Written by Frank Juarez
This article is currently featured in Kolaj #27.
Stuart Howland had a special way of navigating life through his art. His environment, beekeeping, teaching, reading, traveling, friends, and family sparked his creativity resulting in a world full of imagery, curiosity, happiness, and self-discovery. Like many artists, we seek ways to be engaged in the creative process and maintain our studio practice when life takes over. The beauty about Howland’s work was that it was full of life. He had a gift for sharing his visual stories for others to read. His collages took them onto a journey of wonderment via a gateway into the mind of “Stue Cimabue”.
“Stue Cimabue” is a combination of his first three letters of his name and the 12th Century Italian painter and designer of mosaics, Cimabue. When I first heard him refer himself to his alias, I thought it was a bit humorous. Later, I discovered that Cimabue was one of his favorite renaissance painters that bridged the gap between the medieval and renaissance periods. Although Cimabue’s subject matter depicted medieval and religious references and icons, his sense of color, composition, and narrative is what stimulated the investigation in Howland’s work.
His collages were driven by a collection of images of everyday objects, nature, memories, and reconnecting with his inner child who loved to discover and experience new things found in the woods in his hometown of Duluth, Minnesota.
Whether it was watching a movie, listening to a lecture, attending a meeting, he kept his hands busy doodling as a way of listening and understanding what was happening around him. He was observant and would record what he experienced in his sketchbooks. His sketchbooks were an integral part of his practice. Inside these sketchbooks, there would be drawings, collages, text, and scribbles.
Howland’s studio practice was influenced by world art – art from different cultures, western art, Asian art, outsider art, high art, low art, children’s art, and comic strips especially Krazy Kat by George Herriman. He would pair everyday objects with art historical references throughout his work. His collages were inspired by the work of Bob Dylan and his way of creating various images through the use of words and harmony to where the viewer would bounce from one situation to another. Quite the diversity in imagery, however for Howland, there was a connection. A connection that made his collage work investigative, complex, and playful.
He would create these images with a stream of consciousness. His intuitiveness to have different images meet up, intertwine, and overlap allowed him to constantly make connections as to why we are here. His collages explored the human mind, how we think, how we work, and how we put things together to process life. His collages were layered with images, text, and drawings that were affixed to cardboard, combination of found papers glued together, discontinued library books, and more.
As a viewer we often think about what drives the ideas of an artist to create their work and what the intent is behind it. For Howland, he wanted to create collages that told stories – his stories. His quirky sense of humor and curiosity were evident in his compositions.
I knew Howland for almost a decade and a half. We worked together as art educators and created art as artists. I was always drawn to the way he worked his surfaces with his images, but never understood his work completely. In 2015, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. What perhaps started as curiosity as a child in the early 1960’s transitioned into the art of storytelling later in life.
His collages from 2017 became a pivotal point in his career on how he responded and reflected on what mattered the most to him, his family, friends, and his love for art. I co-curated an exhibition titled, “The Art of Collage and Assemblage” with curator, John Adams, at the Arts Mill in Grafton, Wisconsin in 2017. One of the featured collages was a collage by Howland titled, “Beyond the Gates”. It was then that I finally understood his work. I believe that he was using his art to become at peace with the idea of dying.
Art is such a powerful medium to make sense of this world we live in. It is our way to relate to people, to experience new experiences, and to discover ourselves. It takes a lot of courage to make our creative worlds visible for others to see. His love of collaging allowed him to tell his story in the best way that he could.
On April 19, 2018 Stuart Howland passed away peacefully at home surrounded by love from family and friends after a courageous battle with cancer.
Stuart Howland (1957 – 2018) grew up in Duluth, Minnesota and held a B.A. in Painting and Drawing from the University of Wisconsin-Superior and a MFA and certificate in art education from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. During his career, he taught visual arts to junior high and high school students in Milwaukee and Sheboygan, as well as teaching drawing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Cardinal Stritch University.
Kolaj Magazine is a quarterly, printed, art magazine reviewing and surveying contemporary collage with an international perspective.
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