Human figures appear to merge with their surroundings in the paintings of Austin Howlett. The New Mexico-based artist explores people's connection to their environment in surrealist depictions of men and women converging with natural settings.
In some of these pieces, portraits are overlayed with the branches of a large tree, and in others, figures appear to become one with the mountains they are perched on. “I believe that nature allows us to be vulnerable and encourages us to grow. This is why I feel the need to illustrate the human form blended with nature,” Howlett tells My Modern Met. “The complexity of the human spirit at times needs the support of its natural surroundings in order to find balance and peace. The goal of all of my artwork from the beginning has been to ask viewers to do the terrifying work of addressing our deepest emotions so that we can better understand ourselves and shift our outlook on the world to a more empathetic viewpoint.”
Surrealism allows Howlett to explore the connection between people and environments with greater versatility. Rather than portray what figures would actually look like, they represent feelings, memories, and other ideas in relation to nature. Larger/than-life women who appear to sleep on top of tree-dotted valleys and icy lakes seem at peace with where they are and completely attuned to nature. “When I started to illustrate the human form myself, I immediately gravitated towards physicality that showed emotional vulnerability and self-reflection,” the artist explains. “One of the most important traits that I value in myself and in others is emotional vulnerability and I chose to explore this trait as a single through line in all of my work.”