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Galerie Perrotin Hong Kong
2017.09.01 Fri - 2017.11.11 Sat
Opening Exhibition
50 Connaught Road Central,
17th Floor,, Hong Kong
+852 3758 2180
Opening Hours
Tuesday to Saturday, 11 am - 7 pm

周二至周六, 上午11时至下午7时
Alice Lung 龙玉

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Perrotin Hong Kong presents solo shows of John Henderson
[Press Release]

Following exhibitions in Hong Kong, New York, and Paris, Perrotin is delighted to present John Henderson’s second solo show in Hong Kong.

John Henderson’s oeuvre has long revolved around the problematic of modernism, abstraction, and the painterly gesture. In this sense, he could possibly be situated in the context of a larger wave of process-based abstraction in recent years, one that is marked by the flatness of the picture plane, a preoccupation with process, and improvised gestures indexing the real. As the critic David Geers has argued, this trend is “in equal parts, a generational fatigue with theory; a growing split between hand-made artistic production and social practice; and a legitimate and thrifty attempt to ‘keep it real’ in the face of an ever- expansive image culture and slick ‘commodity art’.” 1

Yet what marks Henderson apart is his reflexive distance to the painterly, putting the romance of the authorial gesture and the assumption of an unproblematic spectatorship into question. On the one hand, the artist admits the performative element to his work, but on the other, he problematizes it by “translations”, “documentations”, and erasures. Understanding painting as performance is, of course, nothing new. Since the heyday of Abstract Expressionism in the 1950s, when the critic Harold Rosenberg declared that henceforth paintings would be “an arena in which to act…What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event” 2, the performative gesture in painting has been a guarantee of presence. In the present age, this guarantee of presence also firms up the value of painting in face of digital and new media incursions. Henderson’s oeuvre, however, problematizes this performative gesture, frustrating a simple relation of the picture plane to the real, or more specifically, the link between the painterly gesture to the biographical real invoked in much process-based abstraction.

His earlier series of works, for instance, involved what the artist called “translation” or “documentation”—basically an extra layer that stymies a simplistic interpretation of the gesture of the artist’s hand (along with whatever narrative imbued therein). In Casts and Types (where the artist casts sculptures of his original paintings in various metals) and Recasts (a parodic series where such paintings are finished with metallic spray paint), Henderson combines the individualistic expressivity of the brush with the industrial procedures (of the foundry, in some cases)—and thus constitutes a cool-headed, formalist resistance to some of the pitfalls of process-based abstraction. One is also reminded hereof the post-structuralist philosopher Jacques Derrida’s notion of “under erasure” (sousrature). In relation to writing, this is “to write a word, cross it out, and then print both wordand deletion,”3 or yet “the mark of the absence of a presence, and always already absentpresent, of the lack of the origin that is the condition of thought and experience.”4 Thenotion of “under erasure” is the “strategy of using the only available language while notsubscribing to its premises.”5 Henderson’s approach certainly points to a sophisticateddeconstructive double-ness: presence/absence, origin/copy, and so on, which ultimatelyalso opens up questions about the present condition of painting.

The title of the show, “re-er”, is therefore worth elaborating on, with the prefix “re-”indicating the repetition (“re-new”) or a backward motion (“re-trace”), and the suffix “-er”indicating a comparative degree (“flatter”). By putting expressive abstraction “undererasure”, Henderson complicates it, distances himself from it, and thereby places it in play,generating a thoughtful complexity that gestures at possible future paths.

In a way, we can see this in almost literal terms withUntitled Paintings, where Hendersonexpressively and meticulously applies each layer of paint, before removing the paint withtrowels, palette knives, and hard rollers to achieve a flat surface. This additive subtractionrenders a rather haunting, ethereal atmospheric picture plane that alludes to loss, ruination,and memory (one could think of Freud’s wax tablet model of memory); the original mark-making hand cannot be seen and yet the traces are still visible. While this palimpsesticeffect complicates the authorial or painterly presence, the slight bezel on the edges mightalso highlight the constructed nature of the images.

The new series “Reticle (model)” presents paintings on MDF panels with thick whiteimpasto strokes overlaid by blue grids of different scales. While the white background mightfor some viewers be redolent of the works of Robert Ryman, or else suggests a modernist“clean slate” that negates prior values, the artist sees it almost as “models of paintings” thathe performs according to pre-existent templates and languages. Meanwhile, the blue gridsare printed directly onto the painting and—over a caesura—on the “frame” (note that theframe is in fact part of the painting). Certainly, as the critic Rosalind Krauss argued back in1979, the grid is an “emblem of modernity” in art since the early 20th century—one sees thisfrom Malevich and Mondrian to Ellsworth Kelly and Sol Lewitt, among many others—linkingup science and rationality (graphs and maps) all the while declaring the autonomy of therealm of art (turning away from representation and figuration, turning its back on nature).6That the blue grids extend across a break to the edges of the “frame” suggests a“centrifugal” reading of the grid here: the grid extends infinitely outwards, forcing the viewerto reckon with the world beyond the frame. The title “Reticle”—the lines in the eyepiece ofoptical devices—is also illuminating, for it suggests a particular position for the viewer, asthough there were an extra digital layer of the camera interceding between the eyes of theviewer and the painting itself; this reading is also reinforced by the different scales of the grids, alluding to shifting foci of vision (for example, when zooming in or out). Together with a consciousness of the history of painting in the last hundred years, these paintings also evince an awareness of how paintings are viewed—these days, more often than not through the camera of a mobile phone.

In a way, this train of enquiry extends from Henderson’s earlier photographic series Flowers, (where he had photographs painted over, then digitally scanned, and fictively displayed in a simulated space, and then finally printed as photographs of unique copies). Such a complex overlay of painting and photographic processes direct attention on the possible manipulation of images and serve notice to viewers to observe closely and pay attention, all the while aligning the aesthetic with the cognitive and the critical. With Reticle (model), juxtaposing the personally expressive strokes and the rationality of the grid generates a tension between spontaneity and construction, while positioning the modernist emblem of the grid in relation to the digital ushers in questions about the importance and condition of painting in the larger, almost overwhelming expanse of visual culture and digital imagery.

Daniel Szehin Ho