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Howe, Delmas (b. 1935)  
 
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Utilizing formal elements characteristic of Renaissance art to visualize contemporary American subjects, Howe creates work that seems at once universal and immediately relevant. By 1970, in such paintings as Ronnie as Melancholy, Howe had defined his distinctive approach to the theme of the modern cowboy. In both its composition and its solemn mood, this depiction of the enthroned figure of Ronnie evokes Renaissance portraits of rulers and ecclesiastics, such as Raphael's Pope Julius II (1510, National Gallery, London) and El Greco's Portrait of a Cardinal (1610, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). However, Howe has replaced brocaded walls with saddle, stirrup, and blanket, which complement Ronnie's cowboy hat and clothes. Despite the changes in setting and costume, Ronnie gazes at the viewer with the same confidence and intensity as the Renaissance leaders do. Distinctive to Howe's portrait is the mood of smoldering sensuality, conveyed not just by Ronnie's gaze but also by the sense of the movement of his muscles underneath his clothes.

Return to the West

By 1975, Howe had become disillusioned with the dynamics of the New York art world. Although he received favorable critical reviews for works exhibited at galleries in New York and elsewhere from 1970 onwards, he was not able to support himself through his art. In interviews, Howe has attributed the difficulties he has experienced in selling works to several factors, including the intense homoeroticism of his imagery; his use of a monumental, figurative style, out of sync with art "fashions"; and the large scale of many of his pieces. Unwilling to change his style or to play the gallery "game" by devoting his energies to selling (rather than creating) his art, Howe realized that he could only afford to remain in New York if he took a full-time job in another field and painted on a part- time basis.

Therefore, Howe decided to move back to the West, where he believed that he would be better able to devote his energies to his art. In 1975, he accepted a position designing fabric in Amarillo, Texas, and, in 1979, he opened his own studio in Amarillo for the creation of large-scale art for public spaces.

During the 1980s, Howe earned the reputation as one of the leading mural artists in the United States. His highly original wall paintings responded to the distinct needs of the organizations that commissioned them. At the Amarillo Speech and Hearing Center, he created a soothing environment for the children being treated there by covering the walls of the long hallways with large, illusionistic images of different species of shells, connected to one another by streamers and waves. For the Texas and Southwestern Cattleraisers Association, Fort Worth, he painted a twenty-five foot long mural, depicting cowboys and cattle in an idyllic Western landscape. In Seppi's, an elegant restaurant in a New York hotel, his mural of the Alsatian countryside evokes the city vistas in the paintings of Piero della Francesca and other Renaissance artists.

Since 1984, Howe has been living in his home town, Truth or Consequences. Obviously fond of this town, Howe has characterized its population of about 8,000 as an unusual mixture of cowboys, retirees, and ex-hippies. In part because of Howe's presence there, the town in the past few years has attracted other artists, writers, and intellectuals, and it is beginning to gain recognition as an artists' colony.

Nevertheless, local fundamentalists have become increasingly vocal--publicly disparaging his art and even disrupting shows of his paintings in local galleries. Despite these conflicts, Howe feels deeply rooted in Truth or Consequences, and he continues to create images celebrating the cowboys whose company have given him so much comfort and delight throughout his life.

Major Series of Paintings

As Renaissance artists did, Howe has conceived many of his pictures as parts of extended series. However, in contrast to Renaissance practice, Howe's works are not intended to be composed into linear narrative sequences. Rather, the components of his series interact with one another in complex and provocative ways.

Thus far, his largest series is The Rodeo Pantheon, which incorporates pieces produced as early as 1970. By 1993, he had completed over fifty large-scale paintings for the Pantheon, and he occasionally has added other pictures to this group. As the name implies, the series involves the presence of the ancient gods at the modern rodeo, but it also encompasses a broader range of subjects and issues. Howe subtly establishes the American West as the dwelling place of gods in The Sierra Pantheon (1988), which depicts an isolated trailer--the archetypal working-class residence of the American West-- before a dramatically lit vista of the Sierra Mountains, the new Olympus.

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