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I was born in London in 1976 and lived there or thereabouts for most of my life.

I first started making art at school under the tutelage of the internationally renowned ceramicist Gordon Baldwin. Among many ground rules he instilled his approach to evaluating the success or failure of each creation has remained with me ever since.

Later I studied Fine Art, specialising in sculpture, at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. In 1998, after four years, I managed to turn my fledgling practice on its head, exiting with a decent degree and a curvy, colourful and highly conceptual portfolio.

After university I moved back to London and spent a few years working on Film, TV and advertising productions. Even though I can claim to have painted the sign above the chocolate shop door in Lasse Hallstrom’s film Chocolat none of these industries really fit the bill so in 2003 I took up a job in the wonderful Daunt Books, rented a studio and started to make art again.

I spent seven years working at the bookshop. In 2009 I was offered a solo show in London so left the bookshop to concentrate on the show. The exhibition was closely followed by a life-changing move to Provence in the South of France where I have been able to devote myself to a life as full time artist.

I continue to live and work in Villecroze with my wife and three children.

Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible” – Paul Klee

My work is characterised by clear and reduced formal arrangements of distinct materials. I draw equally on the traditional principles of painting and sculpture to create a visual and physical experience in space. While any material need only be placed on the wall to have a dialogue with painting, I see my works as extremely thin sculptures that demand a level of mobility and interaction more common to the viewing of three-dimensional art.

Cast acrylic is the versatile material at the heart of my work. On a simple level, due to its physical qualities and transparency, it has a front, back and sides, so in its raw form it is sculptural. It also possesses basic properties that allow me to construct a range of conceptually different works. Where one project might rely upon dark polished reflections giving depth to flatness, another will exploit its capacity to absorb and diffuse light and colour within the work.

Light, depth and movement are all elements that create changing visual effects for the viewer. At first, my works might appear to be fixed, undifferentiated, flat, hard-edged or simplistic. However, a slight change in position can reveal flashes of reflected colour and alternative edges or textures. The power and effect of a painting can be transformed by a subtle shift in the light – due to a passing cloud or a change in the angle of the sun. Unlike classic minimalism, which rejected external reference in order to represent only itself, I create works that are the nexus of a system of conditions in continual dynamic interaction. My works enact rather than represent an experience.

Even though my work is clearly rooted in the minimalist and optical works of the 1960’s and 70’s, I believe there is still much to explore in the nature of perception. The conversation between reduced forms, diverse materials and the physical and visual experience is, for me, as relevant as ever in today’s hyper-digital world. It is what drives me on a daily basis to build something, be it a surface, a pattern or an object, with deliberate yet empirical care and precision.

A New Angle in Art: Tom Henderson

Tom Henderson’s works reveal an artist painting his way out of a corner. Hovering before the wall, these translucent, angular objects clearly owe their existence to painting and to the history of painting. And yet they are often made from materials more associated with sculpture, sometimes with lush, painterly additions. The Plexiglas and coloured resin that compose these works are both the support and the medium, an intriguing conflation and an elegant solution to the questions that have plagued, perplexed and prompted some of the greatest artists of the last hundred years: not just what to paint but, in the age of photography and abstraction and readymades, how to paint.

Development after development after development, from the Daguerreotype to X-ray photography and thence to Photoshop, from Cubism to Dada and thence to Abstract Expressionism, from Warhol’s silkscreens to Minimalism to the crisp objectivity of Andreas Gursky… The goalposts in art, and in painting in particular, have been shifted with alarming speed during the past century and a half, creating a turbulent, exciting but all too often bewildering theoretical landscape. In an era of digital reproduction, appropriation and artworks left to create themselves, how can a painter manoeuvre? What path is left open? Several artists have found Gordian Knot solutions: Gerhard Richter with his paintings after photos, and his later permutations, Roy Lichtenstein with his own parallel Pop and Lucio Fontana, who burst open the entire hegemony of the fiction of the two-dimensional picture plane by tearing open the canvas itself.

From one perspective, Henderson’s works show the reverberations of Fontana’s pioneering developments. Fontana declared: ‘here we have: foreground, middleground and background… to go farther what do I have to do?…I make holes, infinity passes through them, light passes through them, there is no need to paint’.[1] Fontana brought the viewer’s attention to the fiction of the picture surface by viewing it with the detachment of his sculptural background and against the backdrop of the new era of space travel which had allowed Man to view the planet from above. Henderson’s own works, hovering from the wall, allowing light to pass through them to various degrees, able to be viewed from behind, push Fontana’s innovation to a new level. These works compress foreground, middleground and background within their own fabric, and also allow light to pass through them.

