Sunil Howlader displays body of work at Mystic Museum of Art

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Duality. That might be one of the first words that comes to mind when looking at Sunil Howlader’s work. Currently on display at the Mystic Museum of Art, “Mystical Interactions: Sunil Howlader Solo Exhibition” (on view through Sept. 22), is rooted both in the abstract and reality; both in Mystic and his homeland of Bangladesh; both in color and shadows — appealing to both our visual senses as well as our emotions.

For Howlader, art is a way to express many sides of himself into one — a way to combine, he says, elements from his childhood and the myriad experiences and memories associated with that, as well as an appreciation for Mystic’s scenic beauty. The results are vibrantly colorful canvases, abstracted colors overlaid with figurative elements from his life in Mystic.

“I try to figure out how to put what I see, what I feel and where I come from into one painting,” he says by phone Thursday. “I try to make a bridge of where I live now and where I come from. Remembering where I come from is extremely important.”

Having grown up in Bangladesh, Howlader was raised by simple means and in a tight-knit community. He was about 5 years old, he says, when the Bangladesh Liberation War broke out and it was around that time, when he discovered, in a school textbook, a photograph of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibar Rahman with Indira Ghandi, India’s then Prime Minister. The moment, he says, sparked his interest in art.

“I didn’t even understand at that age the difference between photography and painting,” he says. “I just wanted to figure out how to make that sort of image myself.”

In an effort to create his own art, and without crayons and markers available, Howlader had to search, at the age of five, for his own colors to use. After observing that his mother’s hands would turn yellow after cooking with turmeric, or that green beans, when mashed, could produce a dark green color, Howlader started to make his own colors to work with — giving him, perhaps, a deeper appreciation for color use and experimentation than, say, someone who automatically had colors to work with as a toddler.

As a result of that, Howlader’s use of color is the most prominent aspect of his work. A bright yellow may end up next to a pale lilac. A deep blue may be splotched nearby an orangey-tan. He seems unafraid to place opposing colors near one another. Combine that with varying textures created through the paint itself and Howlader’s work becomes a sensory experience.

On one canvas alone, paint may be applied in a variety of methods: broad, heavy strokes in one corner; light strokes in another; smudging creates shadows; and cross hatching might create energy. But it’s this balance, he says, between colors, texture and movement that are supposed to reflect a certain emotion or memory he may be experiencing while painting.

“I’m trying to put on the canvas what I think,” he says. “My process is entirely different because I don’t follow any set rules. I try to follow just where my mind is going at that time.”

As part of that, Howlader says that he typically will paint from memory in his Mystic-based studio and will paint quickly so as to capture the inspiration driving his creativity in that moment.

Take for example “Festival I,” an acrylic work that prominently features an elephant shrouded in a deep-red tapestry — the most figurative of his works. Howlader’s memory comes to life as color dances around the elephant. Quick, manic strokes of turquoise, yellow and green emphasize the elephant’s upward movement, while aqua-blue squiggles mixed with fuchsia and purple at the bottom of the painting create a feeling of lightness.

Contrasting that energy, however, is “Crossing the Shadows,” a work depicting a rower gliding out from the shadows of an overpass. Painted as an ode to Mystic’s tranquility, Howlader has opted to use less vibrant colors. A heavy use of tan and brown ground the viewer in the experience, though a deep royal blue adds vibrancy to its water. What’s fascinating here is that, even though Howlader created the piece from memory, he perfectly captures what feels like an early morning ride over the Mystic River — a testament to the sort of passion he puts into creating each piece.

m.biekert@theday.com

If you go

What: "Mystical Interactions: Sunil Howlader Solo Exhibition"

Where: Mystic Museum of Art, 9 Water St., Mystic

When: Through Sept. 22: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily except closed Mondays

Admission: Free

Contact: (860) 536-7601, www.mysticmuseumofart.org

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