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Multimedia Musings: The Work of Mildred Howard

Christina Beatty

Public Eye — Private Me stands in the center of the show, beckoning visitors from any direction. Constructed in 2003, it is one of the older works by Mildred Howard included in this exhibition mounted by the University of Oklahoma’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. The house-like structure, made of steel and mirrors, could dominate the viewer’s overall experience; instead, it serves as a true centerpiece, its porous, open-slatted nature allowing viewers to peer in, peek out and reflect on how one’s own being is both integrated with and separate from their surroundings.

This broad survey of the influential Bay Area artist’s work features found object sculpture, textiles, prints, blown glass and installations. Howard’s aesthetic carries the gravitas of history even when the work references current themes. It is as if newly created works are already artifacts. Prints from the Millennials & XYZ series feature images of hip hop artists layered upon newspaper article reproductions from the 1940s while the Island People on the Blue Mountain series layers handwriting with portraits and book pages creating dense images that reference globalism and connections across the African diaspora. The recurrent use of globes across seven included works explores themes of connectivity, militarism and environmentalism. Large scale woven tapestries completed just last year feel like pieces that could be found on the walls of a European castle. Meanwhile, the otherwise mostly muted tones and grounded quality of the exhibition are interrupted by an unexpected installation of large scale blown glass punctuation marks in black and red. Completed between 2010 and 2019, this playful addition, titled Parenthetically Speaking…It’s Only a Figure of Speech, would be equally at home in a collection of mid twentieth century pop art.

Howard’s work amplifies connections across time and space as only a late career artist bringing many decades of perspective can. She challenges viewers to look more closely, think more deeply, ask more questions, grounding global awareness with reflections on home. Journey with Mildred Howard through April 7, 2019.

Mildred Howard, Public Eye — Private Me, 2003.  Powder-coated steel and laminated copper-plated mirrors.

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