Text and Articles about Natasha Henderson's work
Fabrications – Figurative Work. Tony Martin (curator), Comox Valley Art Gallery. 2000. (Solo exhibition “Fabrications” exhibition essay.)
Natasha Henderson’s adroit content and painting technique reminds me of England’s current painting phenomena, Jenny Saville, who in her twenties was given a solo show at the Saatchi Gallery and was included in the notorious Sensations show which I was fortunate enough to view in Berlin. Painting like Natasha’s and Jenny’s are pretty rare these days, most artists are concentrating on conceptual work and harnessing new technology.
For me, as a curator, programme organiser in a provincial public gallery, I do seek out to include local artists who compare favorably with the highest standards. It is not enough to please the general public by being capable of painting figuratively, this does nothing for critics and curators; these controllers of the art world are always seeking something new. Natasha paints prosaic curtains almost shutting out the view through a window. What’s so interesting about that? The interest for me lies in two things: the curtains evoke memories of stifling living rooms of my youth that held the pretensions of Louis XIV furnishings, and the desire to rip them open for light, and to see the view. She is laughing at the viewer too, because she knows most people will look at her work and wonder why.
The Fiction of Landscape. Donna Mattila, Comox Valley Art Gallery (Gallery Committee). 2002. (Three-person exhibition “The Fiction of Landscape” exhibition essay, also printed in January 2002 issue of “The Comox Valley Word” magazine.)
When one mentions ‘landscape painter’, an iconic image comes to mind of an artist in the country before an easel painting a scene. This image, a relic of an earlier time, no longer applies to many painters who work with landscape imagery including the three artists, Pauline Conley, Natasha Henderson, and Tracy Kobus, whose work I will address here. All three artists paint in the same studio, and each approaches ‘landscape painting’ in a quite different manner. Their new work will be exhibited in the Comox Valley Art Gallery from January 12th to February 23rd, 2002.
Landscape painting is the product of an artist’s response to the external world and Canadian art has followed the history of Western art. However, Canadian artists first painted landscape to try to create a national art of a landscape of wilderness and vast spaces. The Group of Seven in 1919 wrote, “The great purpose of landscape art is to make us a home in our own country”. The international style of abstract expressionism was the decline of nationalistic concerns in landscape painting but seeking ‘home’ has continued to be a part of this genre.
Contemporary artists have used landscape as the visual structure for abstract painting thus reducing nature to its simplest forms. Landscape becomes a visual statement of form, colour, texture, and signs, to provide content and imagery. Regarding signs, Canadian art writer Gary Michael Dault stated, “Man has always been his own abstraction. Alive and conscious, we move as perambulating verticals, living at right angles to what must always be, for us, the horizontal face of earth.”
Painting has at least four voices; lyrical as in the brushstrokes, analytical in the direction and kind of abstraction, childlike as simplistic, and philosophical as to concept and meaning. American art critic and writer, Arthur Danto said, “The eye is part of the mind and what we see depends on what we feel and how we believe”. Each of these artists exposes her own beliefs in her paintings and the ways in which they are conceived.
In Pauline Conley’s abstracted landscapes, she paints a landscape that appears to be real but exists nowhere. She writes that her painting is about memory, nostalgia, and “the horizon as a symbol for the friction point between opposing forces”. Her landscapes are based on appropriated images, fragments of photographs, and her own language of colour and form extrapolated from her academic studies and personal experience. As well, Conley has been influenced by the Norwegian painter, Odd Nerdrum. She takes all of this information and puts it in order to produce paintings of melancholic, beautiful places that do not exist in reality, thus the fictional landscape. Conley further states, “While landscape conjures up the idea of beauty (Rushkin), there is and austerity and sinister quality to it”. For example, in her work there is a repeated image of a road or waterway leading one’s eye into the paintings but it is a path to nowhere. This and other images lend poignancy to this work which is about seeking a home and the nostalgic longing for a place that doesn’t exist.
