Felice Trees, Oil on canvas, 36 x 72 inches
Interview conducted by Deedra Baker, Art Room Program Director
Felice House is a figurative painter who strives, through her portrayals of women, to provide a counterpoint to the passive female representations found in art historical tradition. She has a BFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and an MFA in painting from the University of Texas. In between her other schooling, House spent time studying classical painting and portraiture at the Schuler School of Fine Art in Baltimore, Maryland.
In the past year, House has exhibited work in galleries and museums across the United States and Canada including Maryland, Georgia, Colorado, Louisiana, Tennessee, New Mexico, Texas, and Nova Scotia. Her co-authored paper, “Female Heroes: A Survey of Warrior Women in Painting and Sculpture,” was accepted and presented at the Traditional Representational Art Conference in Ventura, California this fall. This past spring her involvement in the international Women Painting Women movement lead her to coproduce Women Painting Women: Texas, a juried exhibition that highlighted fourteen prominent figurative artists working in Texas today. House’s work is collected both publicly and privately. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, sculptor, Dana Younger. She is an Assistant Professor in the Visualization Department at Texas A&M University. — Felice House
Nedah Clouds, Oil on canvas, 36 x 72 inches
Whether working individually or as a couple, painter Felice House and sculptor Dana Younger produce images and objects that address some of society’s most fundamental binaries: the masculine versus the feminine, the natural versus the cultural, the part versus the whole. House and Younger share an affinity for the representational, the figurative and the naturalistic, all of which make their works immediately—though sometimes deceptively—accessible. Presented larger than life, the faces and limbs operate within a realm of simultaneous contrast, each appearing more striking in proximity to the others than in his or her absence. Neither icons, nor ruins nor relics, but participating in the classical academic and cultural traditions in which all three arose and flourished, the works in this exhibition celebrate the human figure and the human form in order to expose some of the dangers inherent in an anthropocentric worldview. The resulting tension between superficial beauty and philosophical provocation creates an expansive and fertile interpretive space within which the viewer can project and reflect on his or her own senses of self, nature, and wholeness.
— Dr. Stephen Caffey, art historian, critic, and curator
Deedra Baker: Describe how your background and education in tradition and classical painting has influenced your current working methodologies.
Felice House: Like many, I went to art school, had a great time, and left with very little information about how to paint in a representational manner. For some, this is not an issue, but since I wanted to do this for a living I needed more training. My quest led me to the Schuler School of Fine Arts, a classical atelier in Baltimore, Maryland. Their six-week summer session opened my eyes to the wealth of information available on representational painting. I studied at Schuler for three summers and one full year. As a producer and lover of representational figure painting, I think the key is to learn a traditional set of skills that you can then use to convey a more contemporary message.
Sarah Fire, Oil on canvas, 24 x 48 inches
DB: What or who inspires you as an artist?
FH: My mom is an artist. She had a painting/drawing studio in our house when I was growing up. As a kid, she took me with her to life drawing sessions. Because of her, I had posters of Ingres’ portrait of the “Countess d'Haussonville” and Renoir’s “Girl with a Falcon” in my bedroom. When I walked into my first painting class in college, holding a box of my mother’s old paints, I felt perfectly at home.
My mom and I still talk about painting all the time. My husband is a sculptor, whom I show with regularly. In my job at Texas A&M, I teach students how to paint. It is so fun.
I am inspired and fueled by the connections and innovations that come from making, teaching and showing art. I am inspired by those whom I can tell have poured themselves into their artistic practice: Laura Knight, Paula Rego, Sorolla, Sargent. I am inspired by WWII propaganda posters, screen printing, good abstract painting, studying anatomy….I could go on and on…..
DB: Your work utilizes the traditional female figure in a contemporary, non-consumable manner. Describe how you have come to paint this subject matter and how you feel you achieve a unique viewpoint of the female form.
FH: Historically portrayals of women in painting were made by men for men. For this reason, we have come to accept over sexualized depictions of women as standard, normal and inevitable. It is going to take some effort on the part of artists and viewers to change the dialog about women to be more multidimensional. I have always been interested in realigning and reinterpreting the gender/power dynamic in our culture. Posture, eye contact, scale, color, and brush mark are some of the methods that I use to challenge the status quo. For example, the subjects in my series of paintings SUM YOU SOME ME, recently on display at Artroom gallery, are placed confrontationally in the center of the frame. They are twice life-size and cropped down to just their head and shoulders. Through this cropping, I am only giving the viewer access to the real power center of women, their head. The landscapes behind the figures refer back to the subject’s emotional state, or internal reality, rather than referencing anything external. In my previous series of large-scale paintings, RE•WESTERN, I projected contemporary women into heroic roles in classic western movies. Through the use of the gender flip, I asked the audience to question cultures gendered notion of the hero.
Misha Sky, Oil on canvas, 36 x 72 inches
DB: As an artist, do you find yourself working on several bodies of work at once or do you focus on a single project? What are you working on now?
FH: Since taking a full time teaching position at Texas A&M I have gained more flexibility and support to develop bodies of work. Previously, when I needed to pay the bills, I would interrupt my work on a series to take on individual commission or sell off a painting before getting to display it with a group.
I am currently working on a series of drawings that fit into my SUM YOU SOME ME body of work. The drawings, like the paintings, are head and shoulders portraits of women. Unlike the paintings, the drawings are vertical, black and white and created with vine charcoal. The twist of these portraits is that the woman’s hair transitions into a plant form. It has been really fun to focus on drawing; though I have always drawn, I have never presented them as finished pieces. I feel like a whole new avenue has opened up.