Jeffrey Thomas is pleased to organize and produce Practiced Exuberance: Mary Henry with curator Senseny Stokes in the open and expansive Archer Gallery At Clark College in Vancouver Washington (just across the Interstate Bridge on I-5). Clark College is closed for the holiday break, but this important exhibition will re-open January 10 and run through February 11, 2017.
Practiced Exuberance: Mary Henry is a mini-retrospective of sorts, showcasing both Henry’s earliest works in the mid-60s and the last paintings she completed in 2003, the Language Series which are being seen here for the first time. This quartet sits opposite an On/Off pair of paintings from early 1968, which have lost none of their visual impact.
Born in 1913, Mary Henry attended the California College of Arts and Crafts at a time few women were sincerely accepted by the public and the art world as artists. Then, in the late '30s, Henry experienced a life-altering moment whose full effect wouldn't command her life for another 25 years or so: a lecture by the constructivist pioneer and Bauhaus champion Laszlo Moholy-Nagy.
Henry was gripped by Bauhaus' formal ideas and Moholy-Nagy's fascination with pure expressiveness through line and color. Those ideas brewed and steeped in Henry's imagination as she lived a life of domesticity: married with children. Henry even left her family for a time to study with Moholy-Nagy in Chicago in the '40s, but it wasn't until 1964, the year she got divorced and became a working artist, that Henry would truly pursue her ambitions.
Thus initiated, her journey began to perfect a spare yet expressive visual language out of geometric shapes and bold graphic colors. Henry emerges as a second-generation geometric abstractionist and one of its most supple champions; she located spiritual essences in her work and elicited the highest passion.
Through the years, Henry has garnered praise -- and a review in Artforum magazine -- and while she had exhibits in San Francisco and in many different contemporary art galleries over the years, Henry has remained a kind of cult regional figure that the art world is just learning about.
This is powerful and engaging work by an artist who was both overlooked and under-appreciated in her lifetime but whose work is now being championed by curators and collectors around the country. Several important museums in the Northwest, including Seattle, Tacoma, the Whatcom Museum and the Portland Art Museum have excellent examples of her paintings and drawings.
Visitors who visit the exhibition have an opportunity to discover the real emotional impact from the experience of standing in the presence of such vibrant abstract work, taking in four decades of Henry's paintings and drawings. In looking back at her reclusive lifestyle, rigorous studio practice and unwavering confidence in her vision of abstract form and color elevates Mary Henry into a class with Agnes Martin, John McLaughlin, Jo Baer and Carmen Herrera.
Make the effort to engage this work a short drive away and you will see.