Thomas Houseago, Nick Cave, and Brad Pitt Are Quite the Odd Throuple

After bonding over shared personal and mental health struggles, the trio is showing works that creatively riff off one another at Finland’s Sara Hildén Art Museum.

Thomas Houseago, Nick Cave, and Brad Pitt. Image courtesy Houseago Studio

Blanche DuBois may have always depended on the kindness of strangers, but for Thomas Houseago, friends aren’t half bad either. For his latest exhibition, the British sculptor looked inward, chronicling a tumultuous three-year journey he describes as a time of serious breakdown and recovery. (“I’m sort of being rebirthed at the moment,” he admitted in a recent interview.) Called “We” and on display at the Sara Hildén Art Museum in Finland, the show sees the celebrated artist toss aside his ego and bring other voices into the fold—namely his collaborators and best friends, A-list actor Brad Pitt and musician Nick Cave—while recasting himself as an avid painter. 

It’s a major moment for Houseago, who hasn’t exhibited new works in a museum since 2019. At Sara Hildén, he presents towering cast bronze sculptures, carved redwood figures, and plaster maquettes that echo nature’s power, which he further explores in paintings inspired by Edvard Munch. Though the show focuses primarily on his wide-ranging body of work, it also marks the first time Pitt and Cave have shown their artworks. Pitt has long dabbled in sculpture and furniture design, revealing a 2012 collection with Frank Pollaro that one critic summed up as “Art Deco meets Dictator Chic.” The Australian-born Cave, who shares a name with the American sculptor known for his vibrant Soundsuits, studied painting at the Caulfield Institute of Technology in Melbourne before pursuing music.

Houseago’s sculptures on view at the Sara Hildén Art Museum in Tampere, Finland. Photography by Jussi Koivunen/Sara Hildén Art Museum

The trio may seem like a peculiar squad, but they came together during a shared time of personal trauma: Cave mourning the death of two of his sons; Pitt’s highly publicized divorce and custody battle; Houseago’s reckoning with childhood abuse; and their struggles with addiction. “Professionally, I don’t have to talk about my recovery over and over again; it’s clear in the work,” Houseago tells the Financial Times. “But personally, I want to make sure that everybody who looks at my work and sees this show knows that I am open to talking about trauma, about solutions, in a very grassroots way. If there’s a need for me to come and talk somewhere about how you survive pre-verbal trauma, I’m there.”

Pitt and Cave have been friends since being cast in the 1991 film Johnny Suede, but the Hollywood star quickly hit it off with Houseago six years ago after splitting from wife Angelina Jolie. (Pitt reportedly spent 15 days in Houseago’s L.A. studio, during which he invited Leonardo DiCaprio over to “bond over their shared love of pottery.”) The trio solidified their friendship when they saw Andrew Dominik’s documentary One More Time With Feeling, which chronicled the making of Cave’s 2016 album Skeleton Tree, written while mourning the loss of his son, Arthur. 

(FROM LEFT) Houseago, Pitt, and Cave on Houseago’s “Cast Studio” (2018); Photography by Maureen M Evans/Houseago Studio. “Slave to Our Vices” (2022) by Brad Pitt. Image courtesy Studio BeeP, Los Angeles

Much like the exhibition’s title suggests, the trio feeds off one another creatively. When Houseago struggled to pick up a paintbrush, he called up Cave to find him similarly facing writer’s block; inspiration struck when they promised to paint and write for each other. Both Pitt and Cave stepped out of their comfort zones to create works for the show under Houseago’s guidance. Cave recently unveiled a series of 17 ceramic sculptures that recount the life story of the devil—they bear similarities to the Victorian Staffordshire Flatback figures that he has long collected. Pitt’s sculptures skew grotesque, one depicting a filmic gunfight between eight plaster figures and another showing silicon houses having endured rounds of gunfire, drawing parallels to the recent dissolution of his home life.

Each artist flirts with darkness but says they can fall back on each other in times of need. They continue to meet up on weekends, finding an artistic outlet in a shared safe space. “As I get older, I find such a comfort in friendships where you can be [completely yourself], and I want that to extend in the outer world,” Pitt says. “What people make of it: I’m fine. I feel safe here because there’s a focus on our struggles as human beings, because it’s fraught with peril. And joy as well.” 

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