On July 11, our good friends at Fecal Face Dot Gallery in San Francisco will open a solo show, "Night Got Quiet—Not Quite Light," featuring all new works from Philadelphia-based artist Jim Houser. The show will feature 15 new mixed media paintings and site-specific installation works. The works, as you can see, will feature Houser's well-known and established iconography and narrative painting style, but with new twists and turns along the way. FFDG passed along an interview with Houser, that you can read now.
I love your color palette. How did you get to your colors? Do they hold any significant meaning to you or just feel/ look right to you or what?
I always say the two main things I draw from are blood and the sea. There are a lot of allusions and direct references to both in my work. Red and blue in opposition. As far as how I arrived at the palette, it just sort of evolved that way. I used to use a lot more color, but I began to want every painting to harmonize when I installed. So, I began paring things down over the years to where I am at now. My black has red in it, my white has blue in it.
What's new in Philadelphia these days?
Not a whole lot. It's a pretty static place. I love it for that reason. Things that move too fast or change too quickly can upset me. I like routine. It’s getting insufferably hot already, in only June… Does that count?
How has having a son affected your work?
It does on a few levels. I'm home with him and my wife works 12 hour shifts as a ICU nurse. So the actual amount of time I can spend working can be a struggle. Instead of waiting to noodle around when I feel like it, I had to learn to focus during the hours my limited schedule permits. Not a whole lot of 11- 3 am painting going on anymore. It’s hard for me to split my focus between Seamus and getting work done. So I tend to not even try while we are together. We do what he wants to. It’s also sparked me to become a bit more active in pursuing opportunities. I've always been pretty passive (and pretty lucky) when it comes to showing / selling work, but your perspective changes when there's this little guy that needs food and clothes and school and all.
Finally, things enter my painting vocabulary very slowly, a lot of themes are considered carefully. Seamus has worked his way in there, my hopes and fears for him. We've done some collaborative work too.
I noticed in a lot of intros to other interviews with you, self-taught artist is always listed. Do you think someone can be taught to be an artist?
Yes, I definitely do. That's really just art-code for "didn't attend art school “. Tons of people have taught me numberless things. Maybe the compulsion can’t be taught, how to want do it, but the skills can be. I could teach someone to paint like me. I could teach them the 5 or 6 things I know, but I couldn't teach them to feel like a walking piece of garbage if they go for too long without making a thing.
How much commercial work do you get? What, to you, are the differences from commercial work to your own fine art?
It comes and it goes. I enjoy it, but to be honest I am probably a headache to deal with. I don't take art direction that well. I'm trying to be better in my attitude and to think of it as a challenge to make both myself and a stranger happy. The two are very different though. It's impossible to put the same type of emotional energy into a commercial job that I put into painting. A lot of jobs come up that want to use the text heavy, patch work type of painting i'm known for, and it never works. There is just too much personal stuff that goes into making those.
What are some of the moments in your career that you're most proud of?
Being included in the EAST MEETS WEST show at the Philly ICA; to show alongside Chris Johanson and Margaret Kilgallen was a blessing. Having the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Art acquire one of my paintings, and then seeing it hang next to an Andy Warhol was very cool. All the opportunities to travel, Sydney, Paris, Milan. I'm proud of all of it.
It's difficult for me say "I did this, and I did that" without feeling like it's bragging, but I am proud of my self when I think about the people I’ve gotten to meet and places I’ve gotten to go. The thousands of paintings that I have made.
Your last musical album was brilliant. Are you still playing music? Any chance for a new release?
Yes I still make music, and if someone would like to put it out on record then just holler. I was putting a bunch of stuff on the internet for a bit, but I go through phases where it’s all painting or all music making. The last six months or so has been all painting. I'm glad you liked the record, thanks.
Night Got Quiet - Not Quite Light
Opens July 1, 2014
FFDG, San Francisco