In the world of artist Rex Hausmann, barbecue and bad margaritas find common ground with Matisse, snow tigers and baby blue Polo socks. In our interview with Rex, he shared with us how he came to be an artist, how his endless curiosity serves him so well, and why he views art as a way of creating “the world one doesn’t see.” 

Contemporary artist Rex Hausmann is a San Antonian who started his art education at UTSA, graduating from Savannah College of Art and Design on scholarship with a BFA in painting (2006) and an MFA in painting (2016). His artist philosophy remains simple – “Grow Where You Are Planted” (as displayed behind Phebe, the bougainvillea on the front his family buildings at The Hausmann Millworks: A Creative Community in downtown San Antonio.) Rex has shown and lectured nationally and internationally, appearing in many speaking functions including TEDx San Antonio at Trinity University, McNay Museum of Art, The San Antonio Museum of Art, and The University of Texas at San Antonio as well as The Spencer Museum of Art. He has shown work at The Smithsonian in Washington DC, The Institute of Texan Cultures, Neiman Marcus, The Lawrence Art Center and The Cloister at Sea Island Resort. He has spoken on National Public Radio many times across the United States. His home base remains in San Antonio, Texas where he gardens, teaches and paints daily and enjoys a cigar with friends every so often.

If you could just tell me a little bit about your background.

Rex Hausmann: My name is Rex Hausmann, and I’m very proud to be from San Antonio, Texas. I grew up here. My mom and my dad owned an architectural millwork company called Hausmann and Hausmann. They ran and operated that for about 35 years. So, my brother and I grew up in a small business family. We’re pretty proud of that. I think it’s important to understand, because, you don’t sell paintings ’cause you have an option. You sell paintings ’cause you have to. I think my interest in business goes as far back as when we were little kids. My mom said, “How are you guys going to sell a pizza to your friends?” And we said, “Well, what do you mean?” She said, “Well, a pizza costs $5 to buy, and there are 12 slices in a pizza. So, if you sell a piece of pizza for a dollar, how much do you have left over?” And we said, “$7!” She said, “That’s business!”

We grew up in that environment. The difference between art and business, and the difference between art theory and business, and we’ll talk about those a little… ‘Cause I think they’re important after grad school. Anyway, ’cause there’s some things that you need to talk about that have no monetary anything. They are what they are, and that’s what it is. Why do churches exist? Why do holy places exist? They just do because they do. They always have.

Anyway, I digress. So, grew up in a small business family. Went to UTSA, well, went to Baylor, as a business major ’cause I thought that entrepreneurship was my way of being. Which, quite frankly, I turned out being an entrepreneur anyway, just with art. And, but my lifestyle was more of a Franciscan monk, ’cause I love gardening. Went to UTSA, switched from the business major to an art major, because I kept failing at math. I think you can kind of say that because of failure, you find your best success. So this whole myth of “everybody needs to be a winner… ” No you really don’t. Just be who you are and learn to roll with the punches. ‘Cause I think you learn a lot more from your failures than you do from your successes. Just don’t make a habit of it. [chuckle]

Know when to quit.

RH: Know when to quit, man. So when I became an art major, my GPA went from a 2.75 to 4.0 on the Dean’s list within the first quarter. So I’m not saying like, gold stars and medals, and Dean’s list make you a better person. They sure as heck-fire encourage you as a dyslexic that has gone through his entire young life being told, “You’re not an idiot, but you just don’t think right, and no matter how hard you try, you only get C’s and D’s. Well, you’re just a C and D student.” That’s awful!

But when I finally found something that I could do, and that I loved doing, really I took my stride as to what I do and why I do it. So that’s my early life. When I finished undergraduate, I went from UTSA, I took art classes and all my art professors said, “What are you doing here?” And I said, “What do you mean?” and they said, “Well, you’re obviously classically trained, you need to go to a bigger art school, where you’re gonna get more exposure. You don’t need to be here.” And I said, “Oh, okay,” so this is a good program but you need to go to a school that is looking for talent on a national level.

And I went to Barnes and Noble, this was before the iPhone era, and everything was in touch by Google and data monitors. And I went to Barnes and Noble and picked up every magazine that said “art” on it. I applied to all the schools, RISD, Savannah College of Art and Design, Yale… Just a ton of them. I got a lot of acceptance letters and the way in which I was accepted is my dad brought out these old portfolios that he used to show to Overland of their work. And he said, “You need to make one of these and send these off to these schools.” And it’s like super old school, like clam shell, black matte board with the frame on it, cut and embossed, really cool. I actually still have one. I’ll bring it tonight. You guys’ll get a kick out of it. And I sent those off to the Academy of Fine Arts, RISD, Savannah College of Art and Design.

Savannah College of Art and Design offered me a half ride and RISD offered me a half ride. So did Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts. I don’t know if RISD did or we were in talks with RISD, but Philadelphia offered me something. [It was when] we visited Savannah, Georgia that my mom said, “Honey, this is a place you could be and I could see you here.”

Savannah College of Art and Design, I’ll never forget it. People ask me about the Duomo. With UTSA there was a international exchange program in Florence and I had been to Europe a couple times as a youngster, never as a college student. And I saw the Florentine Duomo everyday for like two months, best part of my life. All I did was painted, literally ate shawarmas, that’s all I could afford, and walked around Florence reading ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy’ by whatever Stone, whatever the guy’s name is. Rick Stone or Charles Stone, or Oliver Stone or something.

