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Home Opening Photos Jim Houser @Jonathan Levine

Jim Houser @Jonathan Levine

Written by J.L. Schnabel   
Wednesday, 11 November 2009 05:06
J.L. Schnabel reviews this great show running in NYC till Nov 21st.

Jim Houser
Make Room For The Emptiness
Jonathan Levine Gallery
529 West 20th street, New York, N.Y.
October 21 through November 21, 2009

severed head mural.

While in graduate school, I had the privilege of hearing writer Joyce Carol Oates talk about what it means to be an artist. She spoke about how a violent or emotionally traumatic event in one's life or family history can be an intense fuel that drives the artist and informs his work, even if unknowingly. While this might not always be true, negative, or evident, I often think of it when viewing any of Philadelphia artist Jim Houser's work, due to the premature and tragic death of his talented wife, painter Rebecca Westcott. His new body of work Make Room For The Emptiness, marks his third solo show at the Jonathan Levine gallery, and, as the title suggests, focuses on a poignant turning point in Houser's life and subsequent body of work, as he was recently married to a new love.

words and photos: J.L. Schnabel

installation view.

'helping hands' acrylic on wood 10x 8in.

Upon entering the gallery, the viewer is immediately soothed by the subtle way the work, in all its precise assembly, feels quiet and smooth. The white of the walls and ceiling work harmoniously with the paired down vignette installations as the sculptural elements and the large painted murals, add a unique ephemeral landscape to the room. A cluster of unlit, painted candles and paper plants huddle shrine like in a corner near a stack of mute amps and whimsical handmade twin necked guitars, painted in Houser's signature muted and flat color palate. While the blocky structures of the paintings, coded images, and installation method echoes past shows, this new body of work feels more refined and calm as in previous exhibitions.

installation view, including weather worn wood and bird house.

installation view including specimen jars of sand and wool and loose hair strands.

A slow exhalation rather than a manic feast, the show, in its full intended assembly, works as a way to visually map the emotional landscapes of Houser, creating a meticulous catalogue of snips of text and recurrent images that create a hybrid of personal language. The poetic texts provide a tactile hook for the viewer and, when placed so closely to boxes of images, allows for a more complete understanding of the work, even if it's not always the intended one.

detail of 'clues' acrylic on wood.

detail of 'clues' acrylic on canvas.

As a collection of personal imagery via repeated secrets and codes, it seems almost criminal to divide off each piece from its body, an idea that unravels in the images of cleaved limbs, disembodied heads and piercing arrows. In one instance, a wall of the gallery acts as a sort penetrable skin, as it's pierced with handmade arrows. The blood is represented as weeping acrylic paint, perhaps as a sad lament to the walls one day being vacant of the work. The use of the wall as a canvas reflects Houser's way of using different and unexpected materials to tell his story. There is also a painted skateboard, a grid of woven colored threads and twine, specimen jars filled with sea glass, smooth gray rocks, sand and wool, complete with lonely strands of hair. Each piece works in harmony, much in the way the recurrent and muted color palate works; tints slightly darker or lighter than the other shape into hypnotic patterns and shapes.

'wrecks' acrylic on wood with twine boarder. 14x11in.

'miles of wires' acrylic and collage on wood. 61/2 x 51/2in.

'remembering strings' hand woven cotton and thread on wood. 10x8 1/8 x 2 1/2in

'dead clam' acrylic and collage on wood. 23 7/8 x 18 in.

The most compelling element of Houser's new work is the use of the ocean as a theme. It creates the idea of a space where one may drown or ride on its waves. As a place of vast, seemingly infinite and unexplored territory, it works well as the heart of the show. The ocean has freckled a plank of wood, it has worn smooth glass and within the work, it is threatening to drown the anonymous characters. However, there is always a limb above water, a hand flagging someone or something for help, and one cannot but know that there is some coming, from the hopeful feeling of the work, no matter how tragic, gruesome or dangerous the world is.

detail of 'orbits' acrylic and collage on wood.

installation view/mural.

installation view including specimen jar of sea worn rocks, & 'hexes' acrylic on canvas.

'secret keeper' acrylic & wood on rope. 9 x 6 1/8 in.

'end times' acrylic & collage on wood. 18x12in.

'roller' acrylic on canvas 10x8 1/8in

installation view.

installation view.

installation view of pierced wall with handmade arrows & acrylic blood.

'infinity vine' acrylic on wood. 6 1/8 x 9in.

'does it?' acrylic & canvas on wood, including sewn text. 14 x 12 1 1/2in.

'family tree' acrylic on wood. 12 7/8 x 7 1/2in.

'crush bones' acrylic & collage on wood. 18 x 12in.

'graves' acrylic on wood. 12 x 6in.

detail of 'the barrage' acrylic on wood.

detail of 'unseen' acrylic, collage & mixed media on wood and canvas.

detail of '7 drowned' acrylic on wood.

installation view.

installation view. handmade plants & painted candles.

installation view.

detail of 'nests' acrylic, collage & twine on canvas & wood.

installation view.

installation view.

Jim Houser
Make Room For The Emptiness
Jonathan Levine Gallery
529 West 20th street, New York, N.Y.
October 21 through November 21, 2009 {moscomment}

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