review

Thomas Houseago: Constructions

Onze score

For years, Thomas Houseago has been battling a monster bigger than himself. At Xavier Hufkens, this imposing, violent monumentality has been replaced with a more intimate scale, without losing any of its primal power.

These days you might stumble into Brad Pitt at his studio, but life has not always been kind to Thomas Houseago. A violent, traumatic youth in Leeds, an early artistic career that left him destitute and in despair, and – after living in Amsterdam and Brussels – a last-ditch move to Los Angeles were all the unbreakable spine of a monster that towered over him for many years.

That monster and Houseago’s attempts to give it a space and a shape are the raw rocket fuel for a practice in which he engages in a physical battle, as it were, with wood, clay, plaster, bronze, rebar, or hemp. Through this performative act – driven by sadness, doubt, rage, and an immense love – he moulds, beats, screams, kicks, and assembles raw, hybrid, sometimes terrifyingly twisted monumental bodies and environments.

His work reads like an exorcism and an attempt to create a personal mythology. Of trauma and recalcitrance, of defeat and defiance, and of subjugation and liberation. With all their attendant rough edges, bumps and bruises, fissures, cracks, and open wounds. It results in sculptures and installations that are very much alive and unleash both disruptive complexity and immediate emotional involvement on his viewers. In other words: Thomas Houseago’s work puts a knife to your throat, makes a visceral impression, and runs amuck with your head and heart.


Downsizing


In “Constructions” – Thomas Houseago’s fifth solo show at Xavier Hufkens – this monumentality has made way for work on a more intimate scale, but the primal power that these works exude (in addition to sculptures, he is also showing a number of Soma paintings, a reference to Houseago’s therapy sessions), is no different than in the past and it is just as overwhelming. The heart in these bodies still pumps the same blood, but it beats more softly and speaks more clearly and more serenely. As though the relationship between the artist and the bodies that he brings to life has changed. As though the interlocutors, after an exhausting physical confrontation, have reconciled, and the roles of creator and creature have become clearer and their balance more defined.

The result is that the bodies in which that chaos and suffering, darkness and doubt are sublimated are no longer primarily overwhelming and almost blinding, but that they lead to a deeper connection. A relationship that has more space for refinement, in which materials have become more important, and in which the ingenious compositions and organic geometry of Houseago’s sculptures make your fingers tingle. Size doesn’t matter, space does.

In all their lightness, these works hint at the great. They cloak something primal that both unites and divides us in a living oeuvre that permits playfulness, that enjoys the power of suggestion, of hybridity, of touch and dialogue, and of love and connectedness. And in these times, this is a statement that is as simple as it is overwhelming. A touch of staggering genius, with two feet firmly on the ground.

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