(Jan. 25, 2018) A new retrospective exhibition, “Delmarva Visions: The Works of Patrick Henry,” opens this Friday at the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art in Salisbury.
Henry, 65, a Berlin resident, will display primarily oil paintings from throughout his distinguished career.
He reflected on the experience of gathering work for the exhibition, and the notion of retrospectives, during at interview at Henry Fine Arts gallery in Berlin, last Friday.
“It does mean that you have had a pretty extensive journey,” he said. “From the point of view of a museum wanting to do a retrospective, it means that my works have touched a vein – it has such a voice that it has connected with a broad range of people.
“It’s very humbling to know your efforts – which a lot of times are very lonely – are now being identified, recognized and really appreciated on a broad perspective,” Henry added.
The earliest works are from about 1982, when he was just seven years removed from attending college at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
“When I got that degree, it wasn’t about art education – I put those four and a half years in, and I was going to go on to be this professional artist,” he said. “Of course, that was the same time my dad died, that same summer. That kept me here.
“After college, I had to struggle through finding means to make money to finance this passion – this obsession – that I had, which was the higher art,” he added. “I wanted to have my work and have respect among my peers, and to have my work shown in a museum in my lifetime.”
He first opened a studio and gallery in Berlin around 1987, renting a space upstairs at the corner of Jefferson and Main streets.
“It was called Main Street Studio and I had the first holiday presentation [in the town] on the day after Thanksgiving, 1988 – 30 years ago,” he said. “From that, that was where the Holiday Arts Night evolved.”
Henry later opened another studio, this time on the ground floor to accommodate some of his larger works. Four years ago, he moved into Henry Fine Arts on Old Ocean City Boulevard.
“It’s my sanctuary – just far enough off the beaten path where I can get my thoughts and my work synchronized,” he said.
His first retrospective was at the former Waterline Gallery in Berlin, in 2005.
“This one is easily more extensive. It’s about 31, 32 pieces [covering] 36 years,” he said.
Many of the works he gathered are on loan from the collectors who purchased them. Henry said reacquiring the paintings has been an interesting experience.
“They only adopted the work – they don’t own it,” he said with a laugh. “They have a piece of Pat Henry up on a wall, because I put my whole heart and soul and effort. And when I go back and see it I almost want to cry, because I say, ‘my baby! my baby!’
“I can almost tell where I was, mentally, spiritually, at those times [when painting them],” he continued. “I see those poignant moments, where I reflected on the losses in my life and my transition from this kind of naïve country boy, to one that had to stand with so many different segments of our society.”
Looking at many of the older canvases, he also hears music. Henry said he was probably listening to blues and jazz during the early 1980s, when he was influenced by “some of [his] metropolitan friends” in college to explore John Coltrane and Stanley Turrentine.
During his more recent work, Henry has taken to listening to an audio documentary about Coltrane, the groundbreaking American jazz saxophonist and composer.
“I’m really seining that our lives paralleled … the dynamics you have to go through,” he said. “Me here, and you will see in the show, to make ends meet I had to do the wildlife, wildfowl thing. I went through that in the ‘90s and did really well, but in the late ‘90s I started feeling hollow.
“What it was, I had crossed over into that realm where it was more or less just about the money. A true artist can’t go there,” Henry continued. “You’ve got to dance and I did the best that I could, but it was in the late ‘90s that I moved from that to more of capturing the total environment – people, places and things.”
Henry hopes viewers of the retrospective take the opportunity to slow down and appreciate “things we take for granted.”
“Also, there’s a segment of society that historically has been overlooked, and it’s like the crust of America – it’s those fishers, farmers, civil servants that help the country keep the wheel going,” he said. “Them and how they utilize the natural resources around them – with love and respect – that is what I want to see transmitted through my work.
“In hindsight, I feel as if I was ordained to be both an observer and recorder,” he added. “I learned a long time ago to forget trying to be everything to everybody, but for that segment that connects with you, give them that story, keep the story going and be true to it. That’s where I am.”
For his next act, Henry wants to take his 52 years of experience as an oil-painter and “put that all together and create more complex, more thoughtful paintings.”
“It won’t be about this beautiful sunset and ‘oh, that’s pretty’ – it will be about this particular time and place in our life,” he said. “I feel as if I’ve been mandated to record that now, which I think only a more mature artist would be able to accomplish.
“It’s building upon people, places and things, but with the hope that a person won’t just walk past a painting – it will arrest them and really make them connect with their value system,” Henry said.
A reception for “Delmarva Visions: The Works of Patrick Henry” is scheduled from 5-7 p.m. on Friday at the Ward Museum on 909 South Schumaker Drive in Salisbury. The exhibition will remain on display through May 13.