Thomas Houseago @ Hauser & Wirth Savile Row

Hauser & Wirth presents the debut show of UK artist Thomas Houseago occupying both of its Savile Row galleries; ‘I’ll be your sister’ is the title for the North Gallery group of sculptures and ‘Special Brew’ for the South Gallery works.

The North Gallery contains a group of 6 monumental sculptures with heights ranging from 2.40m to a staggering 5.05m. Houseago’s depicted figures are echoes of human-like silhouettes, which seem to have undergone the long process of time. The employment of low-grade materials such as plaster, hemp and iron rebar in the practice of cast making generates a dialogue between the monumentality of the subjective figure and its own fragility. This first group of sculptures is overshadowed by the gigantic bronze ‘Striding Figure II (Ghost)’, whose totemic -but simultaneously mechanical- presence dominates the entire gallery floor. A closer look reveals its human hypostasis; a pronounced thoracic cage attached to deformed legs, arms and head.

The South Gallery is crowded with a selection of 12 pieces, comprising of large relief panels , two human-like (‘Boy III’ and ‘Sleeping Boy I’) and two animalesque (‘Standing Owl I’ and ‘Cat I’) sculptures. The panels depict parts of the human body -feet, fingers, hands and faces- all made in a primitive, almost grotesque, manner. The distorted faces reminiscent of tribal or ancient theatrical masks seem alive, inaudibly starring at the viewer. These (five) tuf-cal and (one) bronze panels appear as a macabre selection of some sort of religious relics or even fragmented members of ancient statues. The exhibition literature refers to the anatomical sketches and drawings of the Renaissance and we can clearly see the resemblance. However, these are three dimensional human parts in grand scale having no intention to educate.

By making his own handprints visible on the material during the process of shaping his figures, Houseago establishes a robust expressionistic idiosyncrasy permeated by an essence of surrealism. His ‘Walking Figure I (City)’ could easily be a Dali piece while the ‘Sitting Woman’ looks like she has jumped out from a de Chirico painting. The former piece along with ‘Portrait Column I’, ‘Sleeping Boy I’ and ‘Boy III’ -all works of 2012- have clear references to examples from archaic and classical art. And although from a distance these pieces visibly appear analogous to ancient art forms, one is soon to realise their deconstructed and almost geometric appearance. They could easily belong to severely corroded statues lost in the sea bed for centuries.

Wandering around Houseago’s sculptures in both gallery spaces somehow made me feel like being in a sacred locale surrounded by ancestor ghostly figures, a nearly eerie setting, whose atmosphere lacked dramaticism and theatricality due to the unnecessary bright lighting. The sculptures appeared as inanimate objects with a limited capacity to engage the viewer in a dialogue.