I learned in art history class Donatello and the Uffizi and the Medicis. I actually really have to give a shoutout to Kellen McIntire who started the On and Off Fredericksburg Road Studio Tour that we’re on this year again for the ninth time. Her passion for art history is what really made me passionate about art history. And so your college professors, I’ve really gotta tell you guys, you guys are awesome. You instill passion in people that change people’s lives. So anyway, finished that, and that’s kinda my real life.

When you put those portfolios together, what pieces did you put in there?

RH: Man, I put it in anything, it looked good. Just stuff I’ve been painting. I had a art teacher, who I still keep in touch with to this day, I texted her last week, Gale Smith. And she was my high school art teacher and she said to me something that Tim Blonkvist who’s a founding partner here said, which is, “You’re incredibly talented. Now your job is to go teach yourself,” basically. And so because I had an innate talent to render things, I could spend the rest of my time trying to understand things if that makes sense. So a lot of people try to spend their whole life figuring out how to take what’s in their brain and put it on a paper or in front of people. I don’t have that problem, I never have ever since I was young. So in essence, I’ve spent the same amount of time in the corner painting that I did when I was young and that was the portfolio that I sent off. So the portfolio that I sent off had two things in it, my rendering skills, traditional training, but then at the time I had a book in Barnes and Noble at age about 20. A family friend through a friend wanted to write a novel and he was published and he said, “I’d like for you to illustrate my book. Have you ever illustrated a book?” I said, “No, but I’ll try.”

And lo and behold, it became an Amazon bestseller and so I learned the two things, which is marketing and showing that you have talent but then inversely making that talent exist in the real world. So kind of pairing marketing, meaning, “I have a book at Barnes and Noble, give me a scholarship”, with I had to charge the guy money to do it. So I had to figure out how to negotiate the business man, which is very difficult. It’s very uncomfortable. I don’t think any creative has a good time doing it. Nobody does, ever. It sucks, it just sucks. But you gotta get used to it ’cause it’s a reality. And it just gets weirder the further in you get in to the world, it just gets the more bizarre. And so balancing those things, my portfolio in a box showed my innate talent and what I can do, with what could happen if I’m taken further or if I’m allowed to go further, has created kinda what we call careers, you can call it that.

Do you feel like the time that you spent at Savannah College of Art and Design is the period where you turned that corner from just rendering to understanding…Was there ever a moment that was sort of a tipping point?

RH: I found my creativity at UTSA and I didn’t find it at the painting department, I found it in the sculpture department. Mainly because they would leave me alone. And I think what’s interesting about artists is we’re these really weird social beings that love to be happy with people and friendly but at the same time equally we love time to ourselves. And we like to be alone. And I call those the places… I couldn’t create work in a fully beautified, fantastic studio. I just wouldn’t like it. I like the older sides of town.

It’s imperfect. I call it the places of no expectations. And so in those places of no expectations that aren’t designed for optimum whatever, you have to find the beauty. And that’s really where the key is. You’re not looking for it but you find it. And so I think with my education, UTSA is where I found my passion for art for whatever reason, just the professors that I had there and the students that I was around really fostered in me this curiosity. And then I would say at Savannah College of Art and Design they tethered the ability to be around a very high functioning group of people. ‘Cause if you’re at SCAD it’s kind of a joke.

You’re either incredibly talented or incredibly wealthy or some of both or incredibly poor and are on full scholarship. It’s this place of extremes. But you have people from all over the world. So at SCAD from a San Antonian perspective, I really did meet the world. When you’re in a class there, your neighbor next to you is from India, not from Brownsville. And being involved and having to live among all those different viewpoints and then as an artist you’re incredibly competitive. Anybody that says that artists aren’t competitive are full of it. We’re actually probably the worst. We’re nice about it, but we’re like, “Yeah. I’m gonna be the best. Or at least the best at what I can do. I’m gonna push myself to the limit. I don’t know about you guys, I could care less. If you wanna jump on the bandwagon fantastic. But I’m gonna go for it.” I don’t know if that’s being an A type personality or whatever, I just really… I’m gonna push to the max.

Or maybe it’s part of that. Maybe it’s part of that I don’t have any other options kind of…survival instinct.

RH: Yeah. And I’m dyslexic. [chuckle]

This is the way that I see the world. This is not an affect. This is not like a, “Oh I wanna be eccentric.” I’ve realized that I’m genuinely eccentric and that’s okay. My brother described it once, it was really funny. We love to cook. I have a book on the table right now. I’m reading three books actually. One is called “American Vision” by Robert Hughes. I’m reading the second time a book called “Seven Fires”, “Seven Sacred Fires” by Francis Mallmann who’s a Patagonian chef that was a five star chef. Oh, it’s fantastic. I’ve loved his book. And then the third is “The History of Brooks Brothers” believe it or not. My parents picked it up at the Biltmore and said, “Read this” and I loved it. And so I think as an artist you’re able to be who you are and that’s wonderful. It’ll piss some people off, it’ll make some people happy. You just hope that you just are yourself and that you can share with the world what you have to say. And I think that carries an incredible responsibility with it ’cause I hope what you’re saying is good ’cause I can’t say that for everybody.

But what I would hope for people is that they would build the world that doesn’t exist or the world that they didn’t find. And then in their path they build the world that they wanted to exist but didn’t find before. If that makes sense. So my paintings are kind of this very… It’s like an exposed nerve with an altruistic idea. I’ve always said that the most… The paintings that everybody loves the most are the most painful. And I don’t mean that to be, “Oh, I’m a tortured artist.” I’m not man. I just had a great cup of coffee, had a great lecture, enjoyed free burgers and I’m in air conditioning. And it’s fantastic. And I’m wearing my favorite shirt, or one of them that I bought at 50% off Polo at the outlets, and I love this thing.

