A little over three years ago, Charleston native and abstract artist Tim Hussey packed his bags for the Wild West. The former art director for Garden & Gun, Outside, and GQ magazines, landed in Los Angeles with his wife seeking new challenges. Now Hussey has moved back to Charleston and is gearing up for his first return solo show at the George Gallery, but he still carries a little Cali with him.
"We planned to be away a year, but stayed for three," he explains. "I had no idea how much I'd relate to the region and really fall in love with California. It was the first time I was prepared to remain for good somewhere other than Charleston."
While in Los Angeles, Hussey enjoyed thriving in a competitive environment. "The talent level, understanding, and appreciation of contemporary art in the city dramatically affected my drive and mindfulness for doing my best work," he says.
Home to artists such as Mark Bradford, Laura Owens, and many others who are redefining contemporary abstract painting, L.A. provided an environment for Hussey to constantly reconsider his work, striving to stick out in a sea of talented and devoted artists. "Not being unique made me work all the harder to find who I was and where my strengths lie — and best of all, never resting on my laurels," he says.
Hussey has always been quick to examine himself. When City Paper interviewed him for his 2010 retrospective at the Halsey Gallery of Contemporary Art, Drown then Swim, the artist said, "You have to drown the you that society wants to build and really look at what it is you want out of life."
Perhaps that's what the move to California was really all about, an effort to discard his Lowcountry persona for a new outlook. At any rate, Hussey's adamant that it wasn't the metropolitan landscape in L.A. he was after, saying that any evolution in his work stems from inside his own head, rather than the external influences of the city.
"Has my worked evolved? It's always evolving — with each piece and each body of work. The strides I make on canvas are subtle and I'm usually the only one aware of them," he explains. The time on the West Coast was fruitful in terms of stimulating his internal methods of processing images, rather than allowing other places or artists to impact his painting.
Subtlety and nuance are key qualities of Hussey's work. Often at first glance, his paintings appear to be done in haste; when considered more closely, however, his work reveals dynamic oscillations in texture, color, and gesture. His "Temporal Blend 15, 2015," for instance, consists of a vivid combination of brush strokes ranging from figural and graceful to hard-edge and disjointed.
Since he began focusing on painting around 2000 — as opposed to his earlier career as an art director and graphic designer — Hussey has always gravitated towards the universal and transcendent nature of abstraction. "Replication and narrative die on the vine for me," he says.
If his work appears improvisational, it's because it is. In a recent artist statement Hussey declared: "I work mostly from my gut — and behind any gut response is a collected library of past lessons, avoidances, desires, instincts, stories, and philosophical and spiritual belief systems."
When in a rut, Hussey will turn to the artists he has admired since graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1992. "Recent favorites include Martin Kippenberger, Julian Schnabel and Albert Oehlen, mainly because of the lack of fear in their work," he says. Though he looks to these artists, considering how they approached their own abstract compositions, it's important for him to not let such elements dominant his own paintings. "The secret lies in extracting the parts that inspire me and flipping them before they land on my canvas."
With that in mind, Hussey's upcoming show Aphasia at the George Gallery is a series of complex visual vocabularies of ideas and concepts in which he's found inspiration in recent years. The title of the show references a communication disorder that renders language useless. It's a fitting theme for Hussey's work as a whole, in that his paintings usually communicate in a visceral manner connected to the subconscious.
Now back in Charleston, Hussey says he returned for various reasons — "family and a home renovation" among them — but he plans to split time between Charleston and Los Angeles. As far as his southeastern hometown, Hussey desires to see Charleston embrace contemporary art with a gusto similar to that of his SoCal neighbors.
"It's an attitude and an education I hope to see in Charleston down the line," he says.
With Hussey back in town, Charleston may be on its way towards such a thing.