Deborah Howard’s opening at Edge Gallery Friday, July 17, displayed works of melded media: Holocaust imagery paired with haunting photos, encaustics juxtaposed with what perhaps unites us all: shoes. Shoes, the elements that tie the entire exhibition together, are gnarled, painted, and sculpted into art at the hands of Howard; they become relics in her care.

The encaustics and shoes make up the bulk of the exhibit and work together to create a mélange of painting and sculpture that seems to take on a different medium altogether. Encaustic is a painting method where color-pigmented beeswax is melted, applied to a surface and reheated to fuse the paint into a smooth or textured finish. In Howard’s exhibit, she tends to take the textured approach, which evokes something gruesome and striking in her work, especially when the shoes interact with the canvas itself, whether melted into the canvas or placed in front of it, creating a museum-like quality.

Howard, who displayed her Portrait Project of Holocaust Survivors in 2008, calls to mind this past once again, reminding viewers of the extensive shoe collection displayed in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. She has taken her shoes and placed them on display, re-positioning them as works of art. Beautiful and eerie, they nag at us, make us uncomfortable, and beg us to ask questions: Where did they come from? And more importantly, whom did they come from? I found myself wondering if these shoes were taken or given over as pieces of art.

The encaustics react with the shoes most prominently in Celestial Slipper, where the canvases seem to take the place of the human figure. The only human quality remaining are the shoes, and that is enough for the viewer to infer a human. The fact of the matter is, though, that the shoes’ owner (whoever it was) is gone and replaced by material. Finality, beauty, and tragedy seep out from this piece and into the viewer.

Howard heads the painting program at the University of Denver. Her work has been exhibited at Aspen Art Museum, Regis University in Denver, Arvada Arts Center, Peace Museum in Chicago, Tweed Museum in Duluth Minnesota, Contemporary Art Center in New Orleans and City College in New York.


-Jessica Hughes