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Toyota | Avanzar: A Family Connection

The Duomo (my daily view of the mountain, and talking with Michelangelo’s statue).


We decided to put this in the section of “The Toyota Avanzar Family Collection” because Christian and Sarah and the Guerra family have been there since the beginning. I grew up with Sarah and Christian. Was at the wedding in Boerne, Texas and these two as a couple have been getting postcards, letters (and candy) via the mail from all over the world for over two decades. We even made a special book to have them all collected so that Grant, Evie, Gavin and the baby would know who the guy is who “made all the color filled paintings' '. The book is made of wood by one of the studios at Hausmann Millworks (Honey Mesquite Wood Shop) and houses all of the writings. Well, Christian and Sarah, this one’s for you. - Rex


Christian - congrats on Havaaaad my man. Let’s go get a beeeaaaarrr in the Paaaaak (said in a Boston accent).


Rex Hausmann | New York City.  2022, May


The French artist Paul Cezanne had his mountain That he painted over 40 times in Aix en Provence. The Japanese artist Hokusai had his own view of Mount Fuji in 36 views of Mount Fuji. I have The cathedral in Florence every time I revisit The subject the image of the Duomo changes. I’m always in a different place in my life in a different stage of life so the view of the cathedral is understandably different.




You could say the Duomo started as a reference in 2003 when I decided to become an artist in Florence Italy. I was a student at the University of Texas at San Antonio when I signed up for a study abroad program in Florence, Italy. A baseball diamond mural for my high school paid for the plane tickets. I was offered a scholarship for partial tuition, and my mother and father took care of my housing and meals. Life was humble but meaningful. Each day I would paint and walk to classes. I walked so much I wore out my sneakers, returning home with what could be suggested as shoes. I remember when I would call my brother and say “...when you have no money you have plenty of time, spend it well!”


While in Florence when I wasn’t walking or painting I was reading. I had a couple of books in English, a copy of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, the agony and the ecstasy and a few art history books that I checked out from the small school library. I also had a Bible in English. Spent a lot of time walking and reading.


At the time my brother was also in school. He was a few towns away in Castiglione Florentino. We would meet up from time to time and get a gelato, Italian ice cream. Which at the time was a big splurge seeing that we were both students and had little spending money, and out of respect and independence we wouldn’t ask our parents for any more money, we had our budgets and we needed to stick to them, even if they were humble.


While in Florence I visited The Uffizi museum. On the outside of the museum was a statue of Michelangelo, located in a niche. I said “if you can do it, so can I!“. I still remember that to this day. That same statue of Michelangelo would be outside of the Telfair museum in Savannah, Georgia when I was in undergraduate studies at The Savannah College Of Art and Design on a full scholarship. I would also stand in front of that statue while walking by on the way to the post office and say “if you can do it so can I.“


It was later when I was out of undergraduate studies that I would start to reference the Duomo regularly. Usually in a text message to a close friend, Christian. These messages were very important because at the time it was difficult to remain an artist. Those years when you have to decide to buy paint rather than good groceries and live without a/c in a 110 degree summer in San Antonio. I still remember when one of my friends John Cowan on my many trips to New York would say, “So you've sold some paintings I see.” I’d ask “Yeah of course how do you notice? Do you think I paid for the plane tickets?“… He laughed and then said “Well you don’t have paint on your clothes! (then he'd let out a deep laugh, a laugh between friends, and we'd both laugh.“ something to this day we still joke about. In those years all I have to say is there was a lot of faith.


Finding myself at the footsteps of the cathedral is something that has happened many times in my life. Each time asking for guidance, clarity and purpose. Each time finding great strength and color in line. What can I do? I go back to Michelangelo's sculpture, the daily walk past the cathedral… And of course painting.


Fast forward after residency in Hong Kong, it’s around 2010 or 2011. My friend Aenon, gallarist in Hong Kong who has been a friend since the early days said “whatever you have to say… say it and say it big.“ Among other things, at the time, we’re flying donuts, cats and starships, group photographs and comic books ending in a lot of bright colors. This show was presented at Carina Gorr's gallery Galery Nord in San Antonio with “Cats, Donuts, Starships, Ideals”. At the time of saying all those things and using so much color I needed some space. Out of all the Frenetic energy emerged, The Duomo. The first bug duomo was on a white background, Carina Gorrs bought that one and the second was on a yellow background Anya bought that one. The cathedral was a divergence from the other works, kind of an “out of left field” automatic response thing. I found myself on the steps and on the walk to the Duomo again... another step in life.