Henderson has created his own starting point, an arsenal of tools and materials that are not necessarily associated with painting itself. Beginning with an aluminium armature, essentially a corner, the measurements of this base of operations become the foundation stone, or the DNA, of the work to come. The initial point of departure in that angle, that corner, prompts the decisions regarding scale and colour and luminosity that follow, sometimes even resulting in the incorporation of more ‘corners’ which proliferate throughout the fabric of the object, sometimes resulting in complex shapes that turn their own corners, breaking free from the hegemony of the rectangular frames of old. Henderson’s material of choice is Plexiglas, which maintains its shape seemingly unsupported and is subjected to transformations, for instance the sanding that creates subtle contrasts between the opaque and the clearer, more translucent areas. In addition, Henderson has increasingly added areas of largely monochrome paint, sometimes beginning with a Mondrian-like crispness on one or two sides, but ending with a delicate, feathered blurring of one edge, bringing an emphasis to the sensuality of the paint, disrupting the rigid angularity that informs and dominates the composition and paradoxically emphasising that same angularity: it acts the exception that proves the rule.

The tactile quality of the paint and the effect of the streaking brushstrokes on the surface of these works reveals one of Henderson’s key influences: Pierre Soulages. With his paintings, often created using an incredibly viscous black paint applied with contrasting thicknesses, often over a background that featured warm, glowing colours that appear almost backlit, and all the more so because of their contrast with the oily black brushstrokes that tend to dominate the composition. The paints in Soulages’ dark pictures are sometimes opaque and sometimes glistening: he has managed to use a deliberately restrictive palette – sometimes consisting of black and little else – to create paintings that nonetheless celebrate both colour and light: their reflective surfaces become additional arenas for an opalescent play of light. Henderson’s brushstrokes allow the artist to involve colour in a similar process, sometimes pushing their own iridescence to the fore and sometimes serving as a foil to the surface. At the same time, Henderson’s works take to a new level the inner glow that derives from the colours in the background of Soulages’ earlier pictures.

The intellectual processes at play in the creation of Henderson’s works echo those of the great so-called Neo-Dada painter, Jasper Johns, who often began with deliberately arbitrary materials which he then used to dictate the final form of the painting-object. This was especially evident in his Catenary works, which reconfigured the basic building blocks of painting such as the wood of the support, paint, canvas and even the string hanging at the back, bringing the working tools of the genre to the viewer’s attention. Johns has explained of canvas, motif and other such elements: ‘I think it’s just a way of beginning’.[2] This can be seen taken to a new extreme in Henderson’s tic-tac-toe responses to the initial aluminium corner that gradually evolves into his work. They become elegant and inevitable solutions, echoing Johns’ own views:

‘I think one has to work with everything and accept the kind of statement which results as unavoidable, or as a helpless situation. I think that most art which begins to make a statement fails to make a statement because the methods used are too schematic or too artificial. I think that one wants from painting a sense of life. The final suggestion, the final statement, has to be not a deliberate statement but a helpless statement’[3].

It is this ‘sense of life’ and in particular the sense of life of the artwork itself that is embodied in Henderson’s glowing objects. As with so many of Johns’ paintings, their crisp geometry invokes a language of logic yet belies the emotional substrata that pulse beneath – or rather throughout – the surface. In this sense, it comes as less of a surprise to discover that the corners were themselves inspired by the Canadian photographer Robert Polidori’s images of the Palace of Versailles. Rather than focussing on grandiose landscape and interior shots of the palace and its grounds, Polidori’s tangential glimpses of that Baroque masterpiece show the cracks in walls where doors are hidden, the rectangular patches in walls where pictures have been removed, the right-angles of antique lock casings. Often underpinned by a structure of angularity that contrasts vividly with the swirling baroque elements, Polidori’s images were one of the points of departure for Henderson, in particular because each picture clearly comprised a fragment of a greater, unillustrated whole. Those patches of wall at Versailles, those lock casings, those doorways all imply, through the presentation of a mere fraction, a greater entirety. It is this sense of the fragmentary illustration of an implied yet invisible entity that Henderson explores in his works: sensuous brushstrokes which appear as striking traces of human activity on their rigid, angled supports suddenly reach a seemingly unexpected end, picture surfaces come to abrupt yet deliberate halts. These truncations are a form of feint: Henderson’s works appear as seemingly geometric sections of some larger, unspecified system, as though they were visions, fleeting mirage-like clues emanating from some underlying, unseen structure. These shards of crisp colour, highlighted with the gestural yet controlled brushstrokes that are such a vivid proof of life, thus emerge as glancing elements of a vaster, more universal tableau.

