Thomas Houseago, Roman Mask I / Maschera romana I, 2013. Collezione Ernesto Esposito, Napoli. In comodato a Madre · museo d’arte contemporanea Donnaregina, Napoli. Foto © Amedeo Benestante. | Thomas Houseago, Roman Mask I, 2013. Ernesto Esposito collection, Naples. On loan to Madre · museo d’arte contemporanea Donnaregina, Naples. Photo © Amedeo Benestante.

Thomas Houseago (Leeds, 1972) is an artist who has in recent years brought the impact of the theme of figurative sculpture back to the center of the international artistic debate. After studying at London’s Central St. Martin’s College, where he trained with artists such as Marlene Dumas and Thomas Schütte, in the early 1990s, Houseago moved to Los Angeles in 2003. His research into the human figure is an extremely coherent exploration of the history of modern sculpture, by way of an energetic and inventive revival of some of its fundamental passages. The artist updated the Cubist tradition – especially in reference to the meditation of Pablo Picasso on primitive sculpture – merging references to the international current of a Return to Order, to the solidity of the figure of Marino Marini, and to the monumentality of the works of Henry Moore, also a native of Leeds, whose reclining figure reclining is often cited by Houseago.
Together with his research into the human figure, another cornerstone in Houseago’s work is the critique of the dimension of monumentality, which the artist has been expressing since the very start through the realization of huge figures made from materials such as plaster, cement, and iron rods; such materials also make visible the preparatory stages of the sculpture, what is normally not shown and belongs to a phase of private study and structural instability. The permanence of the large-scale sculpture is further called into question in the artist’s frequent reference to the sculpture of Umberto Boccioni, and to the brutality of the wooden figures, roughly hewn and painted, which the German artist Georg Baselitz started producing from the mid- 1970s, and clearly indebted to the harshness of Ernst Kirchner’s woodcuts. Indeed, the dialogue between the scale of the sculpture and the media used for painting and drawing also and especially connote Houseago’s work, where there is often an association between the three-dimensionality of the materials and the twodimensionality of the expressive drawing.

Roman Mask I – the work in the collection – is part of a larger series of sculptures exhibited in the solo show held at Gagosian Gallery in Rome in 2013. Here Houseago insists even more on the ambiguity between the two- and threedimensionality, between the dimension of the object and its mimetic function in relation to the face. Due to its oversizing, the masks takes on a cultural aspect, as if it were the fetish of a complex intertwining of traditions: from African tribal cultures to the role that ethnic objects played in the first twentieth-century avant-gardes, and to classical inspiration evidenced by the title of the work. It is evident how this sculpture also recalls the features of a skull, thus leading the viewer to a further visual and thematic association: that of the tradition of the Vanitas, the moral allegory on death that, from the beginning of the seventeenth century, was so important to the history of western art.