Mark Houghton works masterfully with the poetics of space and the juncture in tension between found objects placed within the context of his defined boundary. He is a visionary conductor, orchestrating objects so that they become redefined in his hands - delivering bold graphic statements from materials usually unseen and unvalued.
Colour has a dynamic potency in his installations, married with form, texture and scale - the juxtaposition of the elements has a geometric harmony that resonates in its mathematical equation.
Houghton's material palette liberates and embraces the world of the found object. He does not support the notion of a hierarchy of materials and believes 'everything is up for grabs and reinterpretation'. The initial inspiration for his sculptures can appear quite an inconsequential thing - chance finds in a junk shop, a line from a song or an unusual positioning of items in the street.
Houghton elects to work directly with the materials, believing that this embraces the spontaneity that is crucial to his approach. This has led his practice to specialize in creating site-specific works where he adopts only objects he has found on the site and then harnesses their power to make his visual statement. This self-imposed remit engenders a fascinating strangulation of both physical geography and psycho-geography and is one that Houghton relishes. In 2011, in Occindental Collusions took form from materials found only on the site - it reads with an interplay of rhythm and the exacting distance Houghton calculates between the placements, that imbue significance where before there was neglect. The neutral colour palette and sensitive lighting create synergy among the discordant artefacts, releasing an ambiance to the onlooker that reassures them it is safe to enter this new domain.
Dresden is Yellow, Eternity is Pink is another site-specific work where Houghton has limited his source materials to those found within a defined boundary of the site in Nottingham. The composition not only echoes his roots in painting, but resembles a three-dimensional animated painting that you can enter and languish inside. The bathing of colour heightens the dynamics within the environment and showcases the sculptor's innate sense of the value of juxtaposition.
Working Order, in London, adopts a similar approach but this time the execution has a softer appeal - drapes caress the floor, a chair and a pallet, the suspended spheres are balanced with the rigid wooden facets. The mood is gentle…soft pink and inviting.
In Memory of Lemon, the site-specific installation created in 2010 for Surface Arts, Exeter, Houghton again gives colour the commanding role. Here the influence of Portuguese sculptor Pedro Cabrita Reis is felt - as a dominant artist in the minimalist genre who harnesses colour to exact poetic power, it is difficult not to see nuances of Reis's style. However, Houghton's interventions, with his highly individual and quirky selection of appropriated finds, have a very British signature on them.
Extract from The Language of Mixed Media Sculpture, Jac Scott Crowood Press May 2014 IBSN-978-1-84797-721-2
One of the perennial criticisms levelled at the white cube gallery is its dissociative relationship with the 'real world'. By minimizing any unnecessary detail, removing distractions and presenting a blank environment, the gallery isolates the artwork from the very source it came from. While this often gives the viewer a purer appreciation of works, it can also have the effect of distorting or diminishing the artwork's original intention. Mark Houghton's practice subtly reintroduces the real world to this rarefied environment via the back door, declaring that 'Nothing can exist in isolation'.
The back door Houghton uses to effect this reintroduction is the vast messiness of unsorted memories and associations carried around in the viewer's head. As the practitioner, Houghton's part of the deal is to create a resonant object or configuration of objects; as the viewer we are asked to bring to his work our own personal encyclopaedic records that might give it meaning or significance. Of course, this relationship forms the basis of reading of any and all artworks that offer an interpretation of the world; but the unnerving experience of meeting Houghton's work seems somehow closer to reading an instruction manual in a foreign language, but with lovely diagrams.
Houghton's practice is a prime example of that which confounds any attempt at a conscious, logical reading. It requires a lateral shift in thinking to be appreciated, which is often kick-started by a 'key' element in the work. The series 'Where are we now' (2008-ongoing) shows fragments of domestic interiors, just enough to get a sense of the room we are only partly being shown. A large part of the image has been cut away along a rather theatrical or comical zigzag edge. The remaining periphery now becomes significant, and is supported by a suitably theatrical coloured wooden framework structure. Even though we are presented with just a fragment, it is apparent that the images are the sort of bland showroom interiors found in shopping catalogues or Sunday supplements. It is up to us how we complete this fragment: do we fill in the gaps? Do we make associations with rooms we once occupied ourselves? One thing is clear: Houghton has not provided a whole in composite parts. Finally, the merest shadow or disturbed bedlinen betrays the presence of a figure just outside the cut edge, and we find ourselves one step closer to Houghton's understanding of our world.
'Junkyard Brancussi' (2008) also uses the language of bland or tacky interiors, this time appropriating a sculptural element: the shelf. The object is familiar but its journey to its current state is not quite identifiable - is it a spice rack reworked into a spire motif? Or more simply an up-ended bookshelf? The decorative scalloped edging and dark varnish is reminiscent of overly ornamented sitting rooms in guest houses or pensioners' homes - but all of these readings make no sense of the abstract trapezoidal base made of sheet brass. The closest association is that of the kitsch chimney breasts of the 1970s, but while these were covered with panel-beaten dents, Houghton's base has a flat reflective surface - perhaps in an attempt not to draw attention to itself (like a plinth), but failing. As with much of Houghton's work the piece's refusal to offer any definitive reading is like a half-welcomed liberation for both the work and viewer, an encounter from which we may come away from feeling none the wiser, while actually being anything but.
