Art by Design: Felice House

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February 2, 2016
Art by Expression: Leanna Hale
February 2, 2016

Story By Katie Canales | Photography by Timothy Douglass

Not many people can say they were commissioned to create a commemorative poster for the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Felice House can.

A representational figure painter with a focus on feminist portraiture, Felice teaches in the visualization department at Texas A&M University. Felice received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, a Master of Science from the Visualization Department at Texas A&M and a Master of Fine Arts from The University of Texas at Austin.

Before coming to Texas A&M as a graduate student, Felice worked for a documentary film company in upstate New York. There she recognized that the contemporary renaissance in art was happening in the digital realm and wanted the skills to be a part of it.

“I ended up going to the visualization department and really focusing on how fine art traditional painting can be enhanced through the use of computer technology,” says Felice.

Felice grew up with a studio in her house since her mother was a painter. From an early age, she recognized that women were one dimensionally represented by the media and made it her mission to broaden the portrayal of women in art. “Even as a child, I remember feeling strongly about women owning their own power, and having power and recognized that this was not fully happening in society. I’ve always been really attracted to that and interested in that,” says Felice.

In high school, Felice made a series of large-scale drawings of women sourced from photographic images she collected and took. “I think it was an intuitive approach to the problem of inequality. That was my voice; what I could do was make images that look like people, and the images that I made were images about women and power,” says Felice.

Felice’s first solo art show was entitled “Putting it On and Taking It Off.” The show consisted of taking a 1950s home economics textbook that detailed the stages of makeup application and mocking it, with Felice following the instructions with paint instead, and applying it to a series of self portraits in a grotesque and awkward manner. “It was a commentary on beauty, and the idea of beauty being forced on us,” explains Felice.

Felice’s next series depicted women war workers during World War II. Painting her friends in place of the original women, she drew a connection between her generation and that of her grandmother.

Her latest series, “Re-Western,” features iconic western film stills starring contemporary women instead of the original male heroes such as John Wayne and James Dean.  “The younger generation doesn’t necessarily recognize the images, but for many folks my age and older there’s an instant recognition of the image, with added surprise of the gender flip,” says Felice.

Felice is familiar with high-end commission work, having created portraits for figures such as the late Dan Burke, former chancellor at the University of Texas, and Mack Brown, former head football coach at the University of Texas. For a time, she made her living entirely from commissions such as these.

Now a professor at Texas A&M, Felice sees teaching as an important ingredient for being an exhibiting artist. “They work hand in hand and it’s my preferred recipe for life – to do half-and-half, studio painting and teaching,” says Felice.

Felice explains that understanding how to paint is similar to understanding how to construct a sentence; it requires a student to be given the correct information. “I make sure all my painting students succeed. I don’t just focus on a few; I really believe that anyone can learn how to paint; it is a learned skill,” says Felice.

When Felice received the phone call requesting she create the 10th anniversary commemorative poster for the Austin City Limits Music Festival in 2011, she thought it was a friend playing a trick on her. “The call was so out of the blue; it was a little surreal,” says Felice.

Her focus on imagery of women shines through in the poster she created. Felice created an image of a woman from the perspective of the stage, with the crowd screaming behind her and the skyline of Austin in the distance. She describes the women as exuberant, ecstatic, and elated. “She’s not presenting herself for someone else’s entertainment,” says Felice. “She is self-absorbed in her experience.”