So you’re eccentric. You just define… I’m wearing all black but I have pink socks. I’m a straight dude wearing pink socks. And you’re like, “Well, what does that mean?” I’m like, “What doesn’t it mean? I like pink socks with little polo ponies on it. I think they’re hilarious.” I got ’em at a… I had this business meeting with some friends. And it was friends of friends which is the hardest, right? And I was wearing a suit. And I was so wound up like a spring I had to call my friend Scott Allen in New York, and I said, “Scott babe, I am so wound up man, I have got to get something with a sense of humor.” And he’s like, “What do you mean?” And I’m like, “Dude, I’m about to go into this meeting at Perry’s Steakhouse. It’s in the center table, it’s gonna be fancy pants. And quite frankly, I wanna get Domino’s Pizza and chill out on a fire escape, talk about ideas. I don’t wanna go in here but I have to keep my sense of humor.” And so I had to call one of my friends to check myself. I said, “There’s these pink polo pony socks or these baby blue polo pony socks. And I’m afraid if we’re at this meeting and this business guy that I have to meet sees me in a suit but then all of a sudden he sees my pink socks, he says, “Is this guy eccentric? Is he weird? Do I have to worry about this guy?”

And so I’m psychoanalyzing everything but I’m like, “Yeah, but I gotta keep my sense of humor man. It’s my own pink socks.” Ta-da! Yeah. They just make me happy, you know? And that’s what that is.

It sounds like you find joy in not so much breaking the rules as much challenging the status quo of mundane thinking.

RH: I think that’s brilliant, actually. [chuckle]

That’s a great way to put it. You’re challenging things not because you’re a jerk and you’re like, “I wanna protest!” That’s fine. Some people do that. That’s great. My brother said I have almost fashion. Which is you’re always almost there, but somehow you undermine the very thing… But, in that almost-ness you actually create your own style. Which is the same as in cooking. He’s like, you use too many ingredients, or you cook on too high heat, but somehow it just…

It still works.

RH: Tastes delicious! And I don’t know how you put those two together but it’s just enough of a twist. Actually, funny story. My brother and I… I’ll show you a picture. He called me on Sunday. He was like, “Hey, what’re you doing, bro?” I’m like, “Cooking on open fire in the chiminea.” He’s like, “You gotta be kidding me. Look at what I’m doing.” So we Facetimed each other, and we’re doing the same exact thing. If you can see the little stove at the top, that’s mine, and then that’s my brother’s, is the other stove. [laughter]

And we’ve gotten to this point where… He’s like, “You gotta be kidding me.” I’m like “No, man. I’m reading this Francis Mallmann book and I created a double burner. I use the top of the chiminea for my medium heat articles and I put the pan straight in the chiminea for the high-seared over 1,000 degrees steak seasoning, and then I transfer it to the top pan.” And he’s like, “You gotta be kidding me, man! I’m doing the same exact thing. We’re making pizza.” And so Eric is on a plane to Deloitte, wherever, to San Diego and I’m getting prepared for this lecture and we’re both cooking with fire.

Which is not that unlike your art in the sense that you’ve taken your cues from traditions and materials that are not really that unusual, but putting together in an original way that’s really true to yourself.

RH: That’s interesting…

You’re true to your own curiosity.

RH: That is a great metaphor. It’s like anybody who’s good at cooking. You don’t remember a… I say cooking because it’s just something very immediate. Anybody can relate to it, right? Well, I’ve often thought about this. Have you thought about… Was your grandmother’s lasagna really that good? Really? Maybe it could’ve been Stouffer’s, but you just say, “Oh my god. Her lasagna was the best lasagna I have ever had, ever.” Well you attach that memory to that thing, and it becomes something more, right?

Is that part of our emotional response to our lives and art?

RH: I go back to, I think you try to build a world that didn’t exist. You need those things. I mean you really do. My paintings are like icons. They’re like mile markers. It’s just like, this is how my life is at this time and, good or bad, whatever, it’s what it is. And I think the pure… You can’t get lost in the rabbit trail. Sometimes your work totally misses the mark, because you’re too autobiographical. And, quite frankly, not everybody needs to know everything about you. So you have to have some weird filter. And that’s why with the lecture I had filters: Richard, my dad, Tim. I could go ad infinitum about myself for an hour, but you’re gonna glaze over. There’s gonna be too much, you know? Whereas, if you find yourself in a community of people, then it’s way more interesting. Then all of a sudden you have four perspectives being presented, not just one. And, if you find me dreadfully boring, well then you can listen to Richard, or you can listen to Jean, or you can listen to Tim.

Whatever you gotta take, you can take away, ’cause it’s there. It’s like painting. I say, “Do you really wanna know what that painting is about?” and they say, “Well, what do you mean?” “Well, if you like it the way it is, I would rather just leave that there, because then that’s your experience and it’s just good enough.” What I find often is people really wanna know about what the paintings really mean. And, for instance, I’ll read a text message actually, that I sent someone. I’m preparing an exhibition for a fashion company that’s quite large, and this is how my work kinda goes into what we call “meta-modernism.” Let’s drop the fancy pants term, and then bring it down to earth. In graduate school… I mean, is this interesting? Is this a good thing to talk about? I think.

‘Cause I think it’ll sum up a lot of my work, in that it’s autobiographical. And I had to answer a question… Why I like this format, rather than writing, is because it’s a back-and-forth. You know, Martha, you bring up some points that I haven’t even thought about. And all of a sudden I respond. Which is way better, it’s Socratic method. It’s not like, “Here is a book from start to finish. Let’s read the book.”

