Folie à Deux, French for madness of two, is the clinical definition for a psychosis in which delusional beliefs are transmitted from one individual to another. For her first exhibition at Blain|Southern
, the acclaimed British artist Rachel Howard has created a series of intricately linked paintings, hung as triptychs, diptychs and stand-alone works, which subtly explore this disturbing malady.
Folie à Deux can manifest itself in benign and extreme forms, and Howard was struck by a series of recorded case studies. One of these involved a paranoid married couple who both believed intruders were entering their house, spreading dust and wearing down their shoes; another documented the incident of twin sisters, one of whom provoked the other to run into the path of an oncoming car having done so herself a few seconds earlier.
Howards body of work deals with this notion of two people forming an intense or symbiotic relationship, as alluded to in the central painting of the exhibition, entitled Folie à Deux, which shows a heavily pregnant woman lying on her back, head outstretched and legs splayed.
Walter Sickerts paintings provide another stimulus and reference point, in particular his painting What Shall We Do About The Rent? Just as Sickert depicted intimate scenes of desolation, so Howards paintings speak of the emotional tensions that exist within the routines of everyday life. The artist examines commonplace domestic objects including a table, chair and lamp, but depicts them from unusual or unnerving perspectives, suggesting the multifaceted or unfixed state of mind implicit in Folie à Deux.
In Howards trademark style, the gravitational pull causes the paint to seep down the canvases, so that it seems to be clinging on to the works surfaces, mirroring the acts of desperation that encapsulate the essence of this exhibition. Howards new work demonstrates the fragility of the human condition, which can be easily unhinged by those around us. As Sartre said: Hell is other people.