Henry continues to grow as an artist
By Tony Russo
BERLIN — There has been kind of an inside joke, of which artist Patrick Henry is as much a part as the subject of, regarding the color red. As the story goes, he had to break out a deep, vibrant red for a reproduction he painted a few years ago and never put it back.
Henry had been known for his subdued style, using mainly demure tones to focus on the light his subjects emitted and reflected. The result tended to be work in which the real subject was the ether between the viewer and represented scene. Once he opened that tube of red paint, things began changing quickly, beginning with his studio and following all the way through one of his most productive years of painting in nearly a decade.
The last burst was the GlenRiddle retrospective where Henry was commissioned to provide paintings of the Riddle Farm from its pre-subdivision days. To complete that work he hired help to run the Henry Art Center so he might better and more effectively focus exclusively on painting. He has been almost as much a gallery owner as a painter, a two-hatted job that he has since discovered has its fair share of downsides.
Artists have business concerns to be sure, just as business people have aesthetic concerns to consider. But trying to do both, Henry said, became dulling. As the town’s premier artist-businessman Henry was kind of a liaison between the art and business world; dealing with his part in the town’s growing status as an art destination as both a gallery owner and member of the Main Street group on one hand and trying to produce the caliber of art that was expected of him on another.
While he certainly worked a little slower after GlenRiddle Henry was still able to produce not only significant work but the kind of work that allowed him to cross some important items off his professional bucket list.
In 2009 he had a major show at a metropolitan gallery, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture in Baltimore, the success of which prompted the museum to purchase a piece for their permanent collection. Inclusion in a museum’s permanent collection during one’s lifetime is one of the highest achievements to which an artist can aspire. Cultivating the respect of one’s peers is another and having secured both is one of the great gratifications in Henry’s professional life.
In retrospect, it isn’t much of a coincidence that Henry produced the show “Into the Light” between closing the Henry Art Center and opening the downtown Henry Art Gallery, which moved from Main Street to Bay Street last year.
Running a gallery also has a major upside for an artist, where the normal gallery commission doesn’t apply. But as Henry or any other artist who has run their own gallery can attest, there is a reason galleries get a commission: they deal with the often tedious business of running an art gallery.
Henry’s last major show at his Bay Street gallery featured huge paintings of classic cars as well as what appears to be the last gasp of his rural scenes. Most notable from this period is a painting of three men sitting on a bench before a red barn. A very red barn.
The explosion of color that continued through the car show is present but muted in Henry’s newest show “Amusement” opening Saturday at the Globe. It represents what might possibly be the most significant turn in style and focus the artist has yet produced. The voice is so new and fresh that it is the first he’s produced that is subtly rather than overtly a Patrick Henry work.
The paintings center on the Ocean City Boardwalk but through a different lens than Henry has used before. The impetus was the same, he wanted to paint the Boardwalk of his youth, as he’s already painted the Eastern Shore of his youth, but the outcome couldn’t be more radically different.
After dabbling in vibrant color, he’s put the brakes on a bit but has retained the sensory assault he achieved with splashes of color by finessing his subjects’ form. The result is a collection of amusement park rides and scenes that get directly at the experience, which is a collection of visuals that borders on the unsettling.
In the collective conscientious the carousel is a children’s ride in the same way a clown is a children’s entertainer. The collective subconscious, however, is another matter.
Henry’s take on the carrousel horses is where realism meets impressionism in a way that is more dramatic than nostalgic. Similarly with other boardwalk icons in the show. One of the points of the work is that these could be from any boardwalk on the planet, and the attraction of amusement parks is stripped down to the latent fear that makes them attractive.
It is in this second layer of the amusement park experience as well as the second layer of the definition “amusement” from which the show gets both its heart and title. On the face of it, the show, like the boardwalk experience, is a mostly harmless diversion good for a bit of a thrill if you have time on your hands.
Looking deeper, though, there is a statement in and about both that touches on mortality and absurdity in a way that makes the kind of bold statements that gallons of red paint never could.