Yeah, it’s not a static thing it’s a constantly moving…

RH: It’s an organic thing. How is life? Did you know what you were gonna eat for brunch? We thought we were gonna have Chinese, but we had Freebirds. How could you possibly predict that? So, I think it’s more real this way and I think I had to explain to someone a project I’m working on. And she said, “What’s with the tiger?” And I said, “Well, that’s a funny question.” [chuckle]

And it’s the first time I’ve ever really brought out the face of the tiger in one of my paintings. And this actually isn’t my brother, which I’m usually referencing. Excuse me, it’s my big sister. And she’s not even my sister really. She’s someone else’s kid, but she’s older than me but I’ve known her as long as I’ve known anybody. So, this is in response to a thing called tiger and I’ll send you an image so people could see it. The tiger first came into focus when referencing my brother, Eric Hausmann. I was in Berlin, I referenced the panda as myself because pandas are a strange sign in China, which is where I had just been. They’re kind of like monks. They’re always around royalty but not quite royalty themselves. They are learned like monks and usually have high educations but hold a kind of humble existence. They spend a lot of time to themselves and then eat bamboo and then go back to doing whatever it is pandas do. Generally, they are respected by everyone and just kind of left doing their thing, kind of like artists.

Then there was my brother who is the tiger. I have always seen my brother as such. He’s a business guy who has to stay in a suit all day long, thus dealing with fashion I thought, “Well, why not take a jump off of something I know,” which is my brother, which actually a suit is like urban camo, if you think about it. I also think of a suit as kind of like armor. If you think about it, it’s kind of the same thing, anonymity with respect. Putting on a suit and a tie is like a cultural norm, I guess. “Oh, look, there’s a business guy. He must be successful. Look, he’s put together.” Or, “There’s a business lady. She must be put together. They really have control of everything.”

When in reality you have no idea who this person or what they like or don’t like or whether their suit is expensive or cheap. Suits are kind of like tiger stripes in the jungle. The business guy wears a suit just like the tiger wears stripes. It’s just who they are. He has to blend in with the surroundings as not to stand out too much, but when the time is right he’s bright orange and he pounces like a tiger. Thus, Eric, my brother, is a Bengal tiger.

Then there’s the snow tiger. From the first time you’re seeing the snow tiger’s face, which you’ve never seen before actually, you saw the snow tiger as Tiger Lady at the McNay, but now you’re actually seeing the eyes and the nose coming to focus. That’s why it’s on the back of the canvas as a study. It’s what’s behind something, not in front of it, that matters. The snow tiger is an ideal. It’s actually my big sister, Felicia, sort of. I came up with the painting Tiger Lady for the McNay when I was walking in Savannah in grad school. I was trying to figure out what Felicia was to me, why in the world we have known each for so long and why people keep asking me, “Who’s that lady in those pictures with you? Are you guys a thing? It seems like you all know each other really well.” To which I respond, “No. She’s happily married and we just happen to be like a brother and sister. I don’t really know how to explain it.” To which I respond mostly, “It’s complicated,” and leave it at that. “Felicia is like my big sister. I’ve known her forever. That’s as simple and as complicated as it gets.” She’s really attractive, but I’m saying something out of respect, stating a fact. “She’s my big sister.” I can say those things. So it’s not like, “I like Felicia and wanna take her out.”

It’s more like, “I respect her for who she is.” My mom works out like crazy, watches what she eats and really focuses on her health. Pretty much everybody I know always comments on how my mom looks. I respect that. It takes a lot of concentrated effort. I think Felicia is kind of like my mom in that way and I respect that very much. So when I was referencing Felicia in a painting, I shot her a text message and said, “Hey, do you mind if I paint you in a painting? You won’t recognize yourself, but that doesn’t matter it really is you.” And she quite frankly needed to hear this at the time. She was going through some hard things in her personal life. She said, “I would be honored.” I drew Tiger Lady and sent her a picture and she loved it.

But she couldn’t be a tiger like my brother, a Bengal tiger. No, she had to be something more foreign, something mysterious and different. So I texted a good friend of mine, Liam Bimbo, who’s an architect, and I said, “Lee, what’s a tiger but not a tiger? What’s something different?” And he said, “Well, I guess a snow tiger. That’s kind of mysterious.” “I don’t even know what snow tigers do.” “Come on, they’re a tiger, not a polar bear.” “But it’s freaking cold.” Anyway, I digress. “That’s what I think of women, a snow tiger. Come on, it’s just cool.” That’s what I think of women are and should be to men and vice versa with women. God made us to be a conundrum to each other. We will never figure out each other at all and it’s supposed to be that way. I think Diana Vreeland put it best. “Your spouse should always keep you in suspense. It’s an adventure every day, every hour.” That’s what I think of the little series that I’m making. It’s an ideal. It’s a woman in a dress, no face, no name, but every woman who’s seen the image says, “That’s me or who I wanna be.” And there’s a guy in a business suit sitting in a chair after a long day’s work, saying, “Man, I just wanna call my wife, my girlfriend or my really good friend.”

And then there’s the tiger, the jungle, the unknown, saying, “What adventure are we going to have today?” The whole thing takes place in Marrakesh, the place where Yves Saint Laurent had a blue house. The blue of the house is a Yves Klein blue, thus the socks on the guy are blue and he has a little lapel kerchief that’s blue. And the reference to Nice, France, where I’ve been, where Matisse painted and Yves Klein was from, which is funny because everybody associates Yves Klein with Paris when in reality he’s talking about Nice. They reference the sky and the water becoming one with the blue of the Nice sky and the blue of the Nice water, a place they genuinely loved.

