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Thomas Houseago

22 April—1 August 2021
Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels, Belgium

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The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium are delighted to announce a new exhibition by Thomas Houseago (b. 1972, Leeds, UK). Comprising large-scale paintings, drawings and never previously exhibited journals, the works 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.

The landscape paintings in the exhibition mark a major new departure for Houseago. Executed in Malibu, Los Angeles, and frequently en plein 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 visualised as an independent subject. Now, nature takes centre stage: suns and moons, plants, flowers and trees, rocks and ocean are all rendered in opulent, luminescent colours 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 Bashoōas well as larger traditions of landscape representation in European art. Correspondences can be seen, for example, in the works of Edvard Munch, such as The Sun (1909), Erich Heckel and the oeuvre of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, the latter of whom produced similarly coruscating paintings after retreating from urban life.

Another group of works in darker hues form a strong counterpoint to the radiant landscapes. The origins of these visionary paintings lie in an altered level of consciousness that is attained through meditation. Linked to creativity, inspiration, intuition and enlightenment, the theta state activates intense energy flows and unlocks hidden areas of the subconscious. In these transcendental works, faces and figures emerge from an indeterminate, pitch black space that is shot through with scintillating flashes of pure, blinding colour. While certain images allude to death and past trauma, yet 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’.

This exhibition will travel to Sara Hildén Art Museum in the summer of 2022.