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Rex Hausmann's Ithica

Curated By: Arturo Almeida 

San Antonio native Rex Hausmann is perhaps best known in town as both the ebullient impresario of Hausmann Millworks, the artists’ studio enclave sited in his family’s retired woodworking shop off Fredericksburg Road, and as the tireless organizer of group shows that have brought SA artists to Iowa and NYC. While the local artists Hausmann champions work in a wide range of styles, the pieces he has presented from his own studio since he graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2006 have tended toward new modes in sculpture, like his small crotchet buildings and toys, or highly conceptual multimedia installations like the History of Us and Them, which appeared in the 53rd Venice Biennale Detournement in 2009. But oil paintings? Never would have guessed.


Hausmann’s “Ithica: A story of San Antonio and Beyond,” on view now at the Institute of Texan Cultures, is a series of paintings that dwells on the passing away of old neighborhood markers, and the attempts of personal and community memory to counter that loss. Hausmann initiated work on the paintings two years ago when he began splitting his time between SA and Brooklyn. Prolonged absences from his hometown led him to more acutely notice the disappearance — or radical transformation — of childhood landmarks, when on each return home he encountered a changing present instead of the geography of memory.


Once-intrinsic parts of the community have become caricatures, mere pictures of the past, or have died outright. The Olmos Pharmacy, a once-favorite spot for milkshakes, is now a bar. The ButterKrust Bread factory, destination of many a school field trip, has been shut since 1997, but lives on in expectation for many voyagers returning home to Bexar County.


Written in 1911, Ithaca, by the Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy, who lived most his life in Alexandria, Egypt, speaks of Ulysses’ return to his homeland in Homer’s epic poem, the Odyssey. The poem, which Hausmann has traced in fragments throughout the painting series, became key to his realization that the ends of travels pale before the richness of the journey. The third stanza serves as both summation and injunction to the reader, and is a guide to viewing Hausmann’s paintings:


Keep Ithaca always in your mind. 
Arriving there is what has been ordained  
for you. 

But do not hurry the journey at all. 
Better if it lasts many years; 
And you dock an old man on the island, 
Rich with all that you’ve gained on the way, 
Not expecting Ithaca to give you wealth. 

Ithaca gave you the beautiful journey. 
Without her you would not have set out. 
She has nothing more to give you.*


Hausmann has, with bent, misspelled text, laced Cavafy’s poem into his paintings, and formed the fragments to the styles of the signage and logos that fill his memories.

The first in the series, entitled simply Ithica, shapes the words “Ithica” and “Carphaphy” (a rendition of “Cavafy”) to resemble the original signage of the Olmos Pharmacy; which was, incidentally, made by Hausmann’s father. Another work, “Whith What Plesur and Whith What Joy,” again mangles words, evoking pseudo-archaic spellings that are formed, along with stripes and oval known to most everyone in the Southwest, as the Whataburger logo and colors.


Sometimes the imagery is personal, beyond the arcane, as in the painting “Keep Ithica Always in Your Mind.” Two faces portray Hausmann and his brother Erik; a tank, also seen in the collection in crotchet form, recalls their shared favorite childhood toy, “Tommy the Tank.” Some memories are local, others hyper-local, some only family business. “Beter Lasting Many Many YRS” shows an image of the painter’s grandfather, who was a car mechanic and gunsmith, surrounded by a transformed Ford logo that has been reworded to form the man’s first name, “Rod.” Other images recall the duck logos of a favorite hot-rod exhaust company; above, center, is signage recalling a long-gone go-kart track, renamed in the work as a gun shop.


Blended throughout all the highly colorful (in all meanings of the word) paintings is a layer of reference that slips neatly between company logos and family history — the hand-formed lettering typical of Westside signage is everywhere in the paintings, a unifying style, or rather hand, that brings personal and public memories together. Multi-layered, containing personal expression and reams of disappearing public experience, Hausmann has constructed a map to traverse decades of Bexar County life, a true San Antonio Codex.•


*Ithaca – C.P. Cavafy, Translated by Theoharis C. Theoharis,reprinted in Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter, by Thomas Cahill, New York, 2004.


~ Scott Andrews

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