It was later when I was out of school then I would start referencing the Florence cathedral regularly. It first started at the Institute of Texan cultures with a series called “Ithaca '' based on Constantine P Cavafy's lines of the poem. This painting was a duomo intermixed with a bread bag pattern. A daily reminder of the walk to the cathedral. KT Whitehead purchased this work. The Duomo would gain real traction in between text messages from myself to a close friend Christian Guerra. We would talk about the Duomo, and he would commission small paintings. Those were formative years, with walks in Texas by an old ranch field. We still talk about that field to this day “The Furrowed Field '' we call it, and the Duomo & a dream. Michelangelo.


It was in 2013 to 2016 Then I was offered a full scholarship to graduate studies at The Savannah College Of Art Design. A time where I could revisit all the things I had seen from 2006 to 2013. The full scholarship allowed me to study and paint. It was during this time that The McNay Museum of Art in San Antonio, Texas approached me with an exhibition to be part of the 60th anniversary of the museum. Myself and five other artists Would represent our hometown in our hometown. A great honor.


I was in graduate studies at the time and accepted the invitation wholeheartedly. Seeing that I grew up going to this museum, my mother would take me as a baby. She was a docent at the McNay at a time and loved to study art history in college as a minor area of study with a major in business administration at The University of Texas at San Antonio. I visited The McNay with my mentor Carle Rice Embry while in high school & with my teacher Gail Smith (a student of Carle’s) who always said to me “Paint big now, paint small latter”. I knew that whatever I had to say at The McNay, I needed to say it. I remembered Aenon’s words “Paint whatever you need to say and paint big”... Rene Barilleauxe, the chief curator of the McNay said to me, “Rex, I gave you the biggest room because I knew you could fill it.”


I thought about these things on my walks to the studio, and back home again on the shuttle from the library. I remember my walks in Florence, passing the Duomo every day. In graduate school I would wake up, make a cup of coffee, eat breakfast and walk to the studio. Each morning I would walk next to Forsyth Park. Bill and Debbie Saxon had a B&B that overlooked the park. They were both parishioners at the church I attended Bull Street Baptist Church on Bull Street. I was happy and God has provided such a wonderful place to live out looking at Forsyth every morning. The movie Forest Gump had been filmed not too far from where my window looked out. The Duomo kept coming up in the studio in graduate school, the view of the cathedral. Little did I know what was about to happen next. I would need the duomo now, more than ever. Life would meet me at 2600 feet per second on Forsyth Park walking home from my studies at the library.


In my normal studio practice at graduate school I would take the same shuttle home every night from the library after studying for a few hours. It was too far to walk home and I didn't have a car so I would take the bus. I can’t remember whether it was the red or the blue line but I would be dropped off close to my home on Forsyth Park and walk home the same path every day. This night was different, a gang member (who wasn't dressed like a gang member) would walk up to me, pull out a gun and threaten to kill me. I had offered the young man my groceries. He declined. In the end I was shot at point-blank range with a small caliber pistol walking home, about 100 feet from my front door. I was caught up in a gang initiation called the “Summer of Fire” in Savannah. 27 or so people were randomly shot by the gangs of Savannah due to a lapse in police presence. I was one of the first victims. All I can say is God provides. I know the angels are real. And I know that God heals. The Lord’s prayer is a powerful thing. This Experience in my life story up to that point would be presented at The McNay in 18 paintings, two of which were the largest and their subject matter was the Florence cathedral.


There was a whole healing process to this time, the Lord's Prayer, drawing and a ton of time just thinking and healing.


During that time of healing I would find myself holding onto life itself. Waking up in the hospital with my parents flying in from Texas as soon as they heard. My friend Chris Davies from Dallas, Texas and my brother were there a day later. That day of the shooting I had just prepared for a graduate review, my professor Steve Knudsen found me in the hospital the next day. To this day I still don’t know how Steve found me because I was under a different name in the hospital. When you were a gunshot victim of gang violence they changed your name for safety. In the hospital when I came to, I saw Steve and my mother sitting next to my bed. I said “Steve I can’t make it to the review in a week, I was really looking forward to it I think I may have to take a few weeks to get better and get back on my feet again“ (little did I know it was going to take me six months to heal). In the hospital my mother had offered To stay behind so that she could help me with my review. Perhaps we could zoom or shoot video on the iPhone. As a family we had no idea what had just happened. Steve laughed and said “Rex, I don't think you really need to worry about your review right now, you have some other things to think about.” He said this with a smile, knowing that I was in earnest when I was talking about not being able to make the review.


