John Henderson brings together six new works in an exhibition titled Two Sculptures, Three Paintings, and a Photograph. The three bodies of work on view—each executed in a distinct medium—present an analytical approach to the contemporary practice of abstract painting. Henderson’s exhibition suggests that engaging with the conceptual and aesthetic concerns of Painting today is necessarily a discursive project, whereby medium-specificity is tested and confused in order to question Painting’s conventional formatting and procedures. Across the exhibition, the viewer is presented with works that are not entirely what they seem to be at first glance.
The two sculptures on view are easily mistaken for large shimmering paintings. In fact, these works are copper replicas of paintings, cast with precision using a process known as electrotyping. The fine details of Henderson’s original, thickly-textured paintings are captured exactingly into the surface of rubber molds. Submerged in a chemical bath, the electrotyping process slowly deposits copper ions into Henderson’s molds by way of an electrical current. The artist chooses to destroy the original paintings such that the final copper sculptures serve as a kind of documentation of artworks that no longer exist.
Adding to the complexity, each work in this series is marked by a unique patina that is the result of chance effect: a silver mixture that is used to render the rubber molds electrically conductive unpredictably transfers into the copper surfaces. Henderson embraces these irregular compositions as a kind of automatic painting. According to the artist: “There is a poetic contrast between the control necessary to capture the surface of an object with such verisimilitude and the decision to allow the copy ‘repaint’ itself.”
In conversation with the two sculptures’ emphasis on the topographical aspects of gestural mark-making, Henderson’s three actual paintings on canvas are instead utterly flat and absent of textural variation. These paintings begin with an accumulation of countless layers of paint, each new layer covering and obscuring the previous one. Ultimately, Henderson finely sands away the surface, creating a palimpsestic network of colors that allows for later layers of paint to merge into earlier ones. The surfaces of these paintings are confusingly uniform-yet-complex chromatic fields that feel almost digital in their lack of planar depth. The paintings’ images portray a record of accumulation but the absence of a corresponding physical index is perplexing. To complete the works, the artist frames each canvas in a crisp bezel of thin oil paint, a kind of punctuation that simultaneously exaggerates the separation of surface from support while furthering an illusion of depth.
Lastly, the one photograph in the exhibition further extends the compounding logic of making and unmaking introduced by the sculptures and paintings. For this work, Henderson paints on top of a snapshot photograph before scanning and reprinting the image at a larger scale. With similar logic to the copper sculptures, here the original painted-over-photograph is discarded and the documentation becomes the final artwork. The resultant image—with an ambiguous shadow that provides an illusion of three-dimensionality—invites the viewer question the conceptual and physical space between production and display. What does it mean to create separations between the performance of painting, the object of painting, and the image of painting?
Born in 1984 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Lives and works in Chicago, Illinois, USA
Chicago-based artist John Henderson expands and develops an engagement with abstract painting and the conditions for its contemporary practice. Making use of a variety of technologies and techniques—molds, castings, digital printing, video, and photography—Henderson reforms, revises, and reproduces the manual painterly expression, invoking Minimalism and Abstract Expressionism while acknowledging a distance from their unmediated practice.