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Thomas Houseago, 41, English sculptor transplanted to the US who comes to greet me at the door barefoot, in jeans and t-shirt, is a blond, over grown kid with lots of muscles and short hair. Strong hands, prominent jaw and explosive laugh, he could be a steelworker coming out of the factory after the shift. But in Leeds there are no more furnaces. Thomas has built his own factory in East Los Angeles where his studio now takes up an entire city block. Inside, aorund 20 people help him create sculptures of increasing power and in demand from galleries like Hauser & Wirth and Gagosian and has many billionaire collectores such as Pinault, Eli Broad, Charles Saatchi and Steven Cohen.

His work is about contact and destruction. It is gigantic and very physical too. He has the rawness of Adrian Villar Rojas but he keeps its modernist enough to be called sculpture instead of installation. He says: ‘I like to touch, mold, build. Demolition, too, because in this trade, you flirt with disaster. This is what my sculpture is about: a dramatization of the space between the eye and the world, between what you hear and see today and memories that are evoked’. Dramatic memories called up by his imposing figures which, for the first time, have been installed in the open, on the hillsides of the Storm King Art Center in the Hudson Valley, north of New York City Works shown in the midst of those by Alexander Calder, Isamu Noguchi, Arnaldo Pomodoro, Henry Moore and Roy Lichtenstein. Strong, yet dark art: skeletons, decomposing figures and a giant head that brings to mind the helmet of Darth Vader, the Star Wars villain.

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After his show in London (at houser and Wirth) his curator (Michael Stanley) committed suicide. Housego says: ‘for me, it was disastrous’. So Gagosian invited him to spend sometime in Rome where he wandered around the ruins and got inspired for a new series. According to him: ‘I will never be like Bernini, with the clean lines of his figures and his virtuosity. But I understand and appreciate his realism. And, like him, I have the pleasure of constructing a body’.

So, in Rome, will we be seeing a sunnier Houseago? Because something has changed. EVen if not a complete metamorphosis. ‘I’m still the guy from Leeds who learned just one thing at school, how to survive. And to love William Shakespeare’. But he left school with a strong determination to be an artist, including some useful tools for his work as a sculptor. ‘At middle school, they taught us shop, design and technology, so I also learned some manual skills, like welding. Yes, it’s stange. The factories no longer existed but they continued to prepare us to be metal workers or mechanics. Manual skills that I used for other purposes, it’s true’.

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Houseago became famous after 2008when he was discovered by a number of rich collectors: a son of the proletariat among billionaires. ‘It’s strange, I know. Inside, I ‘m what I’ve always been. But I’m also an artist and I’ve learned to live with the market. But there is a class I detest: the middle class. Lacking in creativity, they are only interested in spreading a web of restrictions to keep others from rising above. At least this is what I experienced in England. Mentally, the rich are much more open’

Currently on view in Rome, at Gagosian.

text originally published in Art Review (no author)

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