I urge you to visit a magnificent show of large-scale sculptures by the Los Angeles-based British artist Thomas Houseago in the next week, before the exhibition – on view at Savile Row’s Hauser & Wirth – closes on 27 October.
Thomas Houseago. Installation view, 'I'll be your sister', Hauser & Wirth London, Savile Row, North Gallery, 2012. © Thomas Houseago. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Alex Delfanne.
The Leeds-born sculptor, who has risen to fame sharply over recent years, fills both of Hauser & Wirth’s galleries with gutsy, gestural, rough-and-ready works that mix the modern aesthetics of artists from Rodin and Epstein to Modigliani, Picasso and Moore, with the monumentality of antique art, myriad pop culture influences and a highly irreverent, almost iconoclastic sensibility that is the artist’s own.
Thomas Houseago, 'Striding Figure II (Ghost)', 2012. Bronze. 505.5 x 181.6 x 315 cm / 199 x 71 1/2 x 124 in. Installation view, 'I'll be your sister', Hauser & Wirth London, Savile Row, 2012. © Thomas Houseago. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Alex Delfanne. A seemingly ‘unfinished’ quality is the central characteristic to all his pieces. Houseago may concentrate on conventional subjects – a crouching female, a head of man, a wall frieze – but, in the same way the free brushstrokes in an Abstract Expressionist canvas are evidence of the physical process of painting – his violent clumps, smears and gauges of Tuf-Cal plaster evoke the performative acts involved in sculpture. Often dismembered fingers or hands rise up from a panel or plinth, in an echo of Philip Guston.
I had the good fortune to spend an hour with Houseago walking around the Egyptian, Assyrian and Greco-Roman galleries of the British Museum for a forthcoming interview in the British Museum Magazine.
His enthusiasm for antique art is unbounded and his huge column-like lamps, panel works and statues on view at Hauser & Wirth resemble strange monuments from an alternative ancient civilization, albeit one created by a contemporary mind fed on television cartoons, Hollywood films and magazines as much as fine art.
Thomas Houseago. Installation view, 'Special Brew' featuring 'Boy III', Hauser & Wirth London, Savile Row, South Gallery, 2012. © Thomas Houseago. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Alex Delfanne. Boy III (2012), for example, reaches back through time to refer to the kouroi, the proto-classical representations of male youths that emerged in ancient Greece.
But the pose of Houseago’s youngster is informed less by those Archaic Period sculptures than the struts of fashion and pornographic photography, one arm looped behind the head, the other jutting so that its hand is on a hip.
Sam Phillips is a London-based arts journalist and contributor to RA Magazine