[1] E. Crispolti, `Spatialism and Informel. The Fifties’, pp. 144-150 in Crispolti & R. Siligato (ed.), Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., Milan, 1998, p. 146

[2] Johns, quoted in D. Sylvester, Interviews with American Artists, London, 2002, p. 159

[3] Johns, quoted in D. Sylvester, About Modern Art, London, 1997, p. 465

Edging Minimalism: Tom Henderson

‘Well, I am not interested in the kind of expression that you have when you paint a painting with brush strokes. It’s all right, but it’s already done and I want to do something new.’[1]

-Donald Judd

At present in the realm of contemporary art, a greater issue exists than the pursuit of a neatly packaged definition for Minimalism; that is, now that it has proliferated so thoroughly into (specifically) Western popular culture beyond visual art, who carries it forward? How is this achieved? ‘The term itself,’ says Edward Strickland, ‘now common currency…was largely unheard of outside of art and avant-garde music circles until the eighties.’[2]

Strickland observes that in the present day, the appearance of Minimalism as a genre ‘has, in fact, become part of the lingua franca, as mass culture has embraced…the repetition of ‘broken-record music’ to the bald simplicity of monochrome canvases and monolith sculptures.’[3] Whether it filters through conventional forms of visual arts (painting, sculpture, installation, film, etc.), philosophy or a branded lifestyle, forming a new path for Minimalism has become increasingly problematic. There is a discernable danger for emerging artists to have their practice swept up in the dust of imitative mainstream merchandise; to be easily disintegrated as an interior designer’s tools. At its roots, Minimalism in visual art illuminated a series of shifts from the gestural activity of Expressionism to the pulsating subtext beneath smooth, factory-grade, seemingly machine-made planes. Geometric (primarily right-angled) figures, monochromes, and flat surfaces are historic markers, but what comes next in the development of Minimalism? English artist Tom Henderson seeks out new possibilities in Minimalism, manifested in his latest series Corners.

Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo is considered one of the earliest patrons of the Minimalist movement, collecting works from Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Robert Morris and Carl Andre as examples. Panza and the founders of the Dia Foundation generalized the Minimalist objective as ‘the research of truth through simple forms’, which graduated into a spiritual, almost metaphysical fascination.[4] The extension of these forms into epic-scale works further perpetuated the search for spiritual undertones in the movement, visible in the practices of Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko and Richard Serra. Yet, as these works and their creators have been solidified in the academic and public consciousness, it becomes a greater challenge to recognize artists who genuinely return to the origins of reductive art.

Educated at Eton College and the University of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Tom Henderson progressed from a study of ceramics under influential British potter Gordon Baldwin towards sculpture, graduating with a BFA in 1998. Henderson cites the origin of his professional practice with his Audio Painting series, using the three-dimensional installation as a platform to visually translate the mysteries of sound. ‘Minimalist painters often use the stripe to explore spatial relationships on a two-dimensional plane,’ Henderson states, ‘but my works are in fact sculptures that require physical interaction.’ This sensibility threads through works produced over a period of three years, leading into the series of Plane Space, Interiors, and Installations. Over a period of three years, Henderson has consolidated the exploration of three-dimensional space into a single visual object, focusing on the seldom-noticed anomalies of the Minimalist space.

Henderson explores the idea of pure, reduced surfaces and color as having unfinished or unpolished edges. Containing and constraining the geometric form is no longer the endgame; the possibility of infinite planes and alternate borders comes to light with the visible brush strokes and asymmetrical constructions in Henderson’s practice. Black/White – Lower Left (2010) holds five visible sectors of color: two white and one solid black areas, and two thin aluminum reliefs in red and plain brushed aluminum. Its construction allows the viewer to explore multiple reactions of natural light and color beneath the Perspex bonding, while still maintaining a smooth, uninterrupted façade. The experience of observing Henderson’s work is not a spiritual outing, as would be expected in a work of Newman nor is it the arrival at the ultimate expression of the simplified form. His practice falls somewhere in between, exciting the mystic and mathematician alike. As a coherent Minimalist expression, Corners physically and metaphorically thrusts the frame forward. While the appearance of the aluminum border resembles a traditional frame, it protrudes into three-dimensional space. The ‘hanging’ frame is replaced with a constructive, integral element to the work itself. Traditional experiences of viewing wall-based art are altered from ‘wall-painting-frame’ into ‘wall-becomes-painting-becomes-frame.’ Henderson’s focus is set upon the symbiosis between the wall and the construction (the metal and paint) rather than the three-dimensional object, alone. The idea of the absolute rendered through visual art is ever-so-slightly prodded with the appearance of raw brushwork laid onto hand-wrought glass and steel.

Perhaps a look into the future of Minimalism in the present day is not, as Judd would suggest, driven by a continual rejection of Expressionism but a gentle acknowledgement of its values in highlighting the understated power of the reductive artwork.

Shana Beth Mason, M.A.

Christie’s Education London (University of Glasgow)

August 2010

[1] Judd, Donald. Oral history interview, conducted by Bruce Hooton, 3 February 1965, Archives of American Art: The Smithsonian Institution

[2] Strickland, Edward. Minimalism: Origins. Indiana University Press, Bloomington,1993. pp. 2

[3] Strickland, pp. 2

[4] Chave, Anna C. ‘Revaluing Minimalism: Patronage, Aura, and Place’, The Art Bulletin. Vol, 90, No. 3, 2008. pp. 466

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