Opening Reception: Friday July 13th, 2018 from 6-9PM
As Richman finally recorded it, “Roadrunner” was the most obvious song in the world, and the strangest. - Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces A Secret History of the Twentieth Century.
In Lipstick Traces, Greil Marcus describes the Jonathan Richman song Roadrunner as both obvious and strange. When reading Marcus’ description of the Richman song, the work of Erik Hougen always comes to mind. It’s something about the atmosphere each artist creates: the sense of landscape passing by with progressive urgency and the way they both construct images that seem to be pulled directly from the American collective experience.
The seven works in Islands rests on the tension between the obvious and strange. They are large-scale digital photographs taken by Hougen, the content is simple and everyday: a solitary motor boat on a silent lake, two men in a pick-up truck, a waste paper basket in an empty office building, the back of a hooded figure. Hougen then applies paint to the photograph in individual layers of CMYK. He layers paint on the image the way ink is applied to a print, but he does this completely by hand; doing manually what is usually done by machine. This manual process allows Hougen to make decisions about what to bury or accentuate from the original photograph. With Hougen’s editorial choices, innocuous images take on the suggestion of the sinister or unknown.
Hougen’s approach in Islands is influenced by filmmaking and the cinematic experience, supplying snippets that hint at a potential parallel reality, or alternative perspective. The work, neither traditional painting or print, plays most like a photograph. In each work, there is a trace of what lies outside the frame, that which is not present but implied.
Hougen’s prints, paintings and films are filled with cinematic scenes from the American landscape - empty freeways that run straight into a never-ending horizons, telephone pole wires that are infinitely connected, and abandon structures that become visible in the middle of nowhere surrounded only by snow or darkness. Hougen culls his source material from a combination of found and personal photographs. This includes snapshots of cross country trips and family outings, as well as banal moments that reveal a quiet isolation that reads as both profoundly individual, and part of a larger shared understanding. By blending traditional printmaking techniques with painting, Hougen purposefully disrupts the pictorial plane of his canvases creating a dislocation that denies full access to the image and blurs the lines between perception and reality. This disruption sets up a tension in Hougen’s work between what we see and what we think we perceive.
-- Julie McKim
Searching through found photographs from eras long gone provides the unique privilege of being a voyeur to strangers’ memories. It evokes such sweet nostalgia as I imagine the who, where, when and why these photographs were taken. I am transported back to a simpler time — one when people were free from looking at their phones or documenting excessive details of their day. When taking photographs was a more cautious and considered experience, primarily taken with the intention of providing the photographer with a memory of the moment. When photographs weren’t on display for likes or attention. When there were 36 shots or less per roll, so you had to be particular.
Inspired by that nostalgia, I sift through thousands of collected slides, overlaying pairs to create an imaginary world that never existed — a fantasy of two past lives coming together in unexpected ways. The combinations are then scanned together to create the images you see here.
Stephanie Bassos is a Chicago-based photographer who has been documenting the world around her since 2005.