Bill Henson is one of Australia's leading contemporary artists. His powerful and edgy photographs approach both the painterly and the cinematic, bringing together the formal and classical with the gritty, casual dramas of the everyday. Henson defines and redefines his subjects with a rigour that is inseparable from his technical command. He is a master of the use of light and dark in the tradition of the great European painters. Beautiful, confronting, and unforgettable his images capture a universal essence and enliven our own sense of being.
This landmark exhibition is the first major survey of Bill Henson's work, and has been organised by the Art Gallery of New South Wales. It is the major visual arts event in the 2005 Sydney Festival, and will be on view at the Art Gallery of New South Wales from 8 January to 3 April, before touring to the National Gallery of Victoria from 23 April to 10 July 2005.
"Henson's images are carefully choreographed moments of suspenseful drama, veritable symphonies of decadence and beauty, of squalor and opulence, of mysterious darkness and ominous light, of quiet obsession and subversive ecstasy". Edmund Capon, Director, Art Gallery of New South Wales
Judy Annear, senior curator of photography at the Art Gallery of New South Wales has worked closely with Bill Henson in order to select more than 350 images from more than a dozen series, which explore the major themes of his work from 1974 until now.
Henson's elegant, formal photographs - of battered landscapes and fragile, wispy youths - resemble nothing so much as Flemish still-lifes; rarely has colour photography captured so profoundly the furry texture of night time." The New Yorker 2004
In 1977 and 1979 Henson made two series of small-scale black and white photographs which anticipate many of the elements of his later work. Viewers of these images could identify with and thus dissolve into the faces that looked out at them. Later series - from 1983/84 and 1985/86 - present oppositions, parallels, ambiguities and repetitions. The provocative tensions generated by these images remain unique in recent photographic practice. By the mid 80s, with its play of light and dark, colour and monochrome, subject and location, Hensons art was already mature. He arranged his series in diptychs, triptychs and other specific groupings which suggested the processes of the imagination itself.
Henson's long focus creates contradictory effects: we experience the illusion of proximity even as the image is flattened and abstracted. After his 1985/86 series it was almost inevitable that Henson would begin to cut up his photographs and construct increasingly complex collages which extended his ability to generate strong flat flashes of light in his work.
The Paris Opera Project of 1991 was in fact constructed in the artist's studio. This was the series which seemed to literalise the effect of listening to music, to find formal expression for emotions generated by music, something which may be detected throughout Henson's photography.
Henson's more recent work is located on the fringes of the urban landscape, an environment which combines the rural and the industrial. In these images skies, whether perceived at twilight or in the depths of night, are illuminated by effects both natural and artificial. This edge of the city, mundane and forgotten, becomes romantically charged, populated by occasional figures who linger and dream. Their longing and sense of loss is as potent here as it is in Hensons very earliest images, dating from the 1970s.
lies not so much in the twist he gives to the subject of dis-enfranchised youth but in the almost premodern beauty he conjures from such a familiar and clinically post-postmodern source." Dennis Cooper, Artforum International 2002
"The work might begin with a fleeting impression from first-hand experience or in a piece of music I am always drawn back to, or perhaps in a paragraph of writing I cannot forget - and then it takes its own course. I become like a participant in some larger process I happen to be fascinated by. It seems inevitable that at those times, when one is most involved in the work, one is also most detached. The momentum of things becomes self-sustaining." Bill Henson
Bill Henson - Brief biographical details
Born in Melbourne in 1955, Henson had his first solo exhibition, at the age of 19, at the National Galley of Victoria in 1975. He has since exhibited extensively in Australia and internationally, including at the Biennale of Sydney in 1986 and 2000. He represented Australia at the 1995 Venice Biennale.
Henson's work is held in all major Australian collections including the Art Gallery of NSW, Art Gallery of SA, Art Gallery of WA, National Gallery of Victoria and the National Gallery of Australia.
Among international collections, Henson's work is held in the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Denver Art Museum, the Houston Museum of Fine Art, 21C Museum, Louisville, the Montreal Museum of Fine Art, Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, the DG Bank Collection in Frankfurt, and the Sammlung Volpinum and the Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna.
Touring to the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne 23 April to 10 July 2005
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