Name: Jack Henry
Studio Location: Brooklyn, NY
Please give a brief bio. (Where are you from? How did you start? Is your background in art?)
Although born in Mississippi, I grew up in Vero Beach, Florida and Flint, Michigan. My father is an art museum director and my mother is an interior designer so I was introduced to art from an early age. Visiting art museums, galleries and artist’s studios was a regular occurrence. I received my BFA from Florida Atlantic University and an MFA from the University of Maryland. I now live and work in Brooklyn, NY.
What continues to inspire you and keep you motivated in the studio?
I moved from Vero Beach to Flint when I was eleven years old. There was an obvious contrast between the landscapes of these two places. As a teenager, the aesthetic of post industrial, mid-Michigan had a strong influence on me and continues to influence my work today. The history shown on the worn surfaces of abandoned buildings in Flint carries a nostalgia and solemnity that comes with disaffection, yet these structures only developed more character with age. Through my interest in these types of structures I came across the Japanese aesthetic called ‘wabi-sabi’, which roughly translates to the sublime beauty of an object in it’s natural state of decay. It originated as a way to describe an object that has become better with wear, like a wooden spoon that fits into the user’s hand perfectly due to erosion from extensive use. These objects have an element of pathos and remind us of our own mortality. I get inspired when an object can evoke such a feeling and take on a new purpose once it has fallen into disrepair. I get excited when I see a chance grouping of discarded objects that looks like a piece of contemporary sculpture, or a tattered billboard that makes a great collage. In my work I use discarded objects as elements for creating a composition and I try to replicate the feeling I get when I find these curiosities.
How do you work physically?
I start with my sketchbook and photographs. I gather reference material and sketch until something sticks. Once I have an idea for a project, I start the extensive search for objects. Most of these things I find on the sidewalk within several square blocks of my studio. For most other things I go to second hand and 99 cent stores. I choose the objects based solely on their aesthetic; size, shape and color, and I try to stay away from things that carry a heavy-handed association of any kind. Once I have my materials I begin to build molds, pour resin, adhere objects together or collage images. This is the most gratifying part of the process: I get to be in my studio and work through a project.
What do you find frustrating/ enjoy about your process?
The most exciting and frustrating aspect of my process is the element of chance. The search for objects doesn’t always yield good results. And for my most recent castings, I pour resin layer by layer into a wooden mold, so I can’t see the results until the piece breaks from the mold.Usually my favorite details of a piece are the ones I didn’t plan for, but, I do get anxious that before each piece is taken out of the mold as I only have an estimate and plan for what it might look like.
The drawings also involve an element of chance. I take found images printed on cardboard and attempt to make a photo transfer. The transfer is always irregular and a lot of the cardboard gets pulled up as well. This leaves a mess of cardboard and pigment on the page. With pen and ink I draw into those elements to make a cohesive composition on the page. Unfortunately, some of the transfers are not successful and I ruin the paper.
How has your practice evolved over the years?
As my work has developed I have integrated more techniques and materials. I started by making sculpture only using found objects, binding them together with other found material. I would go to empty lots and take all of the objects laying around and assemble them into a sculpture on site, photograph them, and leave them to fall apart. Since then I began to incorporate resin, hand-building, and welding techniques. The new techniques have allowed for more experimentation and the freedom to convey an idea.
My drawings have become more involved as well, they started as graphite on paper realistic studies and now involve pen and ink, photo-transfer, and decollage. Plus, my MFA really gave me the opportunity to experiment and my work grew a lot during that time. I was able to try out a lot of different techniques and work through new concepts in an environment where I received a lot of feedback which was cool. My move to New York put me in an environment that brings to mind the same kind of aesthetic interests I had in Flint and my work has gotten in touch with those concepts again.
What is your medium/ media of choice? Why?
I use resin, plaster and cement to bind the elements together and create the shapes and layers that I want. Resin is versatile and easy-to-use requiring just a simple mixture, it can be pigmented any color and requires little time to dry. It is also very durable and can be placed outside. For my drawings I enjoy using pen and ink because of the rich blacks and fine variance of line they can achieve.
Who/ what motivates and influences your work and why?
I am a big fan of Richard Hughes and Rudolf Stingel because they both have a knack for creating objects that look as though they have been found but have an element of wonder to them. Edward Burtynsky’s photographs affect me in a similar way. I also really admire Isa Genzken and the great sensibility she has for materials.
What was the last show you saw that knocked your socks off?
The Sterling Ruby/Lucio Fontana show at Andrea Rosen Gallery in October was really good. I especially like the sculptures of Sterling Ruby, the aesthetic is one that I am after but his forms are so much more ambiguous that I am left thinking about them for a while, trying to figure them out. It’s good when a show has you thinking about it months after.
How do you think/ want people to respond to your work?
I want to give the viewer something to spend time with and explore. There are small details throughout my work that are revealed as you continue to look, and i hope that is what makes my work compelling to the viewer. I hope the sculptures give the viewer a nostalgia for the America of the working class and that the seascape drawings give a sense of contemporary romanticism. And I hope it makes the viewer consider how our landscape is changing due to human intervention.
Any advice to other artists? What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
I was stressed out in grad school once and my Dad said, “It’s an artist’s job to just make work. Don’t spend too much time worrying about the other stuff. Just make work.” It calmed me down.