John Henderson – Carl Kostyal
John Henderson is a Ghostbuster. By this I mean he is an arrestor of—and in many ways a medium for—the spectral; channeling and then disturbing established narratives of post-war abstraction, minimalist and conceptual practices. Henderson is part of a generation of artists who have come of age not only with the weight of art history on their backs but also the weight of Google image search. That is to say Henderson has by necessity had to grapple with bringing new objects, images and ideas into a world that presumes it can infinitely reproduce them without a loss of resolution.
John Henderson’s first solo presentation in London gathers distinct though interrelated aspects of his practice including faux marble cast paintings, video and oil paintings. Having been realized in a variety of materials to date—such as bronze, brass and aluminum—Henderson’s cast paintings begin as abstract gestures, the artist applying thick gesso-like paint to canvas in a layered process that when dry creates a history and topography out of the brush strokes and gestures that compose the surface. Then cast, here in bonded marble, stretcher bars and all, the work becomes an index to the original (now discarded) painting. A work of sculpture but also a painting, the pure whiteness of the marble is in-and-of-itself a ghost image and an apparition, albeit a gorgeous one
Rounding out the exhibition is a glorious series of new oil paintings and three videos. In the oil paintings Henderson, as always, both embraces and battles the history of post-war painting – seeking to remove all indication of individual mark making, in the end realizing paintings that seem to shift between that medium, photography, and digital reproductions. The three videos included in the exhibition can be seen to occupy a similarly unfixable, ephemeral position located somewhere between performance, painting and experimental cinema. Acting as a sculptural and time-based punctuation in the installation, each of these videos engages with and connects various strands of Henderson’s practice.
Whether working through video, cast metal or bonded marble and of course paint, John Henderson is always already a painter. While dissecting a variety of histories and narratives, he is consistent in his project of destabilizing both the epistemological and aesthetic definition of what a painting—and a project of painting—can be now. Henderson is an artist who uses his hands to erase those very appendages, constructing beautiful works that resonate in their elegance in part because they are always in the act of hiding themselves. These works succeed so spectacularly in so far as they act as traces of their mode of production and their materialistic history. The beauty and intelligence of Henderson’s work is directly related to the works seeming ability to reference, long for, and even embody, a source object that never fully existed. In a time of infinite information and indexicality, the hold of these works is in many ways their ability and desire to—ghost like—almost not exist at all.
- Benjamin Godsill