You can find Badeschiff, a floating public swimming pool, in Berlin’s Spree river. The river, which is too polluted for swimming, flows around the pool, which is made from the hull of a ship. Swimmers walk to the pool, which means “bathing ship” in English, by way of a concrete pier.
This pool is part of the inspiration behind local contemporary artist Tim Hussey’s newest exhibition, aptly named, Badeschiff.
“It’s this perfect, seamless thing,” says Hussey of Badeschiff, which he recently visited on a trip to Berlin. “I like that it’s a pristine pool in the middle of this unswimmable water. That’s what I’ve been doing, struggling to find that little clear pool.”
Hussey’s mother passed away in March of this year after a 35-year struggle with Parkinson’s disease, and it left him reeling. “My mother died. It just rearranges your thought process,” he says. “There’s a purity — you come from your mother. That’s where you’re safest. No matter how much you think you don’t rely on it … there’s someone out there rooting for you no matter what,” says Hussey.
His grief pushed him to create work that he thought his mother would be proud of. He dedicates Badeschiff to her.
The exhibition, a compilation of 11 canvases and 11 works on paper, is the second show in Hussey’s new studio on Upper King, which he opened about a year ago. At 46, Hussey decided it was time to get out of galleries and into his own space. “The world has gotten harder and harder. Ironically, it seems like it’s gotten easier to be an individual, but it’s also harder. The access to everyone being able to show off their individualism has become a mass of one,” he says. This personal struggle, to best represent one’s self, pushed Hussey into his own studio, where he both paints and shows his work.
“I’m trying to find the goodness in life again,” he says. “Trying to find why I am here back in Charleston. What do you do after your mom dies? Who are you? It’s a big question.”
Hussey moved back to Charleston last year, after three years in Los Angeles. A Charleston native, Hussey’s career started as an illustrator for publications like Forbes, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. He took up painting in 2000 and held a retrospective of his work at the City Gallery in 2010. In an article from that year, Hussey told the City Paper, “It’s nice to look back at 10 years and say, ‘God, now I feel like I’m really confident.’ Even though I still see merit in these old pieces, now I’m really in touch with my tools.”
Six years later, Hussey is still finding those tools, as he ebbs and flows with the blows — the soft ones that nudge you into action, the hard ones that can leave you feeling helpless, stagnant — of his life.
“I found a new place to land, basically,” says Hussey of his current exhibition. “There’s elements of my old work in this work. I’ve started to be a little more confident in the vision.”
He points to a piece, one of Badeschiff‘s smaller canvases, that, like most of Hussey’s work, features abstract lines, saturated colors, and blank spaces. This one has a deep blue swirl, an element that Hussey thinks makes the painting, “congested.” “This was one of the first soon after mom died, and then these larger ones are a little more open and pristine.” He walks over to some really big canvases. “This piece is a lot more open. This has been about feeling free fall. It’s very much about space. But about like, outer space, like flying off the planet,” he says.
Hussey describes each piece in the way you’d imagine someone describing a first date — excited, scattered, unsure. “These things, I am sweating over and angry at night,” says Hussey of his canvases. “Some of these only take three days where some lingered for three months.”
Hussey has been painting on canvas for about four years now, but he says that his first love are his works on paper. After years away from paper, Hussey has returned to this passion in Badeschiff. “My works on paper, you can see the spontaneity and the pencil marks, just as you would do it,” he says. “I had avoided working on paper for so long because I was tired of the cost of framing, frankly. But I love the way paper responds to materials. A lot of customers want the stuff that’s more graspable.”
This practical side of Hussey — creating works that sell — speaks to his condition as a modern working artist. Hussey cares deeply about the work he creates, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to make a living off of it. “Charleston’s not easy at all,” he admits. “Sometimes I wonder why I’m doing it. I get so excited to get this place ready, get everybody here. I lose steam if I think too hard about the reality of what comes from it sometimes. I go through times when it’s really flush and times when I think, ‘What am I, crazy?'”
Crazy or not, Hussey has found his way through this past year with the help of those canvases propped against his studio wall. “I’ve hit a new level,” he says. “I don’t know if you ever really do or what my answer really is, but, I’ve started to find my way. That’s why the styles changed through the months. Because I was totally lost. I was distracted. It’s really hard to care or understand art when you’re grieving or going through shit. The pool for me is a groove.”
“Day to day, things are growing,” says Hussey. “That’s sort of happening toward the end.” He pulls several canvases away from a smaller, dark one, the last in a line of months of work. There’s an image of a girl, a peaceful look on her face, something tangible in a sea of Hussey’s abstract works. “This one is about the promise of the future,” he says. “Kind of like Pandora’s box a little bit. There’s the innocence of the child and what the future holds. She’s sort of in the box but she’s also holding it at the same time. It’s really positive to me.”