Artistfacts: Thomas Houseago

Thomas Houseago is a fabulous, inventive sculptor and painter born in Leeds, England in 1972 and now living in California.  The references in his work are from both continents  but the scale is definitely American. Large scale, enormous and imposing figurative sculptures that seem ready to pounce or stride onto the viewer,  sometimes terrifying but always with an aspect of vulnerability. However, these figures are not human. Elements of science fiction, death masks, ancient gods and warriors are melded together. And somehow, human feelings of hope, fear, anger, sadness emerge.

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Thomas Houseago uses materials associated with classical  sculpture such as wood, clay, plaster or bronze, as well as less traditional materials such as steel rods and concrete. He does not hide the artist’s hand. There is a strong sense of the handmade, the unfinished.  Typical of his work is the combination of flat elements that almost appear to be cardboard with mask-like faces; large empty, hollow eyes and hand-drawn elements.

He has stated influences as wide as Picasso, Rodin, Henry Moore and Darth Vader or Nirvana. These influences fuse together into monstrous, mis-formed, mask like faces, asymmetric bodies with the various, disparate elements seemingly stuck or glued together that create a fascinating semi- abstract invader.

Houseago has said that he views movement as quintessential to sculpture. Part of the dilemma he has in thinking of a work is a desire that the sculpture as it takes up the viewer’s space must challenge his/her reality while being static. For him, sculpture is a monument to death that you deny by giving the sculpture movement, by having the sculpture either appear to be taking a step, ready to pounce or otherwise move into the viewer’s space. I think he is incredibly successful at filling his sculptures with kinetic energy. There is a tactile energy derived from the materials used, in particular the roughness of the plaster.

With the artist hand  and the structure of the work so visible- those metal rods and wood posts, the viewer is reminded of the impermanence of time, the vulnerability of the body, the importance of the skeleton as your backbone- maintaining you upright, the inevitability of death. He is telling a story about how the sculpture is made or makes itself. A sculpture is a fragmented body, accidents in the making reveal a new meaning.

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In more recent years, Houseago has moved away from sculpture as monument to focusing more on masks,  with the mask abstracts becoming plinths, gates, spoons, coins. These sculptures then have further evolved into walls or rooms that force the viewer into a physical and social interaction with the work.

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“Masks (Pentagon),” a public art piece that was installed in New York consisted of five sculptures of faces — some more than 16 feet tall — crafted from a ghostly white industrial-strength synthetic plaster. Visitors could enter the piece and see the world from the eyes of these gargantuan figures.

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Photo from Public Art Fund

Moun Room is an immersive environment. From the Hauser and Wirth write up of the show: “Measuring approximately 37 feet by 45 feet wide, and 12 feet tall, ‘Moun Room’ is comprised of three chambers contained within one another. The spaces Houseago has conceived with ‘Moun Room’ – extending both within and outside the structure’s physical walls – invite meditation upon movement and codes of behavior in response to architecture. The artist has described this work as ‘a visual maze with a spiritual dimension’. I can state it was a fascinating world to enter.

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Although he is definitely best know for his sculptures, Houseago has also made paintings, in particular a series called the Black paintings  which have the same structure and contrast as his mask sculptures and remind me somewhat of the masks in Basquiat paintings.

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Gallery : Gagosian, Xavier Hufkens, Hauser and Wirth

 

Artistfacts: Kaari Upson

Artistfacts: Kaari Upson

Kaari Upson is an extremely intriguing, disturbing and inventive artist whose work was included in the Whitney Biennial of 2017 and who has a solo exhibit at the New Museum through September 10, 2017. Surprisingly, perhaps because the work is based so much on  everyday objects, they are upsetting and comforting at the same time.