Conley’s use of landscape as imagery stems from an historical genre, and her work continues that tradition by her use of oil paint on canvas, and heavy frames. The final paintings, however, become contemporary as they address concerns of appropriation, and deal with concepts that are particular to the time in which we live. All painting is a kind of abstraction and Conley’s work is simultaneously abstract, surreal, and expressionistic and, on a superficial level, can be viewed as ‘nice pictures’ which indeed they are.
Natasha Henderson is a student of the School of Rembrandt with contemporary influence from the painting of Edward Hopper and Eric Fischl. Her imagery originates from domestic interiors, she uses paint layered on coat after coat, and she contrasts very worked parts of the painting with more abstracted areas. Henderson states, “There are literally hundreds of layers of oil in every painting I create. Over time the work will go through many transformations of look and meaning”. Henderson also uses dramatic contrasts of light and dark, and exhibits her painterly skills by using drapery with complicated patterns and forms. The drapery is a nod to history and a contrast to the contemporary plastic toys that appear elsewhere in some of her paintings. She also shows a sense of humour and irony in her corner paintings of drapery. These are shaped canvasses that stretch across a corner of a room thus turning this hard corner into a soft fabric laden space.
Henderson says that she works without specific concepts but the work speaks of comfortable domestic scenes imbued with foreboding. In her self portrait, Henderson paints an arm and hand that is attached to a body that exists outside of the frame of the painting. In one sense, it is an obvious reference to the person as a ‘painter’ but this image seems loaded with a kind of fear. Domestic scenes also suggest comfort, and the colours, patterns, and paintings of domestic animals show Henderson’s longing for home.
Tracy Kobus uses landscape as a vehicle to express her environmental concerns, and the resulting psychological effects of, in her words, “the estranged relationship we have to our land”. In some of the work, the land is disintegrating and falling apart. In other work, images from contemporary life such as film appear as a contrast to the natural world. But this is not a comfortable world; it is a place that reflects a troubled time. The colours, imagery, and almost violent style of painting in this work express Kobus’ fears for the earth and the future, which she writes, “has always seemed to be the place of endless imagined possibilities, [that] now carries with it a foreshadowing of doom as repercussions of our disposable society and western standard of living in the daily news”.
Kobus has in the past worked as a tree planter and has seen a ruined landscape first hand. She also has local concerns such as “the publicly opposed building of Walmart, (and) clearcutting in the backyard of historic Cumberland by foreign landowners” and this comes out in her painting. She too longs for a home that no longer exists as the Comox Valley is continually changing. Kobus’ painting shows influences from close to home, that of Jack Shadbolt’s work in the 1980s. Kobus has taken this further by introducing the elements of an endangered environment and the threatened future.
Inspired work on tap in Wells. Nicole Koshel, Quesnel Cariboo Observer. Sunday July 18, 2004.
Island Mountain Arts in Wells is pleased to announce visual artist Natasha Henderson from Comox, B.C. will be exhibiting oil paintings at the IMA Public Gallery, at 2323 Pooley Street.
An opening reception will be held at the Gallery on July 17 at 7 pm. Henderson will be present to speak about her work.
Since her serious focus on painting began at age 13, Henderson has developed into a fascinating visual artist exhibiting her work all over British Columbia, with a show coming in February of 2005 in Hamilton, Ontario.
Before she earned a bachelor of fine arts in 1998, from Emily Carr Institute of Art & Design, Henderson was already exhibiting her work in group shows at galleries on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland. Working with oil paint on canvas or wood, her paintings are dynamic and encourage you to examine your surroundings by developing new perspectives on how you view the world around you.
Her personal favorite of the pieces being exhibited at IMA in July is the painting Invention.
When she spoke about this piece, the passion she holds towards her art is evident in every word.
“I just felt that it was something of a breakthrough, in that I really was looking at the message that I crafted in the space,” Henderson said.
Invention is only one of the many inspired paintings that will be on display at the IMA Public Gallery.
To see Natasha Henderson’s work and hear her speak more about her paintings, plan to attend the IMA Public Gallery Saturday, July 17, 2004 for the opening reception of Fabricated Views. The show will run until Aug. 11 at the IMA Public Gallery and admission is by donation.
