This work by Charles Howard depicts two-dimensional shapes set against sinuous, biomorphic imagery

Charles Howard

American, 1899–1978

Presage, 1938

Gouache, watercolor, ink and pencil on paper

14⅞ x 22 inches

Signed and dated lower right

Born in Montclair, New Jersey, Howard grew up in California and studied at Berkeley, Columbia, and Harvard with aspirations of becoming a writer. A 1920 trip to Europe changed his career path. While immersing himself in the Parisian literary scene, he met Grant Wood, who persuaded Howard to abandon writing for painting. By the 1930s Howard was experimenting with abstraction and surrealism, which he favored for its imaginative imagery. His works of this period feature representational, biomorphic, and geometric forms. In 1933 he had a solo show at the influential, surrealist-supporting Julien Levy Gallery.

Presage—an exploration of flat, two-dimensional shapes set against sinuous, biomorphic imagery—conveys a foreboding tone. It was completed in London in 1938 and is perhaps an allusion to the stirrings of European conflict. An amorphous orange form supported by elongated insect-like legs leans against a geometric shape resembling wood. The saturated palette of blue and grey tones further heightens the mysterious, dreamlike scene.

This work by Charles Howard depicts two-dimensional shapes set against sinuous, biomorphic imagery