“It’s Almost Like Meditation” – the Wonderful Visual Language of Jim Houser

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

There is a lot to process in a Jim Houser installation.

First, there is the painted landscape sweeping across the walls, geometric blocks of bold pastels interspersed with bulbous oversized characters, oblivious and indifferent, like some deep-sea creatures captured unknowingly in a diver’s spotlight. Interspersed about this, like small towns tucked into the vast countryside and observed from above, are pockets of framed art, bespoke artifacts, found objects and curiosities.

Jim Houser’s installations cleverly blend large background elements with smaller, intermingled clusters of objects and paintings. Photo by Studio Brooke.

In HERE, RIGHT HERE, which Houser recently created at Viacom’s global headquarters in Times Square as part of the company’s Art at Viacom series, this eclectic visual language stamps its story across the lobby walls. An amalgam of original artworks, pieces repurposed from past shows, and a collage sourced from an employee workshop, the installation is a varied and fecund articulation of Houser’s inner world, a vast and carefully considered mash-up of sketches, painted characters, poems and three-dimensional objects.

Houser took a break from his installation to sit with me in Viacom’s humming seventh floor cafeteria, where we discussed his process, his creative choices, and why the company is a great artistic partner. Remarks have been and edited for length and clarity.

Stuart Winchester: How did you connect with Viacom?

Jim Houser: I have a commercial agent, who works with other artists in my vein, and one of them was Dabs Myla for their project here at Viacom, and they were like, “Viacom’s awesome.” So I sent a bunch of images and I guess they were into it.

SW: Take me through the process of planning and seeing the space and executing the design once you connected with Viacom.

JH: I had done a show in the early spring in Philadelphia, which is my home base. I sent the Art at Viacom people images, and said, “This is what I just did, I can easily make more work and then combine it with the installation elements that I used for this last thing that I’d done, and I can easily transform it to fit the space.” So I just mocked up images and they sent me images of the space they had, and I explained what I would do and it went from there.

A collage anchors an arrangement of paintings and objects in Jim Houser’s HERE, RIGHT HERE installation for Art at Viacom. Photo by Studio Brooke.

SW: Did you actually visit the space live?

JH: I didn’t, but that’s kind of a common thing for me. I travel around doing this kind of stuff in different cities, and I’ve been doing it for almost 20 years, so I’m kind of used to saying, “send me a floorplan, and photos from the four corners of the room, and I’ll figure it out.”

SW: So once you get onsite, at what point does the piece start to take shape?

JH: The one thing that’s different about this install than maybe some other ones in the past is that even though this area is a room, it’s really just the two walls, and I’m not able to work on the full room at once. So it’s almost like I have to do two installations. I think there’s 60 or 70 paintings total, so in my head I’m splitting my paintings up, because I don’t want to hang 60 on one wall and be like, “Oh, I only have 10 for the other.”

A shot of several paintings and other elements arrayed together in HERE, RIGHT HERE, Jim Houser’s Art at Viacom installation in New York City. Photo by Studio Brooke.

SW: So of those 60 or 70 paintings, were there any created specifically for this installation, or did you have these already?

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Here, Right Here: An Art at Viacom Painting Workshop With Jim Houser

On a Friday afternoon at Viacom’s Times Square Headquarters, I took a break from work to join 20 of my coworkers for a drawing workshop with Jim Houser, a mixed-media artist from Philadelphia. Houser is Art at Viacom’s latest artist-in-residence, a title which grants him free reign to transform our lobby walls with his bespoke creative design.

repost from @artatviacom , here’s the first wall

A post shared by jim houser (@misterhouser) on

Each artist-in-residence typically hosts an hour-long workshop for employees looking to learn their technique. Houser set up his exhibit HERE, RIGHT HERE in the days leading up to his workshop, so I was able to catch a preview of what I’d learn from the session. He had hung canvas collages, quilted with bright squares and rectangles, bringing to mind Dabs Myla’s whimsical world of graphic pop-art from a previous Art at Viacom installation.

Houser’s website describes his work as “visual poetry,” which is an apt description for the canvas he brought to the workshop as an example. It consisted of geometric patterns, typography, doodles and lyrical musings like this one: “the number we see, or the number there actually are.” Combined, these non sequiturs became one fluid verse; a capsule of Houser’s psyche.

And then, we had to replicate this.

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East Meets West in Art at Viacom’s Vibrant Exhibit by Ogulcan Kush

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

The still paintings pulse with the hectic lifeforce of an animated GIF, seeming to burst from the walls of Viacom’s Times Square headquarters in a mesmerizing array of color and geometry.

