaded that too-human scourge. Other mythic stories infused with local references include “The Miracle of the Gulz,” “The Dee-lirium of Profut Bundy,” “O Susanna and the Elders,” and the “Temptation of Saint Tony.” Each transforms its iconic subject, traditional or modern, into an amalgam of quilt pattern, comic illustration, and cubist portrait, accompanied by a vernacular “Canticle.” It’s fortunate that Howard Brough’s latest work will be up only until February 24, as anyone trying to see it all in one visit risks viewer fatigue from a riot of details and a plethora of jokes that together reinvent that weary phrase: an original vision.

Geoff Wichert has degrees in critical writing and creative nonfiction. He writes about art to settle the arguments going on in his head.

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