John Henderson, Galerie Perrotin, Paris, 2016
Notions of authorship and a questioning of the creative process are recurrent themes in Henderson’s art, central tropes that are subtly and enigmatically articulated and rehearsed through works in painting, sculpture, photography and video. Often forming a play of deceptive appearances, these works raise issues related to legibility, resemblance and translation.
A series of metal paintings on display are in fact sculptures of paintings, highly detailed copper reproductions created using a casting method known as electrotyping. These ghostly painting-objects are distillations of the various signs and stages of the painting process—accumulations of standard painterly languages, textures, and indexes (impasto brush strokes, drags and scrapes, the grain of the canvas) compressed into a single reconstituted surface. The source painting is discarded, while the final copper object remains an afterimage. Henderson confronts us with the material properties of the paintings by making them absent and present simultaneously. This mise-en-abyme in the form of a simulacrum reveals the essence and foundations of painting as an illusionistic space, doing so by literally abstracting the painting itself.
“True” oil paintings also feature in the exhibition. Here, Henderson meticulously applies and removes layer upon layer of paint, attenuating the texture in order to achieve a perfectly flat and regular surface. The relationship between the layers becomes confused and indeterminate as the successive passages of mark-making can be seen in ethereal visual effects despite remaining materially invisible. Paired with each painting’s dark bezel-like border, a flattened ambience emerges, a muted self-reflexivity that suggests shared sympathies with the mediated documentation of the copper works on view.
Additionally, a series of photographic prints on display further extends a conversation on the constructed nature of expression. Henderson begins with casually painted-over snapshot photographs, folded and abraded to accentuate a “handled” quality, then scanned and enlarged. The final printed images present their subject idealized, floating ambiguously against a gray backdrop created by a manipulation of the scanner. This fictitious and manicured space of documentation calls into question the fidelity of the original and its reproduction.