Full disclosure: Clarence Hause and I are in an Art History class together at Brooklyn College this semester and I, the historian, was assigned to create/present a talk about he, the artist (also Master of Fine Arts candidate). Before getting too deep into the presentation, we both thought it best if I wrote up a simple review of Hause’s work, so here goes.

First thing’s first: what if anything does abstract expressionist art have left to tell us?

Ask nine out of ten artists working in the style—and there are many more than ten, believe me—and somewhere in their explanation is bound to be something alluding to individuality and emotion. We critics call these peculiarities the “artist’s hand,” a conceit which developed long ago into hegemony and has since been challenged by every major painter of the last fifty years.

Hause’s work is of decidedly abstract expressionist vintage. Meaning his paintings are largely gestural and non-narrative. He draws on all the major figures of that genre’s storied history, including the violent whacks of paint and dense layering of Willem de Kooning, the drippy, goopy texture of Jackson Pollock, the airy, Far-Eastern space of Franz Klein, and the Native American color scheme of Clyfford Still.

In fact, Hause doesn’t even try to hide his affinity for these masters. His embrace of them (and his own sensitivity) may be retro, even reductive, but its aversion to fashion appears, if nothing else, as something of a rebellion against the more cerebral current trends.

Hause told me on a recent studio visit that he supports himself illustrating covers for a Native American book publisher near Binghamton. (They are mostly all figural.) His abstract work also doesn’t veer entirely away from the figural; in fact many of them feature the faint ghost of characters. Several new paintings show Hause overworking surfaces where clearly nude models remain in the background. He doesn’t even try to get away from the classic art school poses, either, which likely started in a classroom setting. Yet his thick layers of oil paint give them a relief sculpture feel. (The more straight-up abstracts, like the one above, have something of a cave painting vibe, with their beastly forms and floating spirits dotting the fiery landscape.)

The paintings are also decidedly small—usually not much larger than a 13″x9.5″ sheet of canvas paper—which removes the experiential sense of falling into the works of the past masters. Hause, instead, offers something to hold rather than behold; something that feels intimate.

At this point, learning to paint in this style is, for the fine artist, what learning to draw Superman or Batman is for the budding illustrator. Hause’s work falls victim to all the clichés and trappings of abstract expressionism. His brushstrokes are ham-fisted and messy to the point of simplicity; his sense of design makes the paintings more decorative than existentially-haunted. Again, his figures pose in poses that are far too obvious for the artist to not’ve noticed. But that’s also what is refreshing about Hause’s work.

He’s gone back to the beginning to ask what was missed, or if we’ve forgotten anyway. And he does so not from a sense of utopian ideals, or the need to break down that which came just before. As such, his becomes a totally personal style, because he is literally discovering what does and doesn’t work for himself, right there on the canvas. The work seems almost completely un-self-aware (as far as I can see), and therefore non-self-conscious. Anyway, self-awareness is the most tired cliché of all.

Of the head and of the heart, I prefer the heart. (Brian Chidester)