There it is. That’s what the snow tiger is. Not many people ever know the full meaning of my paintings and I kind of like it that way. I don’t know if that’s important. Ask the people that own them. They’ll kind of give you some vague idea of what my paintings are, but quite frankly, I say my paintings, are what they are, they’re super dense. They’re like life itself, at least the best way I can explain it which is complicated. [laughter]

One of the thoughts that I’d take away from that is that you even if don’t know when you look at a work of art, all of the literal depth of meaning. What it’s doing is transmitting a lot of that energy and thought to you through the work. And it doesn’t have to be… Doesn’t have to be that. So much of social media and advertising today is all about the story, “Tell us the story, tell us the story.”. Okay, that can be very interesting but if the art doesn’t have a story of its own…What’s the point?

Have you ever met someone, you’re like “I just like that person”? You’re like “Why do you like them? I don’t know, I just like them. They seem really nice.” That’s a genuine person. Or when you meet someone, like “I just don’t trust that guy.”. You’re like, “Why?”, “I don’t know, I just don’t trust them. There’s something about him. They’re too guarded.”

Right, you don’t need to do a background check. [chuckle]

RH: Yeah, they’re too guarded. Why are they so guarded? What are they hiding from you? I don’t know.

When you say autobiographical, what does that mean to you?

RH: Well, I never really knew I was painting all these autobiographies. It’s kinda like Hemingway’s writing as much as everybody says that guy was a real egotist, which he was, and kind of a nut which he was. His paintings and his writings were real. It’s like Mark Twain and Tom Sawyer. Everything that they talked about was real, their best writing, they just changed the name of the people. I think what’s funny about My Girl, this painting, anybody that looks at it goes, “Oh that’s Audrey Hepburn.” when really it isn’t Audrey Hepburn if you really look at it. It’s something different. And it’s actually took a few women to notice that it wasn’t.

It’s actually a composite, it’s my mom, Felicia, a lady named Lessie Bryce and then a friend named Michelle Carollo. None of those people are my girlfriend, they’re just friends or my parent, my mom. People who I care about deeply as friends, and so I put them all together and I put what I would think they look like. So really it’s just taking the ideal of Audrey Hepburn as a jumping point. ‘Cause if you really break down who Audrey Hepburn was in her roles in Sabrina, it’s not real. She’s not real. She’s way too skinny, that poor lady, she had to starve herself. You can’t be that thin and eat anything. It’s this projection of what, “Oh, I hope I could be that way”, you know what, not really. The reality isn’t as good as the perception, right?

But we want the perception. You know what I mean? We want the Audrey Hepburn, we want the business tycoon that doesn’t have any stress. Any business guy that’s a tycoon that you meet, has way too much stress. We have these weird conundrums that we’re like, “Oh that guy has everything under control.” [chuckle], barely. Or “Oh, that lady has got everything put together.” She’s wind up like a spring, man. She hasn’t eaten anything in three days. And I know people that are ballet dancers and eat nothing and I’m like, “How can you sustain eight hours of rigorous exercise and eat a chicken wing?”, that’s just… You’re gonna tank.

Is that kind of where it moves from being a rendering to understanding?

RH: Autobiographical. Yeah, it’s… I think in my paintings I’m really trying to piece the world together. At least as best as I know how to. And what’s weird lately is the studio hasn’t become enough. We’re talking about these ideals, well, I always thought my perfect place would be a white box somewhere isolated where I don’t know anybody. That’s hell, quite frankly. Because all of my stuff comes from everybody I know. I’m finding the more and more I get sent off on residencies or asked to go visit this place or that I say “Well, how long?”, and they’re like “What do you mean?”, I’m like “Well, how long is it?”, “Oh 10 weeks.”, I’m like “That’s too long.”, they’re like “Well, why?”, I’m like, “Because I can’t be away from where I get my energy.” “Where do you get your energy from?”, “Well, tacos man. Tacos, the River Walk, crazy colors, papel picado, going down to Market Square with David Almaguer and Denise and getting a margarita that sucks but hey I’m in Market Square.”

Just like the band that puts out a couple of albums that are so great and then they can’t. They don’t have anymore fuel. ‘Cause they’re on the road for three years or something.

RH: There’s nothing there. Yeah, and they’re playing the same old songs that everybody loves to hear, but you talk with them like, “I swear to God if I play that song one more time, I’m going to go crazy.”.

When you say the studio hasn’t been enough, you’re expressing a need to find that balance between studio time and outward…

RH: Yeah, isolation and community. And community can become too much. All of a sudden you have too much social time, you have none of the time to think, you don’t have enough time to really piece things together.

Do you try to find that on a daily, weekly, monthly…Yearly basis?

RH: Daily. It depends on the project, right now I’m working on a project with Neiman Marcus. I had to isolate myself for a week out in Boerne with my cats in this little bitty house that’s super modern that I have that my friend Kyle Martin redesigned with my mom and me. And I’d wake up have my cup of coffee and just go in La La Land for five hours and I’d just think and text message some friend, and I honesty couldn’t be bothered. It’s like “Now I’m at my casita…Leave me alone.”, I’m coming out with this grand narrative of Marrakesh and all this stuff. And what was funny is the marketing director at Neiman Marcus got it. She spent three hours with me and we didn’t talk about anything. We talked about everything but we didn’t talk about anything. She talked about some stories, I talked about some stories. I talked about France, she talked about Marrakesh, how she always wanted to go to Marrakesh and see Yves Saint Laurent’s house. And then I brought up an image of Yves Saint Laurent’s house and went oh my gosh that’s like Yves Klein. And actually Yves Klein got that from… Matisse. And they both were in Nice. But how I found that out is I was in Nice and there was the Yves Klein museum right there and I’m like, “Oh my God. Yves Klein is from Nice. I thought he was from Paris.”

