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P.P.O.W to represent Joe Houston
Joe Houston, VIEW, 2018. Oil on linen, 36 x 35 inches. Courtesy P.P.O.W, © Joe Houston.

NEW YORK, NY.- P.P.O.W announced that it will again represent painter Joe Houston. Houston first joined the gallery in 1983, the same year as P.P.O.W’s founding, and gained quick recognition for his striking paintings that reinterpreted familiar scenes to explore social and political undercurrents of the day. Houston had two highly successful solo shows with the gallery in 1986 and 1993, and was included in group shows up until 1996 when he shifted his focus to curatorial practice. After a decades-long hiatus, Houston recently returned to painting. His new work will be included in P.P.O.W’s booth at the Armory show, and his next exhibition with the gallery is slated for 2019.

For both P.P.O.W and Houston, his return to the gallery’s roster is a natural fit as his work explores many of the political and social concerns for which P.P.O.W has long provided a public platform. Houston’s evocative pictorial sensibility is a delicate negotiation between observation and imagination. Distilled from the everyday world, his strangely familiar images take on a timeless and universal quality, functioning as multivalent signs. Thus, his iconic paintings invite the viewer to consider broader questions regarding our uneasy relationship to the natural world and the technological mediation of our experiences. In addition to such compelling environmental and social concerns, Houston’s multi-layered works often covertly reflect upon the nature of representation and the task of painting in our time.

Houston’s approach is exemplified by HOLD (2017) which depicts a hand grasping a songbird against a barren sky, a symbol of our uneasy dominance over nature, as well as a meditation on the artist’s struggle to capture his subject and fix the viewer’s gaze. Characteristically, HOLD was executed in oil on linen over a period of months, and was based on numerous drawings made during the preceding years. All of his paintings have a prolonged gestation, their compositions reworked often until they achieve a timeless form. “An image has to persist and become amplified. If I’m still bothered by it, still drawing it 5, 10 or even 25 years later—as was the case with HOLD —then I know it needs to be painted.”

While his new work mines a broad vocabulary of imagery, Houston has also returned to several motifs he first explored in the 80s, including American flags, masonry walls, and scenic overlooks, subjects imbued with new meaning in the current cultural climate. VIEW (2018), for instance, recasts his 1986 painting of the same title depicting a coin operated viewer overlooking a panoramic landscape. The central snowcapped mountain of that work recalls the majestic Paramount Pictures logo, alluding to postmodern alienation: Nature-as-Entertainment. In its new incarnation, the mountains are completely elided, and the binocular viewer now faces an indeterminate void, providing a more fearful and urgent look at both the vanishing landscape and our own precipitous existence. VIEW (2018) will be included in the Armory installation.

Joe Houston studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and earned his MFA from Northwestern University’s Department of Art Theory & Practice. Among his honors are an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship, Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant and residencies from the Bemis Foundation, MacDowell Colony, and Yaddo. He has been included in exhibitions at numerous institutions including: The Art Institute of Chicago, Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, Omaha, NE; Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, NY; and Centre Saidye Bronfman, Montreal, Canada. His work is in many public and private collections, including: Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin, OH; MIT List Center for Visual Arts, Cambridge, MA; Progressive Corporation, Mayfield Village, OH; RISD Museum, Providence, RI; and Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT.

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