Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Two-Dimensional Illusion

by Nichole Lance

John DenHouter. Basket Case. 2011. Oil on Canvas, 34”x48”.

As an Intern at Art Saint Louis this past Fall semester, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that  Professor John DenHouter’s work Basket Case was selected for "Art St. Louis XXVIII, The Exhibition," the show is currently on view in the ASL Gallery. Curious to learn more about his work, I took the opportunity to view the other works he submitted for this 28th annual exhibit and to interview him for this blog. In viewing his works, what I noticed was his ability to harmoniously
balance his loose organic marks with areas of more rendered detail. Our conversation follows.

Nichole: What inspires you as an artist?

John: “Well I think I always had a desire to work with my hands. In this idea I think of putting together some kind of two-dimensional illusion. Even if it is an abstract work that always appeals to me. I appreciate arrangement of color and shape and the formal properties of painting Now I have moved into being more interested in the content, trying to have my painting convey some kind of a loose narrative.”

John DenHouter. Scarlett Conclusion. 2010. Oil on Canvas, 49”x28”.

Nichole: What are the themes of your paintings?

John: “In 1997 I began working on a series of very large colorful abstract paintings that were inspired by my family background in athletics and sports. I played a lot of sports myself when I was younger. My dad was a really excellent athlete; I had uncles who were all very good and my grandfather was a football coach. I have these really fond memories of going to games and playing games.

So I had a whole series of maybe 30 to 40 paintings that I did to convey the sense of enjoyment, excitement, and my fond memories of these fun times I had playing and going to games with my family. They were all based on the structures of sports stadiums, arenas, and playing fields. And that kept me busy for seven or eight years. After that I started to think about how family members and my parents I had grown up with were beginning to fail in terms of their physical well-being. They were getting sick and injured sometimes and also mental problems depression and Alzheimer’s.

So I used the same subject matter of sports but I started to use imagery that was metaphorical for the failing or the dementia of the mind and the physical body. So I settled on painting things that I would find of old broken down sports equipment or football goal post, things that I felt were sort of metaphorical for the body and how they could be bent and broken and taped together to sort of try to keep things going. That is what I am currently working on for about the last ten years or so, and those paintings are much more subdued in terms of color, they are more representational, not really very abstract at all. So it is really a contrast to what I was doing before.

John DenHouter. Dead In The Water. 2010. Oil on Canvas, 57”x43”.

The other type of work I do, of course as you know, is the plein air work. Where you go out and paint on location and I really enjoy that because it is so spontaneous and you get out there and you’re really put on the spot to perform. It’s sort of like sports in a way. Where you’re in a baseball game batting and every eye is on you and you hit a home run or sometimes you strike out. There is a new game everyday and there’s a new painting to be done everyday. Sometimes you succeed and sometimes you don’t, but you have to keep working away. I do love work in that mode as well. Where you’re out there in the field working directly trying to capture the sense of light, atmosphere, time and season. I think in a way I try to duplicate the lighting conditions I see in the field in my studio paintings. They are more invented metaphorical paintings and are definitely influenced by my time spent painting on location.”

John DenHouter. Nut Case. 2010. Oil on Canvas, 19”x13”.

Nichole: With a background in sports how do you think you got into the arts?

John: “That’s a very good question. I think that I did probably inherit some ability. I think I had a distant relative like a great grandmother who was a painter and a couple of uncles on my dad’s side who I think were commercial artists. It’s interesting, something that is hard to explain--it was just something there that I just kept coming back to.

When I was an undergrad at Michigan, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I kept taking art classes one by one and eventually I said ‘well I have to commit to this.’ So I got into the art program and my dad said ‘well why don’t you try medical illustration.’ And so I did that after I graduated with my BFA. Michigan had a graduate program in medical illustration and that’s where I think I really honed my drafting skills and my perspective skills. It was really sort of a boot camp for this really very rigorous academic drawing. And I didn’t really get that in undergrad so I picked that up when I was in medical illustration.

John DenHouter. Deep Threat. 2011. Oil on Canvas, 49”x36”.

And I worked in prosthetics for a while after I graduated. So I was making artificial eyes and fingers and ears. That was very fulfilling helping patients who were really disfigured. But after a few years of that I felt it was not creative enough. There wasn’t enough room for me to be an expressive artist because it was very technical. And I decided well I have to go back and get a MFA in painting. I did that at Eastern Michigan, and that lead to my job here.

So interesting how artists have different paths that they take and different ways that they get into the field. There are all sorts of niches that artists can fill and there’s a demand for artistic talent and I think as long as your motivated and you have ability and ambition. Usually the good artist will carve out a good niche for themselves and land on their feet.”

John DenHouter received his BFA from the University of Michigan and his MFA from Eastern Michigan University He has been teaching at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville for sixteen years. John's work has been exhibited in numerous shows at Art Saint Louis including six of the annual "Art St. Louis, The Exhibition," including in 2003 (juried by David Pagel, critic, Los Angeles Times), 2005 (juried by Christian Rattemeyer, Curator, MOMA, NY), 2006 (juried by Elizabeth Thomas, Curator, Berkeley Art Museum, CA), 2009 (juried by Sheryl Conkelton, independent curator, Philadelphia, PA), 2010 (juried by Stacy Switzer, Artistic Director, Grand Arts, Kansas City, MO), and this year's exhibit juried by Richard V. West, Director Emeritus, Frye Art Museum, Seattle, WA.

"Art St. Louis XXVIII, The Exhibition" is presented at Art Saint Louis October 29-December 27, 2012. Gallery is free and open to the public M and Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Tu-Fr 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed Sundays and holidays, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Art Saint Louis is located at 555 Washington Avenue, #150, St. Louis, MO. 314/241-4810. www.artstlouis.org

Nichole Lance is a Fall 2012 Intern at Art Saint Louis. A senior at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, she will graduate this Fall with a BFA in Studio/Drawing. A solo exhibit of Nichole's work, "Celestial Horizons," is presented December 7-28, 2012 at the Edwardsville Arts Center, 6165 Center Grove Road, Edwardsville, IL 618/655-0337. http://edwardsvilleartscenter.com 

If you know of a undergrad or grad level college student interested in serving as a Winter 2013 intern, have that person visit the ASL website and download our Internship Application and we can set up an interview and hopefully schedule an internship!

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