Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2021  Vol. 20  No. 1
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Artist’s Statment

Since 1980, my paintings and drawings have involved the human figure, fictional personae that exist only in the work. These figures and the spaces they inhabit were invented and developed through a process of erasure and change without a specific image in mind at the start. I rely upon what I call my “subliminal vocabulary”—familial types and remembered images from both life and popular culture, especially film—as a basis for creating the characters that appear in my paintings and drawings. I am indebted to the language of cinema for ways of visualizing scenes as well as certain stage-like devices in early narrative painting. In my work the poses and gestures are subtle; action is minimal. Nothing dramatic is happening. My interest lies in the moment between moments, in the sense of suspended time. A narrative may be implied, but multiple and contradictory readings are possible.

Eleanor Rufty
 Eleanor Rufty
 Photo by John Henley

In this new work some of the figures refer to actual persons, recognizable—at least to me. This has been an interesting and engaging departure. Yet, these are not portraits. The identity of an individual is not important per se. Their presence is connected to an incident or a location that motivated the work and is more an homage than anything else. The role of a particular individual or a completely invented figure in my drawings or paintings is the same—fictional, a player in the scenario presented in the work.

Recent paintings have developed in a slightly different way from past work. The linear drawing is left visible and becomes an element of color. The layers of paint are generally thinner, more translucent, scumbled. The details of the interiors in some of these paintings are specific, based on actual rooms. The color, though, is not descriptive but derives from a palette based on many variations of blue and chromatic gray. In my practice as an artist these small changes of subject and palette have been motivating and have led to new ways of thinking about how I make my work.  

John Henley is a photographer in Richmond, Virginia. Alongside the personal projects and assignment work of his professional photography, he teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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