“Kaleidoscope” by Ogulcan Kush. Photo by Studio Brooke.

The creation of Turkish-born, New York City based Ogulcan Kush (who goes by “OG”), the medley of precision-measured shapes and symbolism is a deliberate synthesis of Eastern, Islamic art and Western modern art. This fusion of artforms is both a tribute to OG’s principal influences and a therapeutic articulation of his frustration that his U.S. work visa will soon expire, forcing him to leave New York.

“I decided to be okay with leaving the U.S., and use whatever time I had left to react to the situation with my art,” OG told Art at Viacom, which is hosting the artist’s first solo U.S. exhibition, American Daydream.

“The American Daydream” by Ogulcan Kush at 1515 Broadway. Photo by Studio Brooke.

The exhibit is a nice compendium of OG’s work and style – it incorporates legacy pieces and several works created specifically for this exhibit, including a large piece that he painted live outside of Viacom’s cafeteria over several days.

I spoke to OG just after Art at Viacom unveiled his exhibition last month. The conversation below has been edited for clarity and length.

Stuart Winchester: How did you connect with Viacom?

Ogulcan Kush: Last year, I was working on Tahiti Pearson’s Art at Viacom installation, and I met the team at the press party afterward. We met for drinks one night and I showed them my  work, and they told me to come in for an interview. And I went in with my pitch ready and they were like, “So we would love to have you.”

SW: Take me through the process of working for Viacom from concept to actual installation.

OG: The people at Art at Viacom were super nice, super friendly. They couldn’t have been more helpful. After we booked the show, I finished two pieces specifically for the space. Then they wanted to incorporate a live painting into the show. They were really supportive of the art, not just established artists, but emerging artists doing a lot of work and trying to come up, so I really respect that.

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A Secret Language Written on Viacom’s Walls – Art at Viacom Continues with Marela Zacarias

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

The colors ripple like some secret language across the objects’ surface, arrayed in geometric patterns as elegant as a circuit board and as mysterious as ancient hieroglyphics. They sit on a series of banners and bulging sculptures in the south lobby of Viacom’s Times Square headquarters, dancing along the walls, each with a unique pattern of colors and lines.

Sculptures by Marela Zacarias hanging in Viacom’s lobby at 1515 Broadway as part of the latest Art at Viacom installation. Photos by Brooke Alexander/Studio Brooke

The expansive and varied texture of the work reflects the deep cultural influences of their creator, Marela Zacarias, a Mexico, Montana and Brooklyn based artist who was the latest exhibitor for Art at Viacom, an ongoing program that showcases rising artists at our offices around the world.

Huffington Post contributor Isa Freeling wrote this about Zacarias’ exhibit in April: “Her show, Echoing Forms is impressive in its ability to sensually exact beautiful pieces by casting sheets of mesh into sensuous folded blankets, by using plaster and polymers and are so exquisitely executed and rich in texture and strength, it is a pleasure to look at the work.”

Zacarias’ installation follows a parade of Art at Viacom projects: the striking metallic oil paintings of Kip Omolade, the geometric wizardy of Tahiti Pehrson, the cartoonishy wondrous works of Australian duo Dabs Myla, the mammoth swirling tablecloth sculptures of Crystal Wagner, the multicolored yarn meadows of HOTTEA, and massive ceiling-dangling floral display from Rebecca Louise Law.

The tricycle was an existing work that Marela Zacarias incorporated into her Art at Viacom exhibit in Viacom’s Times Square headquarters lobby. Photo by Brooke Alexander/Studio Brooke

Zacarias partnered with Viacom after high-profile installations at the Brooklyn Museum, Praxis Gallery, Brooklyn’s William Vale, and other places. She is constantly on the move. When I spoke to her over the phone the week after the exhibit opened, she was already down in Mexico City, preparing for a gallery show. Below is a condensed and lightly edited version of our conversation:

Stuart Winchester: How did you decide to use the banners, which are a departure from your typical work?

Marela Zacarias: There were challenges in terms of how much weight I could hang, and the sculptures are 135 pounds, so I couldn’t do my usual work, because there was nowhere to hang it from. And then I thought of the banners. I’ve been doing sculpture for about six years, and I really haven’t gone back to canvas for a while, so it felt really liberating to return, and I don’t know if I would have made that strategic choice if it wasn’t for the lobby’s structural situation. The technical problems led me to real artistic growth.

