You may not know him by name, but if you’ve hung out Uptown you have likely stumbled upon the work of local mixed-media artist Brent Houzenga. His distinct paintings – composed of an abstract collage of vibrant colors backlighting a graffiti-esque face stencil – grace the walls of both Slice Pizzerias on Magazine Street and St. Charles Avenue, as well as at various coffee shops and on stickers plastered around town. What many probably also don’t know is that Houzenga’s work extends far beyond the Crescent City, having been showcased from coast to coast. He is the subject of the 2010 documentary Brent Houzenga: Hybrid Pioneer, and last year was commissioned to produce a work for Matthew McConaughey's personal collection.
This Saturday, April 5, Houzenga will showcase his latest exhibition, “Integrating the Shadow,” at Inner Recess at 1068 Magazine Street. Where Y’at caught up with Houzenga to discuss his upcoming show.
WYAT: What is the general concept behind “Integrating the Shadow?” How does it differ from other exhibitions you have done? How did the idea for this series come to you?
Houzenga: The concept comes from a Jungian Psychology term. The term implies making use of the parts of your psyche that you might hide away, or tapping into the collective unconscious. The series started as another experiment in my work - the faces merging or splitting apart. I was thinking about a piece I had done a long time ago with the same title a lot - one day it just clicked that that was what I was doing so I decided to expand on it.
WYAT: In addition to the “Integrating the Shadow” series, you will also be showcasing other works you have done in the past for the first time. Why did you choose to reveal them now?
Houzenga: I paint constantly and I probably have five different series of paintings that I have not shown. The main attraction is the "Integrating the Shadow" series, but I'll have some extra space for some other works - so it might be a little preview of some of these other series.
WYAT: You are right handed, and consciously chose to create several pieces in this series using your left hand. What made you want to do this?
Houzenga: Right around the time I was thinking a lot about "the shadow" my right elbow was hurting a lot. Some sort of tendonitis I guess (probably from shaking spray cans). I had been thinking kind of jokingly to myself that I was going to train myself to be left handed. When I started to investigate what it really meant to "Integrate the Shadow" it just clicked, and I knew I had to do it.
WYAT: Left-handed people are often characterized as more organized and analytical as their right-handed counterparts; they also experience greater emotional ups-and-downs. Did you see a noticeable shift in the mood and composition of your work?
Houzenga: It definitely affected me emotionally. There was a moment where I felt like I was looking at myself from the other side of the mirror. Visually they look a lot like an extension of my other works since the stencil was already cut and I used a lot of the same techniques, just using my left hand. In the background though there is poetry that shows through a little bit. The poetry was written with my left hand, and in doing so, I tried to conjure up things that I might not normally write - emotions that I might not normally recognize.
WYAT: You have worked in several areas of the arts: music, painting, and film. Is there a common thread or theme that connects your work across these mediums?
Houzenga: I think everything I do has a mixture of nature and nurture. The world pushes me around and I push back. I observe, I document, then reinterpret through my eyes.
WYAT: Your signature style I recognize around the city is a colorful, kaleidoscopic background backlighting a stenciled figure. It has a multi-dimensional, street-art feel to it…grungy, yet polished. What inspired this style?
Houzenga: I've been doing this sort of work for almost a decade. Street art, punk rock and comic books definitely played a part early on. Over the years, the techniques and color schemes have naturally progressed and become more complex.
WYAT: Speaking of street art, you have painted on a variety of canvases, from couches and old windowpanes to automobiles and television sets. Is this a conscious decision, in that there is a moment when you look at an object and the idea to create something with it just comes to you? Or, is it more about availability?
Houzenga: It's a combination of both, but availability has a lot to do with it since almost everything I paint on is found or given to me.
WYAT: There is a lot of talk these days about the concept of synesthesia among artists. Being a musician and having worked on musically inspired art pieces before, do you feel this is something that comes in to play for you? The loud colors and combination of art styles in your work definitely have a sort of punk rock vibe to them.
Houzenga: Punk rock brought me here man. Doing things DIY has always been huge. Synesthesia is definitely part of what happens for me everyday. Sometimes it seems like the connections come from nowhere or everywhere depending on how you look at it. And a lot of it is definitely automatic. Sometimes I don't know where it comes from - or I don't seem to need to think about it. I am just a vessel to get the message across.
WYAT: What artists do you admire right now? Any up-and-comers from New Orleans?
Houzenga: All People is my favorite New Orleans band and their name really corresponds to what I do "all power to ALL PEOPLE" - Also Sirens, SunDog - the whole Community Records crew. I’ll actually be showcasing some of my work at a Community Records show at Gasa Gasa on Friday, April 18. It will feature a performance by and record release party for Sirens, as well as kick of All People’s Brazil tour.
As far as visual art goes, there are a ton of people doing really great things. I love what Emily Lovejoy is doing setting up pop-up shows every few months. She is really pimpin' a lot of the up-and-comers, and her painting style is going to come into it's own really soon. Blake Ausman is definitely doing some really interesting work too.
WYAT: What influences your work? Where do you find your inspiration?
Houzenga: Everything. The world. Making connections. Inspiring people. Being inspired.
And of course I always go back to my photo albums from the 1890s that I found in someone's trash 8 years ago. When I found them I saw my future. Seeing these beautiful people in this beautiful book thrown away really made me see how short life is on earth. You only have so much time here - and you have to live with purpose passionately. They have guided me in my life and work and I would never be doing what I am doing had I not been in the right place at the right time. And I keep finding myself at that place - that's inspiring as well. To me it means I'm on the right path.
WYAT: Any last words on “Integrating the Shadow?”
Houzenga: I'm very excited and proud to have the opportunity to share what I've been working on with everyone. Also very blessed to have good friends to back me up on the show including Sirens, Christin Bradford, Tommy LeBlanc and Christine Jeanine Nielsen.
For more information on Brent Houzenga's "Integrating the Shadow" exhibition on April 5 at Inner Recess, click here.
For more information on Brent Houzenga's April 18 show at Gasa Gasa, click here.