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Painting smooths rough edges of life

Omer Howard creates his impressionistic art in his West Central home studio. (Dan Pelle)
Omer Howard creates his impressionistic art in his West Central home studio. (Dan Pelle)

Omer Howard has traveled on a rough road. He’s been an addict, a prison inmate, shot, homeless and is currently fighting colon cancer.

“I’m on the downside of it now,” he said.

The thing that has remained constant in his life is his desire to observe the world around him and creatively decipher his findings through words or layers of oil paint.

Howard, 62, grew up in the cotton fields of west Phoenix. When cotton picking went the way of the machine, Howard picked strawberries south of Portland. He joined the Army out of high school and said he served two years in Vietnam as a crew chief in a helicopter. Later, as a civilian, with memories of Vietnam and a wanderer’s disposition, Howard ended up here and there, traveling easily with a pencil and notebook.

Times were certainly hard. He wrote his first unpublished novel, “An Obscene Senseless Adventure,” and, in prison on a drug conviction in California, he began his second, “Observations in Futility,” about a character living in a derelict hotel while trying to stay sober, earning extra cash at the blood bank and writing a novel.

While reading his work, one might wonder if he’s a madman or a keen observer of the ways of the world.

Howard ended up in Spokane after being accidently shot in a gravel yard in Arizona in 1981. He was granted some money for his suffering and selected Spokane in which to settle after “bumming around here in the ’70s.” He purchased a house on West Broadway Avenue where he has a top floor studio to write and paint in.

He began painting about 25 years ago. Without formal education, he is free to let his imagination lead. He has shown his work at coffee houses but has been turned down by area galleries.

Recently, his large impressionistic paintings were accepted at Area 58, 3036 N. Monroe St. Co-owner Dennis Held explained, “His work is alive and full of passion with a mix of joy and foreboding beauty. It’s powerful and intuitive and is not weighed down by preconceptions of what his work should or shouldn’t be. It’s a true representation of freedom.”

The potholes of Howard’s rough road have been filled with years of creative endeavors. Whether or not more than a handful of others will be privy to them is another story entirely. “One day, I would like to have actually accomplished something,” he said, “One day maybe.”

The Verve is a weekly feature celebrating the arts. If you know an artist, dancer, actor, musician, photographer, band or singer, contact correspondent Jennifer LaRue by e-mail