Born and raised in northern England, Thomas Houseago has been working in Los Angeles since 2003. Part of a generation of young sculptors revisiting modernist forms, Houseago recently enjoyed a mid-career retrospective, What Went Down, at Oxford's Ashmolean Museum and Modern Art Oxford, which traveled to Museum Abteiberg, Munchengladbach, Germany, and the International Center of Art and Landscape at Vassiviére Island, France. His figurative sculptures recall the muscular energy of Rodin, the fractured planes of Picasso, the attenuated forms of Giacometti, and the "truth to materials" ethos of Henry Moore. Imbuing contemporary sculpture with a renewed dynamism, Houseago's practice is insistently 21st century.
Houseago charges his sculptures with an urgent sense of vitality, a result of his intensely physical process and the work's legible facture. For the artist, this is a patent reaction to the digitization of the human presence. And despite the heavy, rough-hewn materials he favors, Houseago's works seem to always be just coming into being, as if awakening with life. In speaking of his practice, he has said: "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. R. Lafo "Figuratively Speaking," Sculpture 29, no. 9 (November, 2010), p. 31.)
To create Midnight Mask III, Houseago began by constructing an armature of iron rods, which he then draped with plaster-soaked hemp and added more molded plaster forms. Known as Tuf-Cal, his material of choice is a super strong plaster that allows the artist to build up the weighty strata of his bas-relief. Houseago has forcefully worked the head's left side, leaving the right to appear as if turning away from the viewer. The cavernous eyes, with gouged sockets, are capped with expressive brows. The heavily worked mouth appears silenced with layers of plaster. The distorted visage juts out from the wall, alternately monstrous and vulnerable. Of his heads, Houseago has said:
"I think you could say that all faces in sculptures are to some extent masks, so I'm not unusual in that. But I do love to look at how faces are made in sculptures historically and the stylizations that are employed in masks from different cultures. When they are successful, they reflect a truth about the face and its expressions. I create faces or heads or masks usually with the idea that they will be part of a bigger sculpture, but sometimes they are so complete or tell such a clear story that they become complete works, and I present them like that." (Ibid. pp. 29-30.)
The eerie quiet of this chunky, disembodied head relays a primitive gravitas. And successfully achieves Houseago's project to give energy and form to inert material.