Thomas Houseago Edges into Abstraction at Xavier Hufkens

Thomas Houseago is known for his figurative sculptures and carved, mask-like faces—often presented at monumental scale—which have graced prominent public spaces, like New York’s Rockefeller Plaza, and filled museums and galleries worldwide. But in new sculptures and paintings, currently on view in “Thomas Houseago: Before the Room” at Xavier Hufkens in Brussels, the artist takes a new turn towards abstraction.

  • Installation view, “Thomas Houseago: Before the Room,” at Xavier Hufkens, Brussels. Photo by Allard Bovenberg, Amsterdam. Courtesy of the artist and Xavier Hufkens, Brussels. 

All of Houseago’s work reflects his enduring interest in the history and process of sculpture, and inspirations including African and Oceanic art, Cubism, The Flintstones cartoons, and the Star Wars film empire (an especially timely reference, given the much-anticipated premiere of the next installment in the series this week). These influences coalesce into hulking, angular, semi-abstract faces and figures that reveal the process of their making. His sculptures appear additive, composed of geometric parts that retain their individual identity while also coming together into a larger whole. Charcoal or graphite lines sometimes mark their roughly finished surfaces, and their supporting armature may peek through in places. These details imbue the artist’s works with a sense of casual expressiveness.

  • Details of Thomas Houseago, Yet to be titled (Medium Abstract Box I), 2015. Photo by HV-studio, Brussels. Courtesy of the artist and Xavier Hufkens, Brussels. 

The abstract works included in this show are every bit as heavily worked and energetic as his figurative pieces—compare them with the suite of his masks on view nearby—but rather than heads and bodies, they suggest architectural and geometrical forms. Considerations of shape and structure, masses and voids, and interior and exterior spaces drive these pieces. Among them is a large, cuboid sculpture that sits on the floor and commands the gallery into which it is set. Its surface is off-white and almost topographical, composed of cuts, ridges, and layers that give way to variously shaped apertures.

  • Installation view, “Thomas Houseago: Before the Room,” at Xavier Hufkens, Brussels. Photo by Allard Bovenberg, Amsterdam. Courtesy of the Artist and Xavier Hufkens, Brussels. 

Peering into these soft- and hard-edged openings, viewers find nested forms contained within the sculpture’s center. Their shapes echo those of its exterior shell, but their surfaces are unique and full of their own life. Another piece, with a deeply colored charcoal surface, is composed of a stacked arrangement of rounded and rectangular forms, and topped off with a substantial, teardrop-shaped mass. Subtly anthropomorphic, it reads as both a standing figure and as a study of balance, precariousness, and solidity—cleverly, and fittingly, straddling abstraction and figuration.


Karen Kedmey


Thomas Houseago: Before the Room” is on view at Xavier Hufkens, Brussels, Nov. 13–Dec. 19, 2015.


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