Opening of the exhibition "VISION PAINTINGS" of Thomas Houseago

Published on 21.04.2021

From April 22nd until August 1st 2021, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium (RMFAB)  are delighted to present a new exhibition by Thomas Houseago (b. 1972, Leeds, UK). 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.  

The landscape paintings in the exhibition mark a major departure for Houseago. Executed in Malibu, California, 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, 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 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 origins of these visionary paintings lie in an altered level of consciousness that is attained through meditation practised 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 colour. 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’.