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Kaari  Upson was born in 1972 and lives in Los Angeles and New York. Although she works in many mediums- drawing, video, installation and sculpture,  I am mainly fascinated by her sculptures which she describes as the byproduct of the drawings and videos. These objects, made of silicone, hair, fiberglass, urethane, aluminum, latex, aluminum cans, stuffed dolls, her mother’s clothes, have extremely evocative titles such as “My mother Drinks Pepsi”, “Foot on Throat” and “Death Bed”.  She bases her sculptural work on possessions, everyday articles such as mattresses , couches, trashcans or pepsi cans, a track house in Las Vegas.  However this is not pop art. The articles are reproduced, cast, painted on. They are transformed and at times require close examination before the viewer recognizes the original source material.  She is examining them and forcing the viewer to take a fresh look at them, to give them a new life, a new value. She draws on psychoanalysis -mainly Freudian and Laconian that influenced her at CalArts.  Her works are a mix of fantasy, personal issues, pyschoanalytics, capitalistic consumerism and sex.

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She uses these objects to represent people- or moments of her life or mirrored personas.  Some of the people are real- there is a particular preoccupation with her mother. Some are make believe,  as with the project based on Larry- a fictitious name she assigned to her parents neighbor whose possessions she salvaged after his house burnt down. Cancer influenced the project Sleep with the Key which features silicon replicas of discarded mattresses. A found couch was the impetus for the project at the Whitney, yet it becomes so much more than a couch it takes on a life of its own, evoking in the viewer ghosts from their psyche.  Almost like in Disney’s Fantasia, you expect some of the sculptures to get up and move on their own.

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She transforms these objects through groupings or by letting their shapes erode so they are only a ghost of what they once were, she forces the viewer to consider how one so closely associates certain people to certain objects and in parallel, certain objects to certain times of one’s own life. She allows chance into the making of a work. For example,  the pepsi cans are made using an experimental casting process: a Pepsi can is filled with liquid aluminum that melts into the can’s form, merging the stream of metal and the can into one solid object. The colors of the can burn off, but there is a shadow of the label left. (1) the mattresses require takes four or five people at all times. The mold itself weighs 100 pounds or so. It’s made of Aqua-Resin, and it has to be a hard mold, because one has to be able to lay it down, prop it up, turn it. She doesn’t  know what she will get until the end.  This is multiple hands. There’s no one gesture; it’s a multiplicity of gestures. All the painting is done in the mold. The first marks, the airbrushing quality, is silicone sprayed in the mold.  (2)

The drawings are harder to focus on initially. Extremely involved, convoluted, filled with words, almost like streams of consciousness understandable only to the artist. You are drawn to trying to decipher them and wishing for a decoding book.

In Art Newspaper the artist is quoted as saying: There’s no beginning, middle or end in the work… some of them started five years ago, so they’re drawings I work on. Some people have described them as the unconscious of certain sculptures.When I work on one drawing, and I add the first text, or even an image, it’s recycled back in on itself. Then an accident of two texts that I’m researching might overlap an image that I put on… As these things layer, it generally points to a direction of an answer to how a three-dimensional object might get made. ”

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(1) Spruth Magers

(2) Even Magazine

 

Artistfacts: Adrian Ghenie

Adrian Ghenie is an amazingly talented and engaging, haunting artist, whose use of color, texture and gesture make you fall in love with paint and the act of painting though he does not use a paint brush but relies on a palette knife, stencils, dripping and pouring for the bold, gestural application of paint, the thick layers scraped and blurred, accidents embraced.

Born in communist Romania in 1977 he now lives and works in Berlin.  His works are like Francis Bacon’s a mix of figurative and abstract with bold, lush uses of color. The sensuality of his process draws you in while the subject matter is often bleak with a focus on the abusers of power or their victims, elements of 20th and 21st century history or historical figures- Ceausescu, Stalin, Hitler, the refugee crisis…

Ghenie has stated in an Artnews article that: ” every painting is abstract, I don’t believe in figurative. as soon as it starts to imitate, to depict something, then a painting is dead.” Although there are definitely figures in his paintings, some highly recognizable, a lot are deconstructed or alluded to, often with the titles providing information. The fact that the artist is forced to make decisions on how to paint, how to combine fragments from various media or the level of detail included in a setting or landscape imbues and abstracts the work.