Chris Brown, March 2009
Mark Houghton is interested in everything. Not literally, but in a material and historic sense. Through his sculptures and installations he picks up the 'stuff' around us, the normal, the insignificant, the overlooked, and hands it back to us in some form that feels familiar and intriguing but, somehow, different. There is a relaxed formality to the work, immediately revealing a human intervention, but causing us to question whether this is simply the current point at which this transformation has arrived or if this is now a new permanent state. Mark refers to the '40,000 years of the activity of homo faber' (man, the maker), giving himself our entire history of tinkering, inventing, manipulating and adding to our environment from which to draw. The titles of the works, such as 'King' (2010), 'You Take the Weather With You' (2010), and 'Working Order' (2010), help position them back in to our world on a different level, becoming vehicles for an allusion to a very human place; a shifting of the hierarchy and control from 'man-made object' to objects that surround us and inform how we manoeuvre, as opposed to the other way round. This shift in our perceptions and relationship is key to the work's new function. They serve to, both, highlight and question the volume of the world around us, in all possible meanings of the word, and leave us back in a place where there is genuine wonder in the seemingly mundane.
S Mark Gubb 2010
There is a scene in the excellent cringe fest that is Metallica's Some Kind of Monster that somehow manages to top all others for toe curling awkwardness. Filmed during the thrash metal behemoths meltdown, rehab and therapy, we are flies on the wall as the band try and recoup some past glories and friendships.
Metallica founder, expensive art loving drummer, Lars Ulrich, is berating lead singer/guitarist, James 'Papa Het' Hetfield as they try out new riffs for the album. Leaning over the drum kit, trying and failing not to be condescending, he declares his opinion on Hetfield's riffage (which sounds like King Kong wrestling a Transformer, ie, monstrously good). "You know? It sounds too stock. It sounds too normal to me. " Hetfield, writer of some of the most brutal heavy metal riffs ever, is aggrieved at being called 'too stock', but for once, perhaps Ulrich was right, he wanted better, he wanted more, he wanted it to be the best it could possibly be.
Worryingly, this came to mind when visiting Mark Houghton on day two of his weeklong studio residency in Chapter's Stwdio. Perhaps it was because the space resembled a music recording studio (it's a dance rehearsal space), or maybe that Houghton looks a little, if you squint and stand on one leg, like a clean living Papa Het, minus the billion dollar record sales and tattoos.
Dotted around the black walled space were bits of this and bobs of that. Seemingly random lengths of coloured wood leant this way and that, a deflated football sat painfully in the corner, trying its hardest to look arty. A pair of railings had been freshly spray painted black, with parts picked out in a fetching pink and a startling Cerulean blue. Detritus was dotted around, along with work tools, table tops and chairs. Ledges were covered in dust, but had finger marks, scratches and when it comes to object based sculpture, the obligatory odds of BluTak and ends of masking tape. It may have only been day two, but it all looked 'a bit stock'. I told him this. He didn't disagree. What it looked like was the sum of its influences, and a whole lot more like 'stock' object based sculpture that seems to be achingly fashionable at the moment.
Artists such as Richard Tuttle, John Armleder, Iain Kiar and Richard Wentworth are obvious (and excellent) touchstones, but there is a growing tendency for work that knows little of the intricacies of such artists' work, preferring, or perhaps not knowing it looks like a bad cover version of a something they've seen in an art magazine. If I see another painted stick leant artfully against a wall, or a couple of found objects 'in conversation' with each other, I may have to commit a crime. I don't want to do that. I need not have worried. By the end of the week, Houghton had refined his touch, set his sights higher. His influences had been used as stepping stones, learning lessons, paying reference not only to art, but too the everyday stuff of real life, of overlooked simple pleasures. Earlier in the week, his aim had been off, with darts bouncing off the wire. Here, through practice and a well-practiced eye, he was hitting lots of bullseyes and double tops. He wanted better, he wanted more, he wanted it to be the best it could possibly be.
Attached to the black wall, what looks like chair leg could be a walking aid, a weapon or a primitive instrument. It has a lick of pink paint along one edge and the effect is electric. It looks like neon, not from Vegas or Sunset Strip, but from one of the takeaways on nearby Cowbridge Road. On the floor, a giant version of the same shape balances on one edge, like a dinosaur bone or a model for a modernist bridge. The railings and the football remain, but have found their place in the space.
They look like they belong.
There are some missed shots - a wooden arc carves up the wall like a scalpel, but has clumsy screws, which doesn't feel intentional. Houghton's love of flocking objects such as pallets and table tops feels like a trick. It's a cheap transformation.
The overall effect is like being in a giant pinball machine, with Houghton's thoughtfully composed works acting as magnets, pulling you around the space. The following week, I notice a lot more 'stuff' around me, surely the means test for such work.
I mention the Metallica quote about guitar riffs again to Houghton. He says he is a drummer anyway. It explains a lot. Playing on the offbeat, Houghton is trying to find new grounds in which to play in. It doesn't look stock.
Gordon Dalton 2013