From April 22nd until August 1st 2021, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium (RMFAB) will host a new exhibition by Thomas Houseago (b. 1972). Comprising large-scale paintings, drawings and never previously exhibited journals, VISION PAINTINGS will occupy two first floor galleries of the museum in a parallel display to the permanent collection. The artist’s work is also brought into confrontation with The Death of Marat (1793) by Jacques-Louis David. In this gallery, viewers are invited to contemplate the emotional tenor of the neoclassical and contemporary works, as well as their formal differences and shared points of connection.
Thomas Houseago was born in Leeds in the UK in 1972. He received a BA in 1994 from Saint Martin’s School of Art, London, studied at De Ateliers, Amsterdam (1994-1996) and in Brussels from 1995 to 2003. He now lives and works in Los Angeles.
What a strange, truly surreal experience to have the world shut down—slowed, tuned inwards—and confront its vulnerability.Thomas Houseago
The landscape paintings in the exhibition mark a major departure for Houseago. Executed in Malibu, California, and frequently in open air —evidenced by the organic matter trapped on their surfaces—- they give full expression to the transcendental, emotive and restorative power of nature. The landscape has long been a vital proportional reference point and context for his figurative sculptures, yet rarely visualized as an independent subject. Now, nature takes centre stage: suns and moons, flowers and trees, rocks and ocean are all rendered in opulent, luminescent colors and pulsating, undulating lines. Nature feels primal, mysterious and seductive, all powerful and resplendent.
Although these are deeply personal works, they also relate to the nature haikus by the 17th century Japanese Matsuo Bashō as well as larger traditions of landscape representation in European art. Correspondences can be seen, for example, in the works of Giotto, Edvard Munch, Erich Heckel and the oeuvre of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, the latter of whom produced similarly coruscating paintings after retreating into nature following a breakdown. Other important references include Vincent Van Gogh and David Hockney.
The cyclical nature of being brought from seclusion into the city of my youth, and now embraced with the support of its curators and museum, where I would spend countless hours as a young artist, represents an indescribable connectionThomas Houseago
The origins of these visionary paintings lie in an altered level of consciousness that is attained through meditation practiced by the artist. Linked to creativity, inspiration, intuition and enlightenment, the theta state activates intense energy flows and unlocks hidden areas of the subconscious. Alongside the landscapes, the artist exhibits a suite of transcendental works with figures emerging from an indeterminate, pitch black space that is shot through with scintillating flashes of pure, blinding color. While certain images allude to death and past trauma, others suggest a dynamic process of transformation.
The drawings that accompany this exhibition are as powerful as they are fragile. Executed using ink on translucent Japanese rice paper, they stand in stark contrast to the heavy impasto of the paintings. The delicate material feels as tenuous as the tissue of memories, dreams and ideas it holds. Drawing has always been a fundamental part of Houseago’s artistic practice, both as an aid to the creation of sculpture and as a way of processing his innermost feelings. The artist has spoken of how, in his youth, he would experience a sense of detachment that caused him to see his surroundings in terms of patterns. A similar quality can be detected in his mature works on paper, which he describes as ‘charts’ and ‘daydreams’.