 

 

 

Artistfacts: David Altmejd

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Terrifying and grotesque or seductive and captivating sculptures or should I say sculptural beings and their habitats. David Altmejd is a Canadian artist working in New York who creates large, masterfully made, highly distinctive works in which the use of varied, unconventional materials, the process  of constructing the work generates the meaning.  David Altmejd blends ideas of the infinitely large and the infinitely small. Materials used include plexiglass, beads, hair, epoxy, clay, mirrors, resin, imprints of his ear and hands, paint, glitter, wood, mirror….

For David Altmejd what is encouraged in art is the development/invention of language. The object is a made object, the artist’s hand is clearly visible, if not actually reproduced and applied to the sculpture, each step in the making dictates the next one. The various materials used  that each behave in different ways force the work into a certain direction. Color is used to change the mood of the sculpture.  He starts with figurative elements massed together that then become abstract, forcing you to look into the work to see the components, to delve into the habitats created.

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David Altmejd wishes to make an object that will feel alive but is not representing life. A hole through the chest of a sculpture for example represents energy, life, the act of creation. Openings, orifices, emphasize the senses such as hearing or touch and importance of the body.

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He accompanies most/all of his work with heads, which he sees as a form of drawing.  The frame of the head combines the materials that are used in the main pieces.

David Altmejd’s work is fabulously creative, unnerving, breathtakingly complex and unique. One is seduced by the materials, the exuberance, the scale and mastery yet cringe at the symbols of decay, forced to always take at least one more look.

 

Artistfacts: Julie Mehretu

Artistfacts: Julie Mehretu

Another female artist, of African heritage that I absolutely adore although her work is so very different than that of Njideka Akunyili Crosby. Julie Mehretu’s works are definitely not  figurative. Her works are elaborate, rich and generally large scale gestural compositions that drawn on the language of European abstraction but insert elements of reality, places or characters, creating very much her own pictorial language. Her works do not show us a recognizable time or place. Her marks include drawn lines, renderings of architectural or urban structures, topographical schema such as city maps or stadiums, layered and seen from various perspectives, dashes, glyphs and what she describes as swarms or massing of small marks. She  builds up layers of acrylic paint overlaid with marks in pencil, ink, airbrushing and what looks like erasure as she progresses with the works.   I am always amazed at the energy and strength I feel when I look at her work from afar and the incredible detail and precision underlaying it when I get in close. Often there is the impression that the works want to explode out of the picture frame.

The narratives underlying the works can only be understood by studying the various layers though hints are provided by the titles.  The artist has described her canvases as ” story maps of no location”  or as ” psycho- geographies”  made as she searched for her identity – culturally, physically, historically as well as as a painter. This search included trying to make sense of, engage with and expand the language of drawing and painting. At the same time she is very  engaged in current events including the political and social reality of the world.  She sees the world as a world in crisis moving faster and faster and that comes through in the explosive movement of the marks on the canvas.  Color is used as a sign or cultural language, linked to flags or corporate logos in the older pieces, blurred photographs embedded into the new ones.

 

 

Her more recent work from 2016 tend to be more abstract with stronger elements of landscape. These works seem more frenetic, filled in and less exploded,  with a strong gray tonality and acidic colors as opposed to the more open and light filled earlier works. There appear to be body parts within these newer pieces that hide amidst the chaos of the marks.  A different language is in use, no less personal but  more intimate.

 

 

 

Julie Mehrten was born in Ethiopia in 1970 but raised in the United States from the age of 7.

Gallery representation is White Cube and Marion Goodman.

There is a wonderful interview on The Modern Art Notes Podcast with Tyler Green as well as a video from Art 21.

Artistfacts: Njideka Akunyili Crosby

Njideka Akunyili Crosby

Let me preface this blog by stating that I absolutely love this artist’s work.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby is a young artist, born in Nigeria in 1983, who came to the United States at age 16/17 and now lives in Los Angeles.

