‘A Magical World’: the work of Jacob Houston

The Hyde to exhibit 18 paintings by the 26-year-old Greenwich artist
Jacob Houston's "Balloons over Cambridge."
Jacob Houston's "Balloons over Cambridge."

In all the years he’s painted, just over two decades, Jacob Houston’s Greenwich studio hasn’t changed all that much. 

He still works from his family’s dining room table, carefully capturing sweeping scenes from his travels around Washington County and abroad. Whether he’s painting animals on a farm, brightly-colored balloons rising up over a town, or hectic metropolitan scenes, there’s a playfulness and a nostalgic nature to his work that instantly draws one to it. 

The artist’s work will be on exhibition at The Hyde Collection starting on Sunday in a show aptly named “A Magical World.” 

At 26 years old, Houston is one of the youngest artists to have a solo show at The Hyde. Though the museum has a tradition of exhibiting regional artists, it’s rare for an artist of his age and at this stage in his career to have a solo exhibition. It’s part of the reason Houston was completely surprised, and humbled, when Jonathan Canning, the director of curatorial affairs and programming at The Hyde, approached him about the exhibit. 

“It was almost unreal,” Houston said. 

Canning first visited Houston’s studio during a Washington County Studio tour several years ago, where he first fell for the open-hearted and joyful style of Houston’s work. 

“When I first saw them, they brought back the excitement of going to those places for the first time,” Canning said, “So I remember Paris and Venice. I still remember the first time I stepped out of a train station in Venice on a summer day, the light in the city and the ancient architecture and the light reflecting off the water. I felt I got to re-experience that standing in front of each of Jacob’s paintings of places that I had been.” 

The Hyde is one of many venues across the country that have recognized Houston’s work over the years. Houston’s work has been on exhibit at LARAC, at the Salmagundi Club in Manhattan and at the Southern Vermont Arts Center, among other places. 

His love of art started early on in his life. 

“I think you started drawing before you could walk practically, with a crayon in his hand and proper perspective, it blew our minds,” said Claire Houston, Jacob’s mother. 

His talent was fostered by his parents and by art teachers in Greenwich Central School District like Janet Dupuis and Naomi Meyer, as well as John Hampshire, a professor at SUNY Adirondack where Houston studied fine art.  

Not every art teacher was a fan of Houston’s style, and some tried to get him to change it. But as Houston admits, he’s stubborn, and refused to change. 

“I always had my own style,” Houston said. Over the years, its developed quite a bit. During his earlier years, his work was often compared to Grandma Moses’ work, who was also a Greenwich artist. However, his current style is crisper, with sharper lines and more of a focus on perfecting this “birds-eye” perspective that Houston often paints from. 

Houston cites artists like Michelangelo, Andy Warhol and Norman Rockwell as inspirations, although Canning sees in Houston’s work an inspiration that goes even further back in time. 

“As an art historian, I see Jacob continuing a tradition that goes back to the late middle ages, particularly his use of the aerial or bird’s eye perspective, the way he embraces this broad horizon and landscape,” Canning said, “He’s so interested in details and the particular that there’s a sharp detail even in things that are in the middle ground and far away, which naturally the eye would lose that detail. But Jacob has it.”

“A Magical World,” is slated to include 18 of Houston’s works; some featuring whimsical scenes of hot air balloons taking to the sky above quaint towns and others featuring more exotic urban scenes of Paris or New York. 

Most of the scenes are places Houston has visited and taken mental pictures of. But for others, like one he’s titled “Africa,” he relies more on his imagination. 

Working at his family’s dining room table, with plenty of natural light flooding in from nearby windows, Houston usually has his composition in his mind well before he takes up his paintbrush. He’ll draw a few guiding lines on the canvas before painting for days on end. Some pieces can take weeks to complete, others, like “Africa,” months. 

The sweeping piece features bright orange and yellow skies and what seems like every type of animal on the continent. 

“I think there are 65 animals,” Houston said. It’s one of the pieces he’s most happy with and it took him about four months to complete. He admits that he can be a perfectionist with his work; he’s always searching for ways to raise the bar.  

“Sometimes I have challenges, but only five percent of the time,” Houston said, “I try to be perfect when I paint but I’m not always happy [with it]. Then the next painting I wonder what can be better.”

“A Magical World: The Art of Jacob Houston” will be on exhibit at The Hyde from April 7 to June 23. Simultaneously, “Albert E. Flanagan: The Towering City,” will be on exhibit.

Flanagan’s work focuses on architecture, often depicted in muted tones. The exhibition will include 18 works by Flanagan and a few prints and published books by John Taylor Arms. 

From 2-5 p.m. on Saturday, there will be an opening reception for “A Magical World.” The event is free for members of the Hyde and $5 for non-members, plus admissions fee. RSVP by contacting 518-792-1761 ext. 310 or [email protected]. For more information visit hydecollection.org

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