Erik Hougen & Stephanie Bassos
Text by Julie McKim, July 2018
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 Erik Hougen “Islands #7” 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.