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Art review: Thomas Houseago at L&M

February 3, 2011 |  4:30 pm

British-born and based in L.A., Thomas Houseago is a postmodern primitivist, culling visual idioms Thomas Houseago art from Oceania and Africa as they’ve been filtered through the work of the German Expressionists, Picasso and others. He strives for a monumentality that he achieves only inconsistently. His 18 recent sculptures inside and outside the galleries at L&M range as widely in terms of medium (bronze, aluminum, redwood, plaster, rebar, hemp and more) as they do in visual power, from the urgent to the benign.

One of Houseago’s most intriguing motifs is a mask or head with one eye socket a hollowed out vortex and the other a flat, nonreflective mirror. It epitomizes the artist’s manner of mixing different modes of representation — suggestion and description, through line, plane, mass and absence. The vaguely cubist face (in various works drawn, sculpted in relief or fully modeled) possesses a striking, off-kilter duality. At once gaze and deflection, it evokes the coexistent primal forces of life and death, a recurring theme for the artist. His plaster work bears the dirty-white patina of unearthed fossils or marble relics. In “Rattlesnake figure (Carving),” he has sketched a standing human form onto the flat sides of a 12-foot-high redwood block, and partially carved out the figure with rough, jagged blade work. Only partway released from its wooden womb, the towering form brings to mind the latent energy of Michelangelo’s slaves.

This raw insistence wavers throughout and drops off precipitously in several bulky and mute wall panels with abstract patterns, and a few other unremarkable sculptures. Many of Houseago’s works have a large, theatrical presence but lack concentrated intensity, though the artist’s ambition to convey the elemental human drama is everywhere evident.

-- Leah Ollman

L&M Arts, 660 Venice Blvd., Venice, (310) 821-6400, through March 5. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Image: Thomas Houseago, "Rattlesnake figure (Carving)," L&M Arts. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen