Walking into Haines Gallery I was met at the door by ‘Traces of Places’, the newest show of Mike Henderson’s abstract paintings. Strong, bold works, the paintings one view are also fully of lush textures and subtleties that embrace you while walking up to them. But for all of this, there is an overall feeling of reflection conveyed through individual works and the show as a whole.
Mike Henderson began painting in the 1960s, and has been working non-stop ever since. Emerging with an aggressive figurative style at the beginning of his career, Henderson moved to abstract painting fully after a fire consumed his studio and archives in the early 1990s. The consistent quality to his painting throughout his career is his love of thick impasto and heavy textures, and this newest show has all of that on display.
Coming up to any of his works, the first thing one realizes is how much movement is conveyed on the canvas. This is achieved by both by his choice of colors, their juxtaposition next to each other, and in the heavy impasto, which records every brush make and palate knife stoke in the paint surface. Next, the subtleties emerge out of the paint in the cohesiveness on the overall composition and the rhythms of the forms he creates. Finally, we stand back and let the hidden elements of the piece emerge.
While abstract, Henderson sees his paintings as both landscapes and the records of memories and impressions of experiences in his mind. The short, parallel stripes of color present in many of the canvases recall fields of crops as much as they do African textiles and American quilts. In several paintings circular forms, sometimes hidden and other times perfectly up front, recall either the sun or moon. However, relying on visual references only to interpret the work would miss out on another key aspect of Henderson’s art and life.
In addition to being a master painter, Mike Henderson is also an accomplished blues guitarist. Having played across the globe at numerous venues, music is a key element in everything Henderson does. Returning to the works on display, in many we can hear the music in the paint, the long guitar riffs and emotional resonance of blues music evident in the movement and texture of the paint.
Despite the vibrancy of the canvases, there is an overall feeling of reflection in the show, with the canvases being records moments lived, not only those of their execution, but those experienced outside of the studio. Henderson retired from 34 years of teaching at UC Davis in 2013 and is now devoting himself to working in the studio. With additional time on his hands and the burdens of teaching lifted, it is not surprising that he would be reflective on his life or that it would appear in his work. Rather than being somber and dark, Mike Henderson’s bright canvases reveal an artist who is still thriving for experience and looking ahead to what life still has to offer.