Fictional Landscapes. Susan Detwiler, catalogue essay for solo exhibition “Fictional Landscapes” at Hamilton Artists Inc. February 2005.
Typically we view the world through a relatively narrow lens that is shaped by our personal and cultural beliefs. It’s a coping mechanism that allows us to function without a great deal of awareness and permits us with some measure of certainty to predict and understand the events and circumstances that occur around us. Some cultures use hallucinogenic drugs to aid in reaching an altered state. Others have stumbled upon it as a result of sleep deprivation of the practice of fasting. Buddhists practice chanting, adventure seekers place themselves in dangerous situations, even going on vacation can disrupt our daily routine and shift our perception of the world. Painting has long been a forum for expressing alternate views of reality.
Natasha Henderson’s paintings present the viewer with a series of strange contradictions. They seem familiar in that they often read as landscapes, but the spaces they depict are unclear. The boundary between inside and outside doesn’t exist, the one flows through and becomes the other. There is a recurrent use of drapery in many of Henderson’s paintings. Sometimes the drapery forms a landscape, at other times it feels figurative. It reminds me of a childhood memory of seeing the countryside emerge from the crumpled blankets on my bed, where folds became mountains and creases made rivers. The paintings are deliciously decorative. Strings of lights, floral motifs, balloons and origami sculptures float or hover within a field of colour and texture. Overturned goblets and stray cats punctuate the surface, like ghosts roaming a transitory plane. These disparate elements make symbolic references to illumination, mysticism and mortality. Henderson makes connections between things that seem unlikely, yet one begins to intuit or recognize some meaning in it.
Henderson admits to starting her paintings with random brushstrokes, which then help inform the meaning of the completed work. The artist builds on top of these ram=ndom marks, allowing some of them to persist on the final surface of the painting. In this way the work is directed by the unconscious mind and shares an approach similar to that of the Surrealists.
In the painting “In Land” a group of birds flutter in a tiny patch of blue sky, while two crows perched atop a pocket of black, signal danger. The black space frames a constellation of mysterious coloured light, reminiscent of the aurora borealis or beams from an alien spaceship. The locale is uncertain, as form and space seem interchangeable, shifting back and forth between each other. A ferule cat pokes its head out from behind a waterfall of drapery to sniff at a bowl of goldfish, nestled on top of a mound of purple drapery. It’s an unreal space in its orchestration of elements, yet familiar in its component parts. It’s as if Henderson shakes out the contents of her mind so that objects, memories, fragments of dream imagery and bits of experience tumble out and interact. The viewer enters and immediately is absorbed by this strange world. As if they too now roam within the space of the artist’s mind, poking around in the vaults of her subconscious.
Henderson used paint to reveal that which is unseen but perhaps, sensed. It’s like a veil of fabric, which conceals, but in the very act of concealment, reveals something far deeper than the eye can perceive.
Create Your Own Visual Story. Laura Hollick, The View (Hamilton, Ontario newspaper). March 24, 2005.
Here’s a clue… follow the rubber duck up the checkered floor into the river of patterned fabric, then float across to reach the shore of the other side. There you will receive your next clue. Approaching one of Natasha Henderson’s paintings, in her new show at the Hamilton Artists Inc., is like trying to tell a story by solving the mystery of each object. The clues are in the meanings you assign to these images.
It all sounds a bit like a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ book, where you are the master of the story. With this art, you decide where the story will go based on the meanings you place on each object and how you connect and interrelate them to the whole painting. “My work layers metaphors with ideas, and looks to how objects can affect one another,” the artists says.
Fictional Landscapes is the title of the show. It also implies that there is a story to be told through this art. “I prefer to let the images do the talking, I am trying to form and express a visual language,” Henderson explains. The images start talking when you allow yourself to start giving them meaning. It is easy to imagine how many different stories could result, as everyone would put their own meanings on each image.
