As April Kingsley said in The Village Voice, "Henry-watching is always a fascinating activity." And Henry himself has said, while acknowledging that he knows a consistent, signature style is good for the business of art, "I hate to repeat myself." Thus, every season brings a new Henry adventure. Henry's continuity is not of form or format, "but of the feelings generated by the rotating paintings, the will to imbalance, the 'hypnogeic' state, the feeling of a shifting world, the loss of firm footing, as well as the joy of change itself." Within each series, details alter slightly from scene to scene, suggesting a linked narrative, time passing. He moves from one medium to another, one idea to another.
Previous allegorical series have explored privacy and public place, belonging, the relationship between artist and audience, the contradictions and confusions of modern, urban life, feeling in response to that experience. Several of the new paintings are a variation on games, especially playing with danger, as metaphor for life experience. In last year's wonderful "Snap the Whip," Henry presented the reality of the outside person, the last in line, who has to go very fast to keep up. Now the grown-up men are "Chicken-Fighting", the top figure, the fighter, rides into battle on the shoulders of his partner. In "Lunatics", men tumble and jump in the open air, somersault, stand on their heads. But one still needs the help of a fellow to stand on his head. And in the distance, a storm is brewing – and thus, the work moves from descriptive to allegorical.
As a figure painter, Henry is most interested in groups of figures in relationship, how they interact. He explores the possibilities through drawing. Every day Henry draws improvisationally. Through these variations, he seeks "to come up with compositions that reverberate." A visual choreographer, he must observe the laws of physics in composing the movement of his figures as he takes them through theme and variation. How much imbalance can be tolerated? "The meaning does not come first; the drawing does. I have a firm belief that these images, which have entered into me and then emerge, almost as if on their own, will in the drawing process, have intrinsic meaning."
Selina in Hospital: Prints and a Book
When Selina Trieff entered Beth Israel Hospital in New York in March 1999, no one could have told Selina and Bob, who had been married for 44 years, what lay ahead. Bob spent many hours drawing as he sat at Selina's bedside during the long ordeal. When he went home at night, he worked on the drawings, adding color directly or by scanning the drawings into his computer and working with them in Photoshop. He created some drawings in the computer, using a stylus. These drawings became images for the book Selina in Hospital, Bob's moving account of Selina's journey to and return from death's doorway. Both the book and the prints are an extraordinary testament to the strength of love and the power of faith, and not least, the grace of art.
Born in Brooklyn in 1933, Henry received his BA at Brooklyn College, studying with Ad Reinhardt and Kurt Seligman. In the early 50's, he spent three years studying with Hans Hofmann in New York and Provincetown. Since then he has been presented in many one-person exhibitions, including Provincetown's original East End Gallery and The Group Gallery, as well as in numerous museums across the country and internationally. He has had many reviews appear in The New York Times, Village Voice, Art News, Soho News and other publications, lectured and taught widely. He has exhibited at Berta Walker Gallery since 1991.
The one-hour documentary about Henry and Trieff:Their Lives in Art: Robert Henry and Selina Trieff (will open in a new window), is the story of the life and work of two painters whose nearly 50 years of married life has been devoted to the making of art.