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Tom Hausken’s paintings explore edges of the unknown

If you ask Tom Hausken why he paints, he’ll give you lots of great answers: because it keeps his life in balance; to articulate what gives him joy; because he needs to communicate. But his big reason, under it all, is simple: he likes paint.

“I like the stuff of it. I like buying tubes of paint. I like opening them and squeezing it out and mixing them and smushing it around. I like the smell of it. I like pencils and straight edges and scissors and knives — all of that stuff has potential.”

Many of Hausken’s paintings start with a morning hike in the woods, where he collects images, shapes, colors and relationships. He never takes photos, instead relying on the imperfection of memory to inform his work. The resulting paintings look nothing like the forests he visits. “I’m not trying to accurately portray this thing. I’m trying to give you a sense of it,” he says. “I’m not painting the trees. I’m painting the energy the tree is bouncing back at me because it’s just so fantastic.”

And, he’s painting time. Hausken’s paintings often have 15 or 20 layers of paint. “And all of that takes time to develop. So I’m installing that time in the painting,” he says. He begins with large fields of hotter shades, muting the colors with each successive layer. Watching him paint can be confounding. After carefully prepping and painting a section, hours later he’ll cover almost all of it with a new color. But that’s the whole idea. “All that information underneath is really powerful. You may not realize that the color underneath, that’s just peeking through, is what’s engaging you until you spend some time with it.”

One of the most compelling parts of Hausken’s paintings are the areas where two fields of color come together — where the edges touch, or almost touch. “I think it’s at these edges in the painting, and in our lives, where stuff really happens. Where you’re pushing out into the world, into the unknown. It’s an exploration.”

And though his paintings aren’t meant to be landscapes, if it looks that way to you, he’s OK with that. “It does give people a way into a painting— to think that it might be inspired by a landscape.” And once you’ve been seduced into looking, he hopes you’ll see the most important part: the paint. “The inspiration for the painting is usually about the landscape. But the subject of the painting is simply the paint.”

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Eric Slade