Art review: Kathleen Henderson at Rosamund Felsen

By Leah Ollman, LA Times, June 25, 2010

Every show of Kathleen Henderson’s feels like a privileged glimpse into the artist’s dark diary. Or is it our culture’s diary? Or humankind’s in general? Henderson’s drawings are tough, brutal even, sometimes funny, almost always absurd. They are crude, raw, spare, ambiguous, and truer to life than the highest resolution photograph.

In her third show at Rosamund Felsen, Henderson fills the gallery with oil stick drawings and a small selection of tabletop sculptures fashioned of wax, paper, wire, paint and tar. There is much continuity between her new and earlier work, but also a bit of change — a firmer sense of place in some of the drawings, an expanded use of materials (more touches of color, and dilute tones complementing the linear forms, acting as off-register echoes or shadows). As ever, Henderson’s work has a searing immediacy. It seems simple — just a few characters, roughly outlined, on each sheet — but its implications and interpretations ripple outward indefinitely.

Verbal or visual threads tie some of the images to familiar events or subjects in the news. It’s hard to see any of Henderson’s hooded figures without recalling the disclosures about Abu Ghraib, and from there, thinking about torture in general, perpetrators, victims, anonymity and accountability. The phrase “Too Big to Fail” has become shorthand for any number of collapsible giants of industry. Henderson uses it to title a spot-on spoof of testosterone-driven hubris: a scene of four men in acrobatic balance, one standing on the ground and supporting the other three, perched on his thighs and shoulders. What stabilizