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Rachel Howard's Folie a Deux

The British artist references the form of psychosis in which delusional beliefs are shared between two people in her new exhibition of paintings

'Folie a Deux', the title of Rachel Howard’s current exhibition at Blain¦Southern’s Dering Street Gallery, refers to a form of psychosis where the participants engage in a shared delusional state, that while symbiotic is essentially destructive to all concerned. The artist, a Goldsmith’s contemporary of Damien Hirst’s who went on to become his assistant and help him create his spot paintings, was entranced by case studies of the condition, which murderous couples such as Fred and Rose West, and Ian Brady and Myra Hindley are believed to have suffered from.

Howard eschewed representing their examples, preferring instead “to paint the invisible people” taking inspiration instead from the married couple who believed that strangers entered their house at night to spread dust around the place and wear their shoes down through walking around in them, or the tragic identical twins who threw themselves in front of a speeding car. Her paintings, which are “more fragile, not gentler” than previous works which have addressed topics such as suicide, Christianity and the outrages of Abu Ghraib, are created in her trademark style - she lets household gloss paint separate, then uses the pigment to paint with and the varnish to create a gloss on the canvas.

The exhibition’s eponymous work is its centrepoint - a portrait of a pregnant nude, head thrust back, legs splayed, the symbiosis of mother and child plainly apparent. But the painting encourages a narrative - what will the child’s life be like? Will it share the vulnerability that its lone parent, framed in a stark and tiny canvas, seems mired in? Elsewhere Howard touches on the narrative of the current economically strictured age in a tryptich - Reposession - that draws from Walter Sickert’s 'What Shall We Do About The Rent?', imbuing mundane household objects such as a table and chair with the fraughtness of our personal dynamics in these uncertain times.

Text by Seth Jacobson

'Folie a Deux' is showing until 22 December 2011 at Blain¦Southern, 21 Dering Street, London W1S 1AL