British figurative sculptor Thomas Houseago is known for large-scale figures positioned in contrapposto stances. He often incorporates two-dimensional elements to provide a delicate appearance to otherwise massive constructions.Read More
Raised by a single mother who placed great importance on visual arts and architecture, Houseago developed a sensitivity to physical forms and internal sentiment at a young age, which finds expression in the robust yet delicate dispositions of his sculpted figures.
Born in West Yorkshire, Houseago studied at Jacob Kramer College in Leeds and Central Saint Martins in London. In 1994, Houseago moved to Amsterdam to study at De Atelier, where he became acquainted with the works of figurative artists like Marlene Dumas.
Thomas Houseago's skeletal figures are replicated across drawing, painting, installation, and sculpture. They are often made from flimsy looking materials, placed in vulnerable postures, flattened, or drawn over.
Houseago's early works took the form of performances influenced by the likes of Joseph Beuys and late-period Pablo Picasso paintings seen at the Tate Modern. Later inspirations include Henry Moore, Francis Picabia, and Jacob Epstein, who inspired Houseago to turn to human figures.
Accordingly, distorted bodies and figures in motion are evident across Houseago's body of work. They are made explicit in works like Folded Man (and 4 detail shots) (1997), in which a folded plaster figure appears ready to pounce.
Subverting expectations of weightiness, Joanne (6 views) (2005) appears as a flimsy effigy, depicting a pale figure with a ghastly face propped-up by thin plaster boards on either side, disgruntled and kneeling on the ground.
Houseago credits the fragility of the white male psyche for inspiring much of his work. Growing up in the North of England, the artist tell Ocula Magazine about the period of industrial collapse that resulted in the emergence of a 'hyper-macho culture' that was at once terrifying and tragic.
Opposing this power display, the public installation Golem (1988) subverts the expectations of monument and reverence by offering a headless, seated black body with one leg propped up against its chest, serenely resting in a garden, despite its beastly appearance.
The same vulnerability is found in Untitled (Folded man red stomach) (2000), a hollowed plaster figure with its torso ripped out and both legs planted into the ground.
With rough surfaces and incomplete forms, Houseago's sculptures hint at the process of making and retain a humble appearance, at once pushing beyond and recovering traditional techniques and materials from classical and modern sculpture.
Assemblages like Figure 2 (2008) incorporate graphite drawings on otherwise flat surfaces to create three-dimensional figures made from wooden cut-out pieces. Held together by iron rebar, facial expressions and musculature are sketched on the body to generate a sense of depth.
Likewise, Malibu Owl (2020) comprises an aluminum surface on which is scribbled an uneven owl figure raised on a block of stone.
Thomas Houseago has exhibited widely across Europe, the U.K, and the United States.
Select solo and duo exhibitions include Gagosian, London (2021); Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels (2021); Xavier Hufkens, Brussels (2020); Royal Academy, London (2019); Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris (2019); Rockefeller Plaza, New York (2015); Hauser & Wirth, New York (2014); St. James's Church, London (2013); Galleria Borghese, Rome (2013); and SMAK, Ghent (2003).
Select group exhibitions include Gagosian, Paris (2020); Grand Palais, Paris (2017); Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide (2017); Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh (2016); Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2015); Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (2014); Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chicago (2014); and Whitney Biennial 2010 (2010).
Elaine YJ Zheng | Ocula | 2022