"White Elephant"- a new show of drawings and sculptures at Rosamund Felsen gallery

Oscillating between fascination and apprehension, Kathleen Henderson illuminates our struggle to make sense of a senseless world with her expansive and ambitious exhibition of new drawings and sculptures at Rosamund Felsen Gallery. At once agitated and masterful, Henderson’s oil-stick line confronts head-on the financial sector and its place in a system of gross inequalities; the excess and waste of massively expensive and tragically useless trophy projects, or ‘white elephants’; and a profiteering pharmaceutical industry that is moving beyond marketing drugs to humans and setting their sights on neurotic and depressed domestic animals as well. These new drawings, replete with tension and vulnerability, weave figurative narratives that are at once anonymous and achingly familiar.

Inspired by Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us - a collection of essays imagining the beauty and brutality of an Earth without humans, Henderson goes further with a group of drawings depicting voracious scenery overwhelming isolated ghost figures awed and dwarfed in an apocalyptic environment.

Deeply reflective, heartbreakingly honest and fiercely critical, Henderson’s poignant works are attempts to reveal the attitudes of people, society, and the world at large - along with the humorous, lovely, and at times disturbing interactions that result.


Art in America

Art in America

Kathleen Henderson

Rosamund Felsen

By Leah Ollman

The intensity of Kathleen Henderson’s line invests her drawings with a curious urgency. Nothing momentous or incendiary appears to be happening in the recent works—unlike previous examples, which conjure the physical and psychological dimensions of torture or the playing out of mythic struggles—but that urgency remains. Henderson draws in oilstick, usually black, pressing dense pigment onto the page, outlining figures with insistence and brevity. She seems to be channeling the impulses of both naïf and savant in these crude but incisive takes on human behavior.

Henderson’s scenarios generally take place against a stark background of blank white paper, interrupted only by the occasional dilute stain of gray or coral. Without contextual clues regarding place or time, the images read as universal, the characters within them acting on primal instincts. Many of the drawings here depict benign, common activities: wading in the sea, getting fitted by a dressmaker, doing backbend exercises, gathering around a fire. Henderson’s agitated line ratchets up the tension, as does her way of casting humans as awkward creatures, distilled to an animal essence. They rarely have necks or hair, so their forms look lumpen, unfinished. Eyes and mouths are reduced to irregular dots. The images amount to a chronicle of humanity, informed by observations, fables, fairy tales and the news.

Even the simplest of scenes can unspool a string of associations, many of them troubling. In Raincoats #1 and Raincoats #2, for instance, cloaked figures huddle together, not like ordinary pedestrians protecting themselves from the weather, but like an odd batch of captives. Their garments resemble burkas or, when the hoods are pointed, the hood worn by the prisoner in the indelible photo from Abu Ghraib or the costuming of the KKK. The raincoats, drawn in deceptively cheery blue, red, green and orange, fully enclose the characters like body bags, and they tilt and bump blindly into one another.

Throughout the recent work, the midcareer artist, based in Berkeley, Calif., sustains a tone of unpredictability. The situations she draws feel unstable, and individuals—often naked or mostly so—exude an anxious vulnerability. Prior work set that vulnerability within a scenario of the abuse of power. Here, it pervades the scenes like an atmospheric condition. Henderson’s work fits snugly, and wonderfully idiosyncratically, within the tradition of dark satire. In a series here based on Edward Hicks’s painting The Peaceable Kingdom, her pictures tweak the harmony by rendering it ambiguous, suggesting that coexistence between species is just as vexed as living among our imperfect genetic kin.

Photo: Kathleen Henderson: Untitled (dressmaker), 2011, oilstick on paper,18 by 241⁄4 inches; at Rosamund Felsen.

NY Times, The listings,Aug. 14th, 2009,H. Cotter

KATHLEEN HENDERSON: 'WHAT IF I COULD DRAW A BIRD THAT COULD CHANGE THE WORLD?' This beautiful and chilling show of oil stick drawings is like a fairy tale version of Abu Ghraib as drawn by Ben Shahn. Torture is in progress; Hitler tries his wings; men with bags for heads hunt animals but may be animals themselves; a fat bird flies by, trailing the words, ''If I could draw a bird that could change the world? In a good way, I mean. In a good way.'' The Drawing Center, the Drawing Room, 35 Wooster Street, SoHo, (212) 219-2166, drawingcenter.org; closes on Thursday. (Cotter)--