Oscar yi Hou
A sky-licker relation
In The siblings in my studio, aka: Gemini, Sagittarian (2021), a pair glare out at the viewer, one seated, one standing, one arm wrapped around the other’s shoulder, the other placed firmly upon the back of a chair. The term “portrait” doesn’t come close to doing this work justice. Chalky colors and blocky strokes of flesh tones fill the paintings in this show: the green-gray of a hairline, the lavender swath of dim-lit dark skin, the bright red highlights which pick out eyelashes, the planes of a full bottom lip, the gleam of a cheekbone. Rendered with sketched outlines—sometimes haloed with bare canvas—the figures seem to shimmer, doubly so set in a kaleidoscopic clash of their background. Out of an indiscernible medley of strokes and textures, certain motifs recur, such as text-laden crumples of paper, suspended swaths of graffiti, spindly threads of Chinese calligraphy, and gravity-defying jacks. In "A sky-licker relation,” the first solo show of Oscar yi Hou, at James Fuentes, sitter, setting, and painter meet in a whirlwind of jewel-toned signifiers.
Complex interrelations aren’t just to be found in the blending of background and foreground, but in the layering of referents in each painting, as well as the title of the exhibition itself. The dream and incommensurability of home is alluded to with a title culled from the Martinician revolutionary Aimé Césaire’s epic poem Cahier d'un retour au pays natal, or “Return to My Native Land.” “Sky-licker” is a moniker the artist assumes for himself: the Chinese name yi hou means “a bird’s cry”. Indeed, a pantheon of birds circle many of these paintings, broaching the boundary between painter and sitter, foreground and background, painting and frame.
Oscar yi Hou, Forlorn fire-escape flowers, aka: New York strings of life, 2020. Oils on primed canvas, 53 5/8 x 39 1/8 inches.