Howie Lee Weiss: Sophistication, Joy, and the Imperfection of Perfection

Howie Lee Weiss: Sophistication, Joy, and the Imperfection of Perfection

This leads us to the language of music, which plays a huge role in Howie’s life and art. Lisa Weiss, his wife, Professor Emeritus at Goucher College, is an internationally acclaimed concert pianist. A few months ago, I attended an outstanding, Baltimore-area recital she staged as a warm-up for her New York City performance at Carnegie Hall.

Her husband, who Lisa says, “hears very deeply,” doesn’t play any musical instruments, unless you count his masterly control of one-quarter-inch-thick, square sticks of vine charcoal, kneaded erasures, rulers, compasses, and reams of Lenox 100 paper. These days, charcoal’s an unusual medium of choice for such a sophisticated artist. Howie takes it to another level.

He also takes his colored felt tip marker sketchbooks (tons of ‘em!) to a simultaneously sublime and silly level. In them, he is a musician preparing, practicing, playing pictorial scales. In these books, Howie makes no distinction between disciplined work and disciplined play.

Keeping to the theme of music, HLW’s Gross McCleaf exhibition is a concert for the eyes. Listen to Howie’s “Song 1” and “Song 2.” Is it a stretch to equate his cartoonish, or better, “reductivist” calculations with the precision of a Bach fugue? Weiss’ humility could cause him to blushingly object to my comparing him to the great Baroque composer. But like that Master, there’s not a “wrong” note in a wise, super-sophisticated Weiss work. Everything’s exactly where and how it should be, goofily, down-to-earthly, imperfectly perfectly.

I imagine an after-breakfast table strewn with shadowless bananas, crescent-shaped melon slices, and a trio of three tea cups being sipped by Howie, Tchaikovsky, and Disney respectively. At a nearby table there’s J.S. Bach, sitting alone. Overhead there’s a primary-colored painting of joy and innocence.

I picture HLW walking shyly, respectfully towards the Baroque Master. “Excuse me, sir.” The older man puts down his teacup. “Okay if I straighten this canvas on the wall?” Howie asks. “It’s cockeyed.”

Bach nods yes. Howie nods back, as he adjusts the canvas to live a life of perfect balance. Or not.


Howie Lee Weiss, studio portrait

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