Once in a while, a show comes along that takes you completely by surprise. Such is the case with "light, sound & paint," an exhibition of recent oil paintings by Mike Henderson at b. sakata garo.
|Mike Henderson's abstract paintings are influenced by jazz and the blues. His "Way of Life," an oil on canvas above, in an example of the artist's improvisational skill. |
Henderson, who teaches at the University of California, Davis, is a strong artist whose vigorous abstract paintings, influenced by blues and jazz music, have earned him a solid regional reputation. Most of the works I have seen in the past have been dark, crude, gutsy abstractions with a brooding, even menacing, feeling. I was surprised, then, by the light, luminous delicacy of his most recent work.
Though these large canvases are thickly painted, they have a remarkable luminosity and transparency. For the most part, they are as radiant as a sheer window curtain on a sunny day and as delicate as a fragile teacup.
Made up of slashing rectangles with sharp edges created by the downward sweeps of a broad palette knife, Henderson's patchwork of subtle colors is firmly entrenched in the modernist tradition and hearkens back to works of the 1950s. With their push-pull approach to space and their overall compositions, they could almost be airy, ethereal, delicate-toned Hans Hoffmans.
Works such as "Way of Life" and "Trust," in which a gentle geometry of scraped markings serve as a kind of glue to hold the compositions together, are brilliant examples of improvisation. Henderson, who is an accomplished musician as well as an artist, relies on an intuitive approach to create paintings that result from the process of mark-making rather than on preconceived notions of an image.
Some of the works in the show have a sheer joyful loveliness. "Open the Window" is full of light and fresh air, while "Five Sounds" is a resonant symphony of blues and whites. Occasionally the works suggest references to the natural world. "Whole Steps," with its elegant touches of pale color on white rectangles, suggests an abstracted urban landscape along the lines of Richard Diebenkorn's "Ocean Park" paintings. It has the kind of bleached, burned-out light that definitely belongs to California.
"Tempted" almost suggests an interior with floor, windows and a chair, all limned in dramatic deep blues and blacks.
"Tea Cup" surrounds the image of a simple Japanese cup with a richly textured, multi layered composition in which one has the sense of hidden imagery lurking beneath the surface. In the almost collagelike "Short Stories," lots of small, complex, geometric shapes create a calligraphic pattern that suggests Asian texts.
Even the funkier, blunter works in the show, like the thickly painted "Overture" and the slightly comical "Shaker," convey a sense of delicacy and lightheartedness that makes these new paintings of Henderson a delight to behold.
Melding perfectly with the gallery's background of jazz music and its rustic, Beat-era brick walls, they're kind of like cheerful Beat paintings - if you can imagine such a thing.
Mike Henderson Paintings
WHEN: Noon-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays through Dec. 4
WHERE: b. sakata garo, 923 20th St.
INFORMATION: (916) 447-4276