And so we talked with the travel agent and I said, “Hey, why is the Yves Klein Museum here?” And she’s like, “Well, Yves Klein is from here.” “But he got famous in Paris?” She’s like, “Yeah, at the time Paris was like the epicenter, but he was always from here.” Really, well kind of like Matisse? And she’s like, “Yeah, Matisse actually painted here. Are you a curator or something?” And I was like, “Nah, I’m an artist.” She goes, “Aha, artists always have the most interesting ideas.” Apparently she’s like a sixth generation Nician but didn’t need to hold this job. She just did because she was interested in sharing her culture with people.

And she was an art history major. This lady was in her ’50s and we just talked forever. And she knew a lot about Matisse, she knew a lot about Yves Klein. And she’s like, “Of course I know about this stuff, I’m from Nice.” And if you’re from Nice you need to know about your history. And so… What was so brilliant about her was that she just spent three hours out of her day on a Saturday, which is when she scheduled the meeting, to just talk about whatever. And she said, “You know Rex, I know you like random things. And I know after telling you these things, something will come about that’s brilliant.” And I was like, “Well, thank you. I appreciate the time.” Because really, in essence all we have is time. And that’s why I like this radio thing is like, I can talk with you guys which is great. But then the time dissipates. You don’t remember Marrakesh blue socks and eccentric donut tires.

But really in that time period all this information has been… Consolidated. Which I think the bigger question becomes now is like, what are you saying? There’s too many people saying too many things on Facebook and everything and it’s really not that important.

Once you spend time with friends, you’ve taken all this history, you’ve experienced all these things. How do you focus that when it comes time to actually creating something? What takes precedence when you get in the studio?

RH: It really becomes the personal connection. Like me showing at Overland is a really big deal. In the grand scheme of things is this a big deal? I mean, let’s call… It’s an architectural firm with some art on the walls. It’s not the McNay. It’s not Central Museum of Art. It’s not the Louvre. It’s an architectural firm. But, and I’m not downplaying, I think it’s great. But let’s recognize it, when you look at it…

… in career terms what some people would analyze is…

RH: Bingo.

Not a big deal.

RH: Yeah. But to me personally, it’s a super big deal. My dad worked with Overland. I’ve known Tim since I was 15 years old. I knew Michael Rey when Michael Rey went off to do something else and then came back. I knew Patrick Winn and Kyle Martin still helps me on projects today. So my history with Overland goes a very long way. And it’s very deep. And so my answer to your question is where are you investing time? That make sense?

I think the key becomes I’m becoming dreadfully aware of the fact that I genuinely love San Antonio. Now I have no idea what that means career-wise. I don’t know if that means I’ll have to teach on university level long-term, or the millworks will just become ravingly successful, or my career will be so amazing that people will find me in San Antonio. I don’t know, I just know that I love this place. And it’s like I’m from here. I’m fourth generation now. And it’s like, yes I can create work at other places. But I also enjoy the stuff that the daily life here creates around me. Does that make sense?

 

So you coming back to the things and the people and the ideas that you really love, creates a personal relevance in your work. That’s where it becomes  ____.

RH: Oh, it’s everything man. And I noticed that when I was in Georgia. I don’t get fundamentally collard greens. I just don’t. I get borracho beans. I get barbecue. I get tacos. They don’t get tacos. [chuckle]

And I know that sounds funny but it’s true. If you look historically, if you drive from Dallas to here you’ll start noticing all the trees get shorter. The vistas get bigger. And all you see is barbecue signs on I-10. If you got visit the missions and you talk with any of the little people running around that run the place, you’ll ask, “Hey, what’s with those stones?” And actually that’s not a stone that’s a smoke house. What’s a smoke house? Well when we used to go hunting for deer and stuff the Spaniards would get stuff together. They’d take the mesquite. Have you ever heard of sweet mesquite? Oh yeah. Well, when mesquite is burned, it actually is sweet. And also the beans that drop are sweet. So they take those beans, put it into a mesa basically, make a tortilla and make basically, the equivalent of beef fajita. They’ve been doing that for like 500 years! [chuckle]

We’re gonna have barbecue. [chuckle]

You see what I mean? We’ve been doing barbecue for as long as we’ve known what barbecue is. It wasn’t like, “Oh, I feel like barbecue today” it’s like, “Nah, man, we don’t have salt ’cause we’re not near the sea and we gotta preserve this meat somehow. Let’s chop down a tree and smoke it! Why not?” So that stuff that’s so mundane becomes really profound. Like, with my brother and I cooking. We’re not just cooking with wood. We’re cooking with post oak, which is very specific. Cooks at really high heat. It’s oak. His is three years aged; mine is two years aged. We’re cutting in very specific sizes. So all this oddly specific information is really funny and quirky. And I think it’s when you start… When everybody’s like, “Go back to your roots, go back to your roots,” that’s for real, man!

Yeah, well, Hemingway. There you go.

RH: Bingo!

Write what you know. Those are the best writers, are those who just write what they know. So, this is what you know, Rex, and you’re really good at it. I think that what I hear a lot of people talk about with artists is theme or thematic. For you, I think it sounds like it’s more just constantly coming back to what you really, really, really love.

