Fresno’s art scene has lost a prominent name. Howard Statham, one of the founding members of Fig Tree Gallery, died Nov. 13. Known for his humor and sense of the absurd, Statham’s deadpan wit was often front and center in his works, which included paintings on wood, glass and later a large number of computer-generated pieces.
His works are often gently acerbic, sometimes overtly political, occasionally downright corny, maybe even a little naughty. They often elicit a chuckle. When you make a parody of Munch’s famed “The Scream” starring Miss Piggy — and retitle it “The Squeal” — it’s clear there’s a strong sense of humor at work.
But beyond Staham’s wry sense of humor, I was drawn to some darker textures in terms of subject matter in the artist’s work.
In 2009, in an interview with Statham, Bee writer Felicia Matlosz wrote:
Think of blending the art of painters Salvador Dali and René Magritte, the wit of Groucho Marx and the comic observations of Steven Wright.
Statham escribes himself as a “kitchen-table painter” because that’s where he has created much of his work. In recent years, his focus has been on computer-generated fine art. So, how do his images take shape?
“I will just take the mouse and make a zig-zag line and start filling in with color, ” he says. “A lot of times, things end up nothing like what they started out as.”
Here’s a work titled “The mislaid steamroller” from the 2009 show that Matlosz wrote about:
Reading his paid obituary in The Bee brought a smile to my face, with Statham’s dry wit showing through. I’m assuming he wrote it himself. (UPDATE 12/3: I’m told by Clare Staham that her mother wrote the obituary. It’s obvious that Mrs. Statham shared her husband’s way with words.) Here’s a section about meeting his future wife, Yolanda Cavallo:
Immediately after their marriage they lived first in Angels Camp and then for two years in Carmel, but Howard was a Valley person, so they moved to Fresno, bought a house, planted giant bamboo in their front yard, and lived an interesting and productive life while listening to the clacking of the bamboo on stormy nights. Their marriage of sixty-three years and three months was a happy one.
Their union produced two most satisfactory children, Kevin and Clare. They and their spouses, Dr. Sharon Booth and Greg Olin, have been helpful and loving beyond measure.
At Statham’s request there will be no funeral services. A reception in his honor will be held 3 p.m. Dec. 16 at the Downtown Club with all invited.