Hanging the banners at 1515 Broadway for Marela Zacarias’ Art at Viacom installation. Photo by Brooke Alexander/Studio Brooke

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Art at Viacom Workshop: Behind the Blades of Tahiti Pehrson’s Artistic Process

I remember arriving for orientation on my first day at Viacom back in February. I was thrilled to know I’d be working at the company responsible for some of the most iconic moments in entertainment history, a company with brands that defined my adolescence. Walking through the lobby of 1515 Broadway amidst a hypnotic waterfall of yarn was an otherworldly experience. It made me realize that Viacom would become my home.

Art at Viacom’s artist-in-residence at the time, instillation guru HOTTEA, was responsible for the tinted tendrils. Art at Viacom regularly partners with distinct, often emerging artists by giving them an unconventional canvass—Viacom headquarters. The results are enthralling installations, as vibrant and creative as the company spirit.

In April, I’d witness the building’s evolution from kaleidoscopic yarn factory to a pop-art-deco landscape, courtesy of Australian artist duo, Dabs Myla. In September, I entered the paper galaxy of Tahiti Pehrson.

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A cycle of light and life, created by Tahiti Pehrson for Viacom Headquarters. Photos courtesy of Art at Viacom.

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A Cyclical Journey: An Interview With Art at Viacom’s Artist-in-Residence, Tahiti Pehrson

If you were to walk past Viacom Headquarters in Times Square, you would likely notice three massive turrets of mandalas glazed upon the building’s towering windows. This is the work of our latest artist-in-residence, Tahiti Pehrson from his Art at Viacom exhibit, The Journey of Light.

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Photo courtesy of Art at Viacom.

The work is laborious—Pehrson evokes the intricate behavior of light and dimension by using exact-o knifes to carve designs into 100 percent-cotton paper, overlapping stencil upon stencil of geometric origami. From a distance, the art looks like it was laser-printed upon the building. The fact that it is the result of human handicraft makes it all the more stunning.

I spoke with the artist behind the imperial exhibit to learn more about his own journey of light.

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Pehrson’s peacful stencils are a perfect balance to the hectic construction outside of Viacom Headquarters. Photo courtesy of Art at Viacom.

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How Creativity Can Kill You and Why You Are Totally Unprepared for the Next Panther Attack

“I want you to know less at the end of this talk than you think you do now. Nothing interesting begins with knowing, it begins with doubt.”

This was how Dr. Beau Lotto began his speech on Tuesday, June 28, addressing a group of nearly 100 employees at Viacom Headquarters. “The Neuroscience of Creativity” promised to help unlock our best ideas using perceptual awareness.

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Brain cells from Lotto’s lab. (Courtesy of Beau Lotto)

Confused by this nebulous description? So was I. But through the course of an hour, Lotto methodically demonstrated the stages of creativity, taking us through biology, human evolution, and social constructs. By the end of his talk, I knew far less than I did when I sat down.

Some might think this is a strange result of a scientific lecture, but Lotto is a renegade of scientific academia. He’s built a career out of making neuroscience—the study of the brain and nervous system—accessible to those of us without PhDs. His speeches distill complex topics like brain chemistry and cognitive function using art, puzzles, and storytelling.

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Dabs Myla, Latest Additions to Art at Viacom, Create a Home Within an Office at 1515 Broadway

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom
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Their work erupts from the Visitor’s Center in the lobby of 1515 Broadway, an eclectic assortment of hand-painted books and records and potted plants stacked atop densely decorated shelves and staircases that soar nearly to the ceiling. A cartoon world of peeping foxes and palm trees and crescent moons and walking suns explodes along an adjacent wall. Turn the corner, and visitors encounter a florid dreamworld that resembles a cartoon movie set heaved into reality, an orange settee arranged opposite a hard-bound teepee, back-dropped by a mountain-scape gated by twin fortune wheels. A fox larger than the mountains themselves settles over this domain, the forceful centerpiece of a grand, living piece of artwork.

This is the world of Dabs Myla, an Australian-born married duo whose whimsical, large-scale immersive installations have appeared inside and outside of buildings all over the planet. After the pair wrapped up work on an astonishing set for the 2015 MTV Movie Awards – an effort that also included logo and statuette design – Viacom invited them to bring their work into our offices as part of our ongoing Art at Viacom series. The rotating series of immersive art experiences has previously featured the work of HOTTEA, interdisciplinary artist Crystal Wagner, and floral artist Rebecca Louise Law. You can see more of what Art at Viacom is doing on its tumblr and Instagram pages.

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