RH: Yeah, it’s what you care about. And then you hope that your work expresses that joy. And then you just kinda put it out there and go, “Alright, let’s make a living at it.” And that’s why I say to younger artists, “Just be genuine. But let’s hope that what you’re being genuine about is something that’s genuinely good to hear.” That’s a really whole other thing. The form and function of art within the society, everybody loves Max Beckmann paintings, but when you hear where they came from, good God, man.

What do you mean by “good to hear”? Uplifting? Inspiring?

RH: Yeah, uplifting. What I leave behind in the world, I hope it’s not my catharsis of bleh.

It’s not toxic.

RH: No, man! It’s adding to the conversation. I don’t know if that’s being altruistic or optimistic. I really could care less. It is what it is. Like that painting that’s behind you, it’s me and my brother in a struggle. The little yellow is what makes it, which is the spark. And I don’t think everybody gets painting, which is fine. I’m cool with it.

I’m a painter, I’m egocentric. Whatever. We all are, all painters are. But when you meet someone, like let’s say for instance Marcus Burke, who’s the director of the Hispanic society. He’s not the director, he’s the curator. He genuinely gets excited about talking about pigment. And he genuinely gets excited about pairing it with art history and color theory. And he genuinely loves talking about paintings. Well, he has been that way for 35 years. The guy’s got like two PhDs. And, what you hope, in your life, is that you’re exposed to people like that, quite frankly, not on a daily or monthly basis. [chuckle] You can’t handle it. It’s too intense. It’s way too much, but you know them enough that you can then take… Go “There’s a passionate person” about whatever. Making donuts, building architects, buildings, designing things, doing good graphic design, Martha, like you.

So, in a way you’re giving people permission to do that, by doing it first. By modeling that.

RH: Yeah! Find out the way that you think, man. For instance, I was having a conversation with a mechanic the other day… No, I was visiting a middle school. It was a bunch of middle schoolers. I went, “Guys, don’t say what makes a lot of money and I’m gonna go do that. I mean, that’s fine, if that’s really what you want. Fantastic. But I’ve known a lot of people that do that, and there’s only so many Bentleys you can buy before you just go “I’d just like a Honda Civic.” Whatever, I’ve got that out of my system.” But that hunger never ends. So my real question would be, to young people, “What do you do better than anybody else?” “What do you mean?” “Well what do you inherently do?” “Well, I love working on cars with my dad.” “Well then, you’re a mechanic. Go be a mechanic.” Oh, you wanna make a lot of money. There’s a guy named Ken Eckles who, on his worst day, was one of the top mechanics in the US. He was my friend’s dad from middle school and I still talk to Ken. He had pneumonia when he took a test. Was still labeled one of the top ten mechanics in the nation, by four, when he had pneumonia! [laughter]

And anybody that knows Ken Eckles is like, “Dude, that guy’s like a shaman with machines.” I don’t know how that guy knows what he knows, but his brain is like an inventory of every Ford product that’s ever been made and he’s just amazing. Well Ken, when you talk with him, he really just likes caring about people. He’s like, “Yeah, mechanics’s what I do, but I really care about the mechanics I meet everyday. Now, way my brain thinks is I think about cars and how they work and how to fix them. That’s why I’m in charge of six dealerships.” That’s what I say to kids, “Think the way that your brain works, or your hands, or your whatever.” Some kids aren’t built for college. Just saying. That’s fine! But they’re gonna be the greatest builder of whatever out there. Well some kids aren’t made for building stuff. They’re just not. They don’t like it. Go be a designer. Or some people come up with their imagination. If you ever wanna see someone who’s in their element, look at Diana Vreeland, man. That woman was off her rocker but she loved social life and she loved people, genuinely. I mean, even Alexander McQueen. I’m just thinking about fashion because I’m in that right now with a project. That guy was dark, man. Poor guy, but dang, was it cool. You see what I mean? Just think the way that you think, and everything else will kind of fall into place. It won’t be easy but nothing that’s good is, you know? If it’s easy, everybody would do it. Well, McDonald’s would do it, which is fine. [chuckle] That’s great. I really don’t eat at McDonald’s that much. I try not to, but when I travel, the first thing I wanna do is get a McDonald’s a biscuit and sausage thing. Just because. Why? Because we’re on the road and it’s there and whatever.

I have one more question, which is: If you were going to describe to someone that had never seen your work, what were the most important things, in terms of painting, that you seem to always gravitate towards? I’m just thinking things like, there’s a symbolism taking place, there’s subject matter is important, some painters don’t really care what it is. Or, is it about impact… If you had to say three things that you felt like were common… Because your work has such a variety.

RH: Yeah, it’s all over the map.

What would be three things that you always love to infuse into your work, that just feel natural to you? I’m just curious.

RH: Well, you bring up an interesting point because I just said my work is all over the map. When you really study Picasso or Matisse, their work is all over the map.

Exactly, oh, yeah. And some of that’s sequential but then some of it was experimental.

RH: Yeah, man. The freakin’ square heads and wherever that Picasso was doing it, it was out in left field. You’re like, “What on earth?” Guernica, good God. I mean, for real? His pots. I still see new Picasso work. I’m like, “That little Spaniard cranked out so much stuff, it’s ridiculous.” So I would say, honesty. I think Matisse and Picasso were honest. I don’t like Picasso as a human being, but at least he was honest. Everybody knows that Matisse was way more talented than Picasso, but Picasso could crank, man.

