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New to the Collection: Bill Henson

Bill Henson’s images:
‘…have the beauty of Old Master paintings or antique statuary, but depict beings of flesh and blood. …They touch parts of the psyche we might prefer to avoid, stripping away the social self, leaving us as defenceless as a snail without its shell. There is a degree of eros here, but also a large helping of melancholy.’1 — John McDonald, art critic

About Bill Henson’s work
With a career spanning forty years, Bill Henson is one of Australia’s leading contemporary artists and best-known photographers.2 Born in Melbourne in 1955, he had his first solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1975 when he was only 19. Since then, he has held over 80 solo exhibitions within Australia and overseas.

In 2005 Henson was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of New South Wales. His work is held by the National Gallery of Australia, all major state galleries, and regional, tertiary and corporate galleries throughout Australia and in significant overseas collections, including the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York; Los Angeles County Museum, Los Angeles; Denver Art Museum, Denver; Bibliotheque Nationale de Paris, Paris; and Tate Collection, London.

Bill Henson’s evocative work is distinguished by his mastery over the effects of light. By underexposing his film and implementing tight control over the printing process, he creates starkly contrasting areas of darkness and light. The painterly quality that this imparts has been compared to the dramatic chiaroscuro of paintings by Old Masters such as Italian Baroque painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610). Henson is fascinated by the ambiguity that transitions of light bring to his photographs and he uses them to, in his own words, ‘make what is depicted less certain. By details disappearing into shadows, forms dissolving into darkness, you open up the space in a picture for the imagination.’3

About the work acquired
Untitled 84/109 1985–1986 belongs to a series of photographs that juxtaposed views of Melbourne suburbia – neon signs, brooding teenagers and portentous clouds – with images of softly glowing Egyptian ruins. The images were first exhibited at Realities Gallery, Melbourne and have since been shown in London, Paris, and most recently at Tolarno Galleries in 2013.

In Untitled 84/109 Henson’s dusk-lit street shifts between the ordinary and the sublime. For example, his handling of light casts a soft blue glow over the deserted clipped lawns, parked cars and the washing hanging on a line in the foreground of the image, removing it from the everyday. Henson directs the viewer’s gaze along the curved road that sweeps elegantly across the field of view, guiding their eye toward the strip of sky and bushland at the top of the photograph. In this photograph, Henson has transformed a commonplace suburban scene in a view that assumes the stillness and poignancy associated with ancient monuments. The prosaic scene becomes a ‘landscape of the collective dreams and daydreams of the people who live [there].’4

Bill Henson’s Untitled 84/109 is included in the exhibition Hung out to dry: Space, memory and domestic laundry practices at the UQ Art Museum, from 18 April until 10 May.

Adapted from text by Emily Poore and Vivien Thompson, Curatorial Assistants.

1. John McDonald, (quoted in) ‘Tolarno Galleries,’ Paris Photo Exhibitors, http://www.parisphoto.com/paris/exhibitors/tolarno-galleries#j6O8WULsOtgTgYcv.99.
2 “Bill Henson,” Tolarno Galleries, http://www.tolarnogalleries.com/artists/bill-henson/tolarno-galleries-bill-henson-2011/.
3 Max Olijnyk, “Bill Henson: The In-Betweener,” Broadsheet, http://www.broadsheet.com.au/melbourne/art-and-design/article/bill-henson-betweener-1985-86.
4 Andrew Stephens, “Henson reframes the past,” Sydney Morning Herald, Entertainment, 23 November 2013, http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/henson-reframes-the-past-20131121-2xwx8.html#ixzz3O6zjKheZ.

Bill Henson  Untitled 84/109 1985/1986 archival inkjet pigment print, edition 4/20, 128 x 100 cm Collection of The University of Queensland, purchased 2015. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne.

Bill Henson
Untitled 84/109 1985/1986
archival inkjet pigment print, edition 4/20,
128 x 100 cm
Collection of The University of Queensland, purchased 2015.
Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne.

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