Thomas Houseago (b. 1972)
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Thomas Houseago (b. 1972)

Figure I

Details
Thomas Houseago (b. 1972)
Figure I
wood, graphite, oil stick, plaster, hemp and iron rebar
76 x 69¼ x 52in. (193.2 x 176.2 x 96.2cm.)
Executed in 2008
Provenance
Herald Street Gallery, London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Literature
M. Holborn (ed)., Shape of Things to Come: New Sculpture, London 2009 (illustrated in colour, pp. 40-41).
Exhibited
London, Saatchi Gallery, The Shape of Things to Come: New Sulpture, 2011 (illustrated in colour, p. 57).
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Lot Essay

'As a sculptor, bottom line, I am trying to put thought and energy into an inert material and give it truth and form, and I believe that there is nothing more profound than achieving that.' (T. Houseago, in R. Lafo, 'Figuratively Speaking', Sculpture, v. 29 no. 9, November, 2010, p. 31.)

'I try to be honest to the experience of looking and recording...You could argue that sculpture is a dramatisation of the space between your eye and the world, between looking and recording, between what you see and feel and memory. I try to allow as much as possible to happen while I'm working on the piece and yet keep it containted within a single object. That seems to get the most truthful results' (T. Houseago quoted in R. Rosenfield Lafo,'Speaking: A Conversation with Thomas Houseago, in Sculpture, November 2010, p. 29).

A dynamic example of Thomas Houseago's monumental sculptures, Figure I presents an intrepid warrior-like figure; its highly-charged muscular limbs poised in a combative stance, ready for battle. Unapologetic in its subversion of traditional notions of sculpture, the imposing figure recalls the movement of Futurist and Cubist sculptures, married by a deeply personal return to the figurative tradition. Marking a dramatic return to the figurative form in sculpture, Houseago was by his retrospective at Oxford's Ashmolean Museum and Modern Art Oxford. In 2010, two years after the present work was made, Houseago was also included in the influential Whitney Biennial.

Crafted in 2008 from raw, organic materials, the pure and unembellished materiality of Figure I embodies the artist's exploration of form. Formally recalling the physicality of Rodin, the fractured planes of Picasso, and the 'truth to materials' ethos of Henry Moore, Houseago's practice is insistently 21st century, conveying a deeply subjective sense of experience, imbuing contemporary sculpture with a renewed dynamism. Indicative of the artist's sculptural process, the rough-hewn wood panels are purposefully caked in plaster and hemp by spatula or by hand, emphasizing the sculpture's corporeality and intentionally avoiding the refinement associated with traditional casting processes. Highlighting the traces of its creation, an open cavity on the left leg exposes bones of robust iron boring into the heavy plaster feet; the revealed foundation imbuing a sense of wounded fragility onto the substantial sculpture. As Houseago has said, 'good sculpture really tells you how it's made' (T. Houseago, Public Art Fund Talks, The New School of Design, New York, 12th May 2010, at www.youtube.com. [16/05/12]).

Sketched across the white panels in Houseago's distinctive hand, decisive black lines articulate the figure's rippling muscles, delineating the otherwise abstract form. Employing a transfer technique to apply images onto the flat surfaces, the drawings simultaneously suggest the presence and absence of artist's hand. Just as the exposed iron rebar evokes flesh under the skin, so too does the drawing transform the abstract and monumental into the figurative and individual. This creative process combines drawing and sculpture, and has become an intrinsic creative process for the artist: 'Drawing is the beginning of the whole process for me, on every level, and is an activity I have been doing continually since before I could talk or crawl or any of that stuff, so it holds a mystical freedom for me. It's also because sculpture can get so weighed down by craft and technicality and practicality - keeping the act of drawing close is really essential.' (T. Houseago quoted in L. Le Feuvre, 'Problems of Things and Objects' in What When Down, exh. cat., Modern Art Oxford, Oxford, p. 15).
Existing on the borderline between figuration and abstraction, the jointed panels create an illusory sense of depth from the flat boards, the limbs of the figure extended combatively, relationally interrupting the viewer's space. As the artist states, 'I try to be honest to the experience of looking and recording...You could argue that sculpture is a dramatisation of the space between your eye and the world, between looking and recording, between what you see and feel and memory. I try to allow as much as possible to happen while I'm working on the piece and yet keep it contained within a single object. That seems to get the most truthful results' (T. Houseago quoted in R. Rosenfield Lafo, 'Speaking: A Conversation with Thomas Houseago', pp. 25-31, Sculpture, November 2010, p. 29).

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