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