It may seem odd but all I could think about was my review and my scholarship and if I could not continue my studies I couldn’t keep up the part of the bargain as a grad student. The part to keep my scholarship. I truly am in love with painting, with study of art and history, with writing and creativity. It is one of my favorite things to do. It’s almost like breathing oxygen. Needless to say I would end up in a wheelchair for six months keeping a very small schedule. One of my professors Denise Carson had given me a small sketchbook while in the hospital. I filled that sketchbook with all of my thoughts. I still use this process to this day six years later, I believe I'm on sketchbook 37 or 38... maybe even 40 by now. The same size Moleskine every time. The same journal pattern. It took six months to heal because my left leg was shattered by the bullet. The bullet is still in my leg. It’s lodged in my left femur bone. I call my left leg Jacobs hip. Jacob wrestled with an angel. I spoke with one for a brief instant in Forsyth park. Ask Christian Guerra if he has the painting. They look just like us. The security camera didn't pick up the person. Although I saw the shooting, the person was as real as you or me. In subsequent interviews with the police to try to piece together what had happened I got to know one of the heads of Charleston SWAT who was inspecting the case due to the gang violence. He said that in all his years he had seen things that cannot be explained, he assured me that I had seen an Angel. That it was real, and that my account was true. Later I was approved by Victims of Crime to help with the case. God provides. All I can say is angels are real. Ask Christian some time.


While in the wheelchair I dug deep in my subconscious. The paintings slowly emerged. Sunrises and sunsets. The Duomo. Robots. My brother's kitten, Sweet Pea. All kinds of things. I was looking. I was searching for the Duomo. As the series wound on I would be learning to walk again. My daily trips with my mother to the rehabilitation hospital would encompass conversations with the staff of the hospital Dustin Duffy the Head RN, Dr. Caria the surgeon and Stephanie the other RN, who were all present at my opening at the McNay museum of art. To this day I still keep in touch regularly with Dustin Duffy. We just picked Texas grapefruits with his daughter in their backyard. He and his wife love little baby Rose who is about to turn three and of whom I did a painting for her on her birthday.

Over six months I would heal. I would paint. Graduating from wheelchair I would move to a walker and then to cane. Later after the show at The McNay I would find myself in France teaching with Prof Steve Knudsen, a journey that has lasted now over 6 years, back and forth. (But that latter)


Two of the largest paintings for The McNay we’re “Duomo Sunrise” owned by Dr. Romo and The University of Texas at San Antonio and is displayed in the John Peace Library where I studied as a student. The second is “Erik's Notes on Florence” being exhibited at Waterfall Mansion with Kate (Kate you sure know how to pick them). Both were painted as triptychs.


A triptych is a mechanism that priests and monks would use in medieval times to tell stories. Both paintings told the story of the Hausmann brothers in Florence. If I was going to make one big statement at The McNay, it would be myself and my brother both equal in size with the sun in between. Each day walking past the Duomo on our way to work doing the best of our abilities.


The process to get to “Erik’s Notes on Florence'' took about six months. Learning to walk again, getting over a life-changing experience and creating 18 paintings that were presented in my hometown San Antonio Texas. In the paintings I needed color. I needed a life. I needed to return to The Duomo. The painting itself came from a note my brother wrote in 2003 while in his studies. I still have that note in my studio. The note was a drawing of Giotto’s bell tower. My brother would often look at the bell tower, I would often look at the Cathedral dome designed by Brunelleschi. While in school the more I studied about the Cathedral, the more fascinating it became. The history of generations of people building it. It took over 140 years to complete the Florence cathedral. Think of how many generations came and went in the construction of that building. It is in all this that I think about painting. It is all this but I pass the Duomo every day I choose to still be an artist. I don’t visit the subject all the time. Rather I let life take its path, Knowing that God in His time will provide. Knowing that color will inevitably always spring forth. Know that the sun will rise and set giving us a beautiful day each day. Knowing these things is what informs the painting of The Duomo. I have never left that walk in 17 years. Between my home, the studio and the church.


Michelangelo if you can do it then so can I, in God's time.


        •       Go Yankees ;) (just saying Christian, just sayin) 

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