Adopting and updating methods dating back to the mid-1800s, Pia Howell creates her abstract imagery in a darkroom, placing stencils and transparencies on photo paper and exposing the materials to color-filtered light. The resulting prints are technically photographic, but expand conventional notions of that medium by forgoing the use of a camera and incorporating elements of painting, collage, and design. I’ve been an admirer of Pia’s since I first encountered her work in her 2011 solo show at Golden Age (RIP) in Chicago, so it was great to visit her in Bushwick last week and see what she’s working on.
Her apartment/studio (where she develops ideas prior to entering the darkroom) was filled with new work in various stages of completion. Happily, these new images retain the thoughtful sense of composition and subtle humor of her previous work. Where those earlier pieces favored hand-cut shapes, simple patterns, and the restrained formalism of logo design (cigarette packaging, pop-tart icing, the American flag), however, these recent prints - created from abstract ink paintings hand-drawn onto large transparencies - are busier and more gestural, with a greater allowance for happy accidents. It’s an exciting development which she could take in any number of directions - it’ll be really interesting to see where it leads.