When Grace Howl was in second grade,  she made her first compromise as an artist—to a teacher, Ms. Cook, who demanded Howl paint her leaves green. Perhaps a yellow would have done, or maybe even a nice autumnal red, but certainly not the purple her pupil had chosen. Howl caved that day, but never forgot. Today, in a studio below her Rosemary District apartment, she calls the shots, getting up when she pleases and hitting the canvas how she pleases. “I paint whatever I feel like painting,” she says, and the hand-painted sign on the wall above her head hammers home the point—“No Fear. No Rules.” She retrieves a painting from the back, one of only two figurative works from the prolific abstract artist. The leaves are purple. The title is Ms. Cook’s Revenge. 

Howl’s particular revenge comes in the form of near absolute artistic freedom, with her studio environment crafted from floor to ceiling to encourage unfettered movement, thought and creation. From the paint-flecked tiles on the floor to the exposed ceiling, where the boxy metal light fixtures dangle almost haphazardly overhead as they spread their soft, two-toned glow across the space, the building itself seems to make way for the artistic process. Eschewing the easel, Howl works on a series of wheeled stainless steel tables, which she can roll wherever she wants, as she circles the canvas, painting from all directions at once. Sometimes, she says, she doesn’t even know which way is up, and often installs hardware on the back of her paintings so that eventual owners can choose the orientation they prefer. “I still call it playing,” Howl says, and, as a result, the work remains largely unburdened by any sense of “preciousness,” but rather retains the artist’s feisty energy. As free with her media as she is with her approach, Howl layers the paint thick, often incorporating outside elements like black sand or a granular gel to create textures that she encourages viewers to touch. “My paintings would survive a hurricane,” she says, running her hands across them.