IAC hosts exhibit by Alabama artist showcasing the darker truths about Alabama’s history

Andrea Hammack

Staff Writer

The International Arts Center (IAC) is holding a reception with Mike Howard and his “Pivotal Moments in Alabama History” exhibit on Friday, Sept. 13. 

Howard, an expressionist born in Phenix City, has comprised a series of work that reflects the environment he grew up in.  

“Mike was born in 1944,” said Carrie Jaxon, curator for the IAC. “He witnessed his hometown of Phenix City – then known as ‘Sin City’ – go through dark times, the assassination of Albert Patterson, and observed the Jim Crow era and the struggling fight for civil rights.

“As a young person during these times, it clearly left an impression on his upbringing and ultimately his perspective on life.”

Jaxon first met Howard in 2016 while helping to curate an exhibition of his work at the Johnson Center for the Arts in downtown Troy. 

“We have already exhibited his ‘Selma March’ triptych when the IAC opened in 2016,” Jaxon said. “I wanted to see it come back to the IAC, so I began to look for other work that Troy owned in order to create a meaningful exhibition including that work.”

Howard’s work within this exhibit represents three major events in Alabama History: the assassination of Albert Patterson, the Selma March, and Rosa Parks’ bus ride.

“Mike Howard’s art upon entrance is powerful in its scale, pulling the observer into the scene conveyed,” Jaxon said. 

“His signature fast brush strokes and dripping paint are raw and full of emotion, further emphasized by the representation of events that were turning points for our state and country.”

Howard’s way of hanging his art also reflects the “raw” way that he paints.

“He hangs simply,” Jaxon said. “We respected the way he had chosen to hang up this work in Phenix City, where it is on permanent display. 

“Smaller, unstretched canvases are simply mounted to the wall while larger works are rolled and suspended from a pole.”

Jaxon admires the “aesthetics of his hanging system – it almost feels as if you’ve wandered into his studio.”

Stuart Horodner, an artistic director at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, praised Howard on his ability to educate and link communities to their history in a short essay being used for the exhibit. 

“Mike Howard’s art can be used to educate communities, give them a sense of their own culture, and provide links to the larger history of art and culture,” Horodner said in the essay. “If the museum is located in the context of the South, that will bring even more success to the endeavor.

“Mike’s story is that of a boy forged by an upbringing in a complex socio-political place, who went away to become a man of accomplishments and profound self-awareness. And now, he is returning home to tell others what he saw and felt.”

The reception and artist talk will be held on Friday, Sept. 13 at the IAC from 5 to 7 p.m. and is free to the public.

Visitors can enjoy refreshments along with meeting the artist. Mike will talk about his work and career with time for commentary and questions. 

His wife Mary Howard, an internationally renowned fashion set designer, will also speak.

This exhibition is also endorsed and supported by the Alabama Bicentennial Commission. 

If you are unfamiliar with its project, check out www.alabama200.org.

For those unable to attend the reception, the exhibit will remain on display in the IAC until Oct. 20.

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