So I guess, honest. I would hope… I wouldn’t say optimistic because that sounds shallow. “Oh it’s so optimistic, it’s so great, the world’s wonderful.” No, man. We invented the atomic bomb, the world sucks. One push of a button, we’re all gone. That’s why you got into post-modernism and post-post-modernism. I’ve got a whole paper that probably no one could understand about atomic bombs and why we invented them, and that was in the ’50s. Dude, we’re like 70 years later. I don’t even know what we can create to destroy the universe now. But we’ve got some guy in some science project making it. So, I think saying things are optimistic is a bit naïve. So the first would be, honest. The second would be well thought out. Like rationalized. Almost too… Not too rationalized because then you end in minimalism. Like a freaking cube measuring the condensation in the room, which is a piece that I don’t remember the guy’s name. [laughter] But go look in the MOMA, it’s a cube, it’s five pieces of glass that are all the same, and the people that enter in the room and the condensation goes on… And then they leave the room and it leaves and whatever. You end… which I love. You get Tom Friedman’s “Thousand Hours Of Staring”, which is a white sheet of paper that says, “Thousand Hours Of Staring.” It’s hilarious, but he’s got a log of staring at this fricking piece of paper for a thousand hours.

Now, you’re really taking into consideration his honesty, which is like, did you really stare at a piece of white paper for a thousand hours? Which goes back to, whatever the guy’s name was the date paintings and all that stuff. Or, is he just being a smart-ass and he put a white sheet of paper in MOMA that bought it? Who knows? Then you end in Damien Hirst and the whole market is art.

Yeah, but you’re more of a maker than that. There’s an intellect there, but there’s a…

RH: I have to do stuff, man. I can’t not make things. And that’s where I think people get it wrong. If you look at how many drawings it took me to make a painting, it’s kind of absurd. It’s pretty bad. If you look at how many drawings Matisse had to do to do his dancers… Whew. So that’s what I would say is, the first is honest, the second is well thought out or rationalized.

What about curiosity? I think you’d be a huge curiosity fan.

RH: Big time. I was about to say the third is a reference. One of my favorite videos, of any time, is Alexander Calder in Circus. Just Google it, if you haven’t seen it. You see this big, burly dude that looks like he’s a truck driver, playing with toys. And that’s my third answer. Whatever that is, I love that.

A sense of play?

RH: I even labeled one of my shows play. And I wanna reference three things: One is a photographer named Peter Brown. Peter, if you’re actually listening to this, to this end, congrats. Peter walked into my studio and said, “Oh my god, this reminds me of the Alexander Calder studio.” And I said, “How did you know that?” He goes, “I knew Alexander Calder, he was my mentor.” And I was like, “You gotta be kidding me.” And he said, “No, your look at the world is as playful as his is.” And I said, “That’s huge, man.” And he’s like, “No, you’re all over the map.”

And then there’s a guy named Juan Mari Arzach, who’s a French… No, he’s a Basque chef, and in the center of his restaurant are toys. And you’re like, “What?” And his daughter is actually the one taking over his restaurant. He has more… He did more for tapas in Spain than anybody had ever done, because he asked the question, “What if?” And so, I love to reference a guy named David Chang, who created a group called Momofuku. Which, David Chang is an economist, I think. I mean, he… It’s all about numbers, man. You take the cheapest bowl of ramen and you sell it from the top, the highest price you can possibly get away with, but don’t make it super elitist so that no one can afford it.

That’s economics. But when you listen to David Chang talk about what he really cares about, I don’t think he’s trying to sell you the world… Bringing up that Nirvana song, “The Man Who Sold the World.” I think he’s really serious about trying to find healthcare for people who live in kitchens, that work in kitchens. He’s like, “How can my chefs get actual healthcare? If I have to sell a cheap bowl of ramen at a super high price so that I can actually give my chefs an actual wage, and raise the wages of people in the food industry to a normal standard…That’s what I’m gonna do,” yeah. And, he’s got an empire of, what, like 50 restaurants? And when you ask him, “What are you eating?” He goes, “The Cheesecake Factory.” How in the world did you create a menu that’s so versatile… People love… You charge a premium, people still love it. We went to the Cheesecake Factory as a family last weekend, we left. We waited there for an hour and 25 minutes. And that’s not a new place. The Cheesecake Factory’s been around forever. So if one of the world’s top chefs, in an interview is talking about what is he thinking about, does it make you really that… Is it really that far a stretch that I have a book on Brooks Brothers and a book on Francis Mallmann and a book on Robert Hughes? I mean, not really, you know. You’re looking for Hemingway, you’re looking for things.

Right, connections. Overlapping disciplines and overlapping… Cultural…

RH: Everything is interesting. Which was the title of my thesis, “Everything is important although not everything is relevant.” And then I changed it to, “Everything is considered, but not everything is… Everything is considered, but not everything is something.” And then I just changed it to, “Everything is considered.” And that was my thesis. Which means, is everything important? Not really. But yes it is. If you wanna watch a great movie, watch Oliver… Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. I love that movie. I think I watched it obsessively like 20 times. It was before Gladiator, I think. Another great movie is Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha. Another great film is Ronin, which is actually based off Seven Samurai, but when people ask me, “What’s your art about?” I’m like, “It’s like film.” They’re like, “What do you mean?” Like, well there’s a beginning and an end, there’s an obvious story, and there’s a cast of characters. And I don’t stay in the same set, so it’s like a movie. Sometimes the movie may span a year, two years. It’s like how architects think, you guys think on projects. It’s like, “We’ve gotta finish the project. What’s the project?” I don’t know, the house is gonna built. Like, it will come to completion, it will come to construction, it’s gonna be done, you’re gonna close the door and move on to the next project. So I think, that’s how I think of paintings, is like films. Or like architectural projects.

Thank you, Rex.

RH: Thank you, Martha. [chuckle]

It’s been so much fun, I wish we could do this all afternoon.

 

For more about Rex Hausmann, visit him online. 

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