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Thomas Houseago at Frieze Los Angeles

17—20 February 2022
9900 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills
Booth B7

Xavier Hufkens is pleased to present California Paintings, a solo booth by Thomas Houseago for this year’s edition of Frieze Los Angeles. The artist’s series of new paintings are born of an intense engagement with the iconic landscapes of the American West. From the opulent palms and beaches of Malibu to the subalpine forests and pounding rivers of Yosemite, Houseago creates images in which the cosmic forces of nature are presented as a mirror of the human soul.

The focus on these dual topographies in Houseago’s new series touch upon the symbolism of seas and forests within Western thought and imagination. Dark, wooded areas “blur distinctions, evoking the lost kinship between animate and inanimate, darkness and light, finite and infinite, body and soul, sight and sound”. The sea, on the other hand, is a notional boundary between height and depth, home to the world’s deepest places and earliest lifeforms. Such dualities are reflected in the elemental motifs within the paintings. Water is ever-present, from the churning rapids of Yosemite, which the artist recently visited, to the rolling Pacific Ocean and, in stark contrast to both, a solitary, motionless swimming pool. The lush, evergreen palms of Malibu form a counterpoint to the gnarled trunks and twisting, bare branches of deciduous trees. The landscapes are irradiated by the oppositional forces of a luminous moon or a blazing sun. Trees, rocks, water and blossoms seem to pulsate with a fierce and crackling energy.

Houseago approaches the terrain of the Sierra Nevada with the eye of a painter and surrenders to its visceral and almost supernatural powers. Filled with torrid gestures and coruscating colours, his paintings call to mind the writings of the great American transcendentalist thinkers, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson or, more specifically, John Muir. Muir’s poetic imagery and advocacy played a leading role in the preservation of Yosemite as a national park. During his first summer in the region, he wrote:

“Everything is flowing – going somewhere, animals and so- called lifeless rocks as well as water. Thus, the snow flows fast or slow in grand beauty-making glaciers and avalanches; the air in majestic floods carrying minerals, plant leaves, seeds, spores, with streams of music and fragrance; water streams carrying rocks... While the stars go streaming through space pulsed on and on forever like Nature’s warm heart”

Muir saw transcendentalism as an experience of spirituality that acquired meaning through direct physical immersion in nature. Just as the ocean and mountains, for Houseago, are conduits for the revelation of eternal, psychic truths about the world and his inner self. And whilst we can read these paintings as depictions of Malibu and Yosemite, they are not instantly recognisable as such: one could interpret them, just as plausibly, as emotional self-portraits. Indeed, several of the works contain skeleton figures, including one holding a sketchbook.

Thomas Houseago (b. 1972, Leeds) lives and works in Malibu, CA. Forthcoming solo exhibition projects are being organised by the Centre Pompidou, Metz (May – October 2022) and the Sarah Hilden Museum, Särkänniemi, Finland (opening in September 2022). Edition Dilecta, Paris, is launching a publication devoted to Houseago’s recent visionary paintings later this year. Recent solo exhibitions include VISION PAINTINGS, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels, Belgium (2021); Thomas Houseago, Royal Academy, London, UK (2019); Almost Human, Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris, France (2019); Masks (Pentagon), Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY, USA (2015); Thomas Houseago: Studies ‘98–‘14, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague, The Netherlands (2014); and Thomas Houseago, Leeds Art Gallery, Leeds, UK (2014).