James Howell

James Howell

Abstract painter James Howell died in his New York West Village studio on Sunday, Oct. 5, of myelofibrosis. He was 78.

While cruising MV Topaz from his Bainbridge Island studio, Howell frequently passed San Juan Island land facing southeast that he fell in love with. On the East Coast, he owned land next to the Pollock/Krasner studios in Springs, Long Island, N.Y.

He asked himself, “What would Pollock have done?” He decided that if Pollock could have, he would have done his own thing.

On False Bay Drive he purchased that land from memorable and creative, Milt and Lee Bave. In 1979, he built a studio surrounded by nuanced, infinitely shifting tones of gray sky, water and light that undoubtedly influenced his artistic production. The studio won Architectural Record Houses of 1983 award for the Howell, Morgan, and Lindstrom collaboration.

During these years of self-imposed retreat, his constant work educed his signature light into shadow paintings, leading to his “Series 10” in 1996, which would occupy him for the rest of his life, putting down his brush just a few days before his death.

Howell was born in Kansas City, Mo. His interest in art began early, attending the Nelson Atkins Art Institute while in elementary school. He graduated from the Hill School in 1953 (the same year he earned a pilot’s license at Northrop Aviation in California, the youngest to do so) and from Stanford University in 1957 with a Bachelor of Arts in English literature, and in 1961 with a Bachelor of Architecture. He received the Stanford Humanities Prize for the Arts in 1960.

Howell moved to New York in 1993, first to TriBeCa and later to the West Village in 1996, where he worked with the architect Deborah Berke to transform a 1909, 5,000 square-foot stable into a minimalist live/work space. The Howell Loft won the AIA NY Design Award in 1997.

Howell is survived by his spouse, D. Joy Drury Howell, whom he married in 1995, their two cats, 1 and Blue; Karen R. Weir, his daughter from his first marriage to Sandra Peters Howell Waylon; two grandsons, Rory J. Hoffmeister and Elijah N. Weir. In the spring of 2015, a celebration of his life will be held.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the Archives at Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1258 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo, NY 14222.

—Family of James Howell