The narratives will surely vary from person to person; as for Henderson, she concludes that “the whole is larger than the sum of its parts.” A commonality in all her paintings is the reference to the elements. She incorporates an aspect of air, water, earth and fire into each piece. In some cases it is subtle, but in pieces like “Beyond” it is blatant—even divided into multiple panels, as if to suggest each element.
In this multi–panelled oil on canvas painting, “Beyond” naturally reads from left to right, just the way our North American culture would read a book. A bird flying into
the painting in the upper left corner gives us an entry point in the art; it also implies the element air. Travelling through (visually), there is a chance to pick up each object along the way, gathering clues, to formulate the meaning of your own story. There is a representation of water, earth and fire distributed within the piece. Viewers may think they are choosing where the story is going, but the artist has carefully crafted perspective lines, and eye–path directional lines, to guide you and guarantee you pick up all the necessary hints to be able to piece together your own version of the story. The painting ends on the right side with a bird again, only this time in the dark. “Sometimes I will put objects in the shadows, or create a shadowy space to suggest the unknown,”
The identifiable images, such as the birds or rubber ducks, falsely lead you to believe there is a reality happening within these works, but they are surreally placed, giving them an abstract zip. It is the placement and organization of these images that can lead to confusion or greater creativity within your own interpretations. “I combine structure, pattern, and organization with the unknown and abstraction, chaos. It is a method of making sense in this world,” the artist explains.
Natasha Henderson flew in from Comox Valley, on Vancouver Island in British Columbia to be the first artist showing in the Hamilton Artists Inc.’s new location at the
corner of James St. and Colbourne St. She was educated at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in BC, graduating with a diploma in 1997, she finished off her Bachelor’s Degree in 1998. She’s been painting since then, but this is the furthest in Canada she has travelled. In a way, embarking on the production of this show is her own adventure.
“It may seem comfortable and put– together and happy, but there is chaos and tension present amongst and underneath the bright surface elements,” Henderson says. These images are like mysteries that call to be solved. Stories are embedded in the layers on
meanings, it is your adventure to travel through each image and choose your story. This show is about solving the art, and creating your own visual story.
Natasha Henderson at Muir Gallery. Paula Wild, Comox Valley Record. September 9, 2005.
“Elements of Landscape,” a show of new paintings by Natasha Henderson, is currently on display at the Muir Gallery.
As one of the most intriguing artists in the Comox Valley, Henderson’s show continues to stretch the imagination of both artist and viewer. “Elements of Landscape” is a mix of Henderson’s trademark large works (3.5’ by 5.5’) mixed with some smaller paintings measuring a scant seven by 11 inches.
Henderson likes to take everyday objects and place them together in unusual settings. There is lots of deep, rich colour and flowing shapes to get lost in. Some of the objects in the paintings are recognizable; others invite the imagination to take over. There are many elements to Henderson’s landscape. Fire and flames are a recurring symbol as are goblets, toy cars and cascades of folded fabric.
Two of my favorites differ from previous works by Henderson that I’ve seen. “Communication,” a large oil on canvas, is pure colour loosely presented as landscape. You can almost feel the cerebral activity right down to the ambiguous drips near the bottom.
I was also strongly drawn to “Vanishing Point,” a medium sized oil on canvas. Here deep red and black tones draw in towards a glowing brightness in the centre. The tension between light and dark is presented in a very positive, inspiring way. To me, a vanishing point signifies an end or disappearance, but the feeling I got from this painting was of an important beginning.
But the most fun and interactive painting is “Various Nests.” This, another large work, features abstract groupings of birds, nests, toy cars, eggs and flowers all cleverly blended into a whole. Take some time to play with this painting – get up close, view it from afar or take a quick glimpse over your shoulder – I guarantee you’ll see something new every time.
The small paintings in this display are stand-alone snapshot images of common scenes that can also be viewed as a cohesive whole. Henderson’s still lifes bring a fresh perspective to items we often take for granted.
“Elements of Landscape” continues at the Muir gallery until Sept.24. The gallery is located at 440 Anderton Ave., near the Fifth Street Bridge, and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.