Thomas Van Houten

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My work explores the building of devices and models as products of belief and understanding. I’m interested in why people build things and what motivates the mind to ingenuity. How do our fears of death affect what we believe? How does mental health affect the way we think? How is identity shaped between the physical and psychological being? These issues are explored through the application of, perhaps misguided, ingenuity and technology. Frequently people go to great lengths to make the world conform to their understanding of it. My work is predicated on the assumption that needs influences belief; that the desired conclusion frequently corrupts the rational thought process.

I draw heavily on art history, and the development of western thought as subject matter to explore the relations between knowledge and belief. I often find poignant irony in the dramatic efforts throughout history of people to validate their beliefs by building. In the way an anthropologist might look at artifacts to understand ancient people; conversely my objects are constructed elaborations of beliefs and ideas I still see in people today.

My process begins with and initial word play, or observation about human conduct, by then abstracting its application in an ironic way, it can be realized as a literal fabrication of absurdity. Language is important to my process as. While working, I meditate on the double meanings of words and the juxtaposition of the literal and figurative. I frequently utilize iconic symbols, or objects as metaphors, to develop my own poetic language within my devices. Using my experience as a mechanic and builder; I explore this subject matter through a process of prototyping and development as a means of understanding. The fabrication of my sculptures becomes a way of physically working through my ideas, and finding deeper understanding of my own beliefs.

Thomas Van Houten first started studying sculpture in 1983 at Cabrillo College with Holt Murry. There he began his interest in welding, metal smiting, and tool making. He later studied ceramics and figure drawing at Monterey Peninsula College before receiving a scholarship to the San Francisco Art Institute. There he worked with Richard Berger, John Roloff, Robert Rasmusen, and Anna Murch. He graduated in 1989 and was awarded the Issac Walter Sculpture Prize. Devoting himself to providing for his children he worked as a German car technician, eventually becoming an ASE certified Master Technician and Volkswagen factory trained journeyman. He gained some special attention for his ability to fabricate custom parts and specialty tools. Van Houten is currently enrolled in the MFA program at the San Francisco Art Institute and working as a teaching assistant in the metal sculpture department.