Her work reflects on the two cultures  and is highly autobiographical. Many of the people portrayed are family members. Her practice uses a combination of painting, collage, drawing and printmaking. The language of image making is used in all of its variety with incredible power. Her canvases are made with acrylic paint, colored pencil, pastel, charcoal, fabric and print making in particular the use of transfers, a process used by Robert Rauschenberg among others.

The works are very idiosyncratic and highly recognizable, complex multilayered, materially dense works that some have compared to quilts. The images she transfers onto the canvas  come from popular Nigerian culture often from the 80’s and 90’s.  They are doorways to shared memories and inherited traditions. Traditions that have been hybridized or coopted through colonialism and globalization. The fabrics are often portrait or commemorative fabrics that speak to the history of her family and of Africa. Spaces are not closed but doors open onto rooms with other open doors, spaces are liminal,  on both sides of a boundary or threshold and characters cannot be boxed into one culture be it socio-economic or country.  Objects and spaces are layered one right on top of the other. Characters are built up.  Nothing is static.

In an interview she gave to The White Review in 2016  Njideka Akunyili Crosby  recounts how she first encountered Mary Louise Pratt’s ‘Arts of the Contact Zone’ (1991), which identifies ‘social spaces where cultures meet, clash and grapple with each other’, during her studies at Yale University School of Art.  The ‘contact zone’ has since become an underlying focus in the practice of the artist.  “It involves a lot of appropriation and exchanging of ideas, and usually something new comes out of that. This really resonated with me, since I come from a country that is a contact zone – first, from being a British colony up until 1960, and then with American movies and pop culture coming into the country. You begin to see traditions that have become a weird mix of different cultures.”

 

Njideka Akunyili Crosby has an MFA from Yale and is represented by Victoria Miro. There is a wonderful artist talk on the Whitney website from March 2016.

Artistfacts: Liza Lou

Liza Lou

Liza Lou is an American, female artist born in 1969. She attended San Francisco Art Institute and now lives in KwaZulu Natal South Africa as well as Los Angeles. Her work is arresting and engrossing.

Liza Lou specializes and is best known for sculptures and environments created entirely with beads initially applied with tweezers.  She therefore could be grouped with artists such as Tara Donovan, Jean Shin or Tom Friedman who work with large amounts of inexpensive and non- classical art materials that emphasize the need for intense and repetitive processes. Looking at her work one is awed by their perfection,  the immense amount of time and exacting effort required to make them yet,  especially with her earlier works such as The Kitchen and Backyard, they recreate common, every day almost banal environments bling-ed up through the use of multicolored, multifaceted glass beads. They comment on craft and women, feminism and time.  Somewhat a follow on to pop art.  Slightly later works, such as Trailer are more unsettling or satirical about the world around us. Although the Kitchen – a room sized sculpture- represented five years of solo labor, other works have employed assistants and, since her partial move to South Africa, close work with Zulu artisans. The artist has commented that when she first started to work with beads she was told that it was not allowed.  Her family at times bohemian later became born again fundamentalist Christians which may in part have been incorporated in the ambiguous melding of worlds.

 

Her works have included portraits of presidents, political consciousness raising sculptures dealing with violence and confinement such as Quick Cheap Overwhelming Victory, and Maximum Security or Security Fence, beautifully made and thought provoking sculptures such as Blanket, Book of Days, Cell, Continuous Mile, spiritual sculptures such as Book of Days  Deny and Repress Kitchenette, Devotional,  Gather.

 

 

A few figures- Homeostatis, Man, the Damned, The Heretic, The Worshiper, the Vessel, many with religious overtones or modeled after classical pieces are also a part of her work.

 

 

Since 2005, Liza Lou’s works seem to have moved away from creating environments to  more tonal, paintings still made with beads but emphasize the repetitive process of the works creation and the materiality and social consciousness demonstrated in the works. She is currently developing a major art work and sustainable employment project with a woman’s prison in Belem,  Brazil.  Her philosophical focus is on helping women, identifying with the day to day mundane, unrecognized environments of women and their  hand made work – craft- and elevating that to art.

Gallery representation is Lehman Maupin, Galerie Thaddeus Ropac, Goodman Gallery  and White Cube.