Thomas Houseago – Giant, Giant (2010)


The often enormous human figures of Thomas Houseago (Leeds, 1972, lives and works in Los Angeles) are characterised by a sense of monumentality. The name of the work that Houseago is presenting in Lustwarande ‘11, Giant Giant, is a playful reference to this quality and, in terms of scale, it is most definitely impressive and powerful. This aspect is, however, undermined by the way the sculpture is constructed and by the figure’s posture and facial expression.


While the classic monument is a reminder of the past, Houseago’s work is created neither to honour nor commemorate a hero or a historical feat, nor is it intended for eternity. Over the years, by playing with the history of sculpture, he has developed an entirely original system of images and formal language, which is in line with a recent revival of certain sculptural traditions and the reintroduction of the figurative into sculptural art. In his work, Houseago combines various references to modernist sculpture, from Umberto Boccioni and Henry Moore to Pablo Picasso, with classical forms and mythological themes.


These references can also be found in Giant, Giant. This gigantic figure in white plaster, several metres high, is a cross between a mythological inhabitant of the park and a monument in the public space. The work has something of a sketch-like character, which is repeated literally in the charcoal drawings on the face and the back of the figure. The head consists of a plaster sheet with a rough drawing of a man’s face with a beard and sunken cheeks. The appearance is that of an old and forlorn man, while the eyes and raised brows are an allusion to African Fang masks. Bent slightly forward, with his head between his shoulders, the pose of this white giant suggests a degree of unwieldiness, as though his physical and cultural history weigh heavily upon him.


The work is constructed in typical Houseago style. Originally made of plaster sheets and hessian soaked in plaster and placed over a metal skeleton, the statue is then cast in bronze and painted white. The different drawings applied by the artist give a unique character to each of the three casts of this work. Much of the process of creation is revealed by the visibility of the construction. For example, the metal pins fastening the head and limbs to the torso can clearly be seen. Some of the limbs have retained their skeleton-like form and are in stark contrast to the other more muscular and sturdy limbs. It is this break away from – and the interplay between – the two- and three-dimensional that gives the figure the appearance of a mixed display model. Different perspectives have been incorporated within one single statue, as though the artist has forgotten which side the statue should be seen from as a whole. This approach effectively lays bare the sculptural principles of volume, form and material.


Houseago’s figures touch upon existential human emotions of fear, but also on the will to survive. The lifeless material appears to possess a certain power and energy that makes the presence of this figure in the park almost palpable. This combination of vulnerability and strength, the sketch-like and the statuesque, creates the ambiguity that is so typical of Houseago’s work. Giant, Giant is a monument to the anti-hero, both classic and one of a kind.


Laurie Cluitmans / translation Laura Watkinson