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Weekly Update – Jim Houser’s world at the Bride


This week’s Weekly has my review of Jim Houser‘s show at Painted Bride. Below is the copy with some pictures. More at flickr.

Back to Black
Jim Houser spills his NPR-addled subconscious.

Jim Houser
Black Lurker with arrow in heart greets you in Jim Houser’s Painted Bride installation.

Black has never been the anchor color in Jim Houser’s mostly pastel installations, but it’s all over his new two-floor piece at the Painted Bride. From boulder-headed characters called lurkers to small candles, shells and rocks on the memorial-like shelves that dot the walls, the preponderance of black changes the tenor of Houser’s universe from eggs over easy in the Cozy up Diner to burnt toast and black coffee in the Atomic Cafe. Houser’s art has sidled into a new zone where anger is the new guy in town, and he’s bigger and badder than everyone else around.

Jim Houser
Arrow draws green blood from the green wall.

It’s not that all Houser’s previous works were set in Candy Land. He’s always made art with an edge. Among the octopuses, cats, sweet-faced talkers and 10-gallon hats, there have always been lurkers and weird bits of language evoking the darker side of life. (“Gaper delay,” “amok” and “germs” written in a typeface made of bones isn’t particularly upbeat.)

But the ratio of darkness to light in previous installations was different. In this new installation—the most ambitious I’ve seen and way edgier than his previous five solo shows at Spector Gallery—Houser lets the downbeat dominate. And it gives the whole installation a jolt of guts and grit.

Jim Houser
A perfect fit, like a noose, says head on the flag

A new motif adds to the angry feel. Little 3-D toy arrows impale the walls as if flung by an unseen enemy, and the wall bleeds green paint where the arrow hits its mark; the big black lurker has an arrow in his heart. The world is under siege. Houser’s under siege. Everyone’s throwing arrows everywhere.

Houser is a self-taught artist who distills life into explosions of words, images and objects which he then flings onto walls. Reading the text in this installation clarifies what’s on his mind: “Toxins in the blood”; “It gets worse”; “A perfect fit”; “Like a noose”; “Like a fist, filled with pills”; “Blood loss.” The artist once told me he listens to NPR constantly.

Jim Houser
Hallmark of a Houser installation is the wall painting with animals, people, and words. I love this little elephant whose head is like a teapot.

The show was almost entirely sold out before the opening. Houser had a waiting list of collectors who came, saw and snapped it up. His work is now in the collections of the PMA and PAFA—as they should be. That he doesn’t have a Pew Fellowship is incomprehensible.

Jim Houser
Upstairs at the opening of the two-floor installation.

Houser is a Philly phenom. There are many who now copy his style, but he’s the original. The 2005 book about the artist, Babel, is the closest thing to a Houser retrospective we have.

Looking at that book and this installation, it’s clear Houser has made a leap forward. He’s let the dark emerge without losing the wit and playfulness. It wasn’t the safe thing to do, but it was the right thing.

“This Beating Heart Acts as a Timer”
Through May 19. Free. Painted Bride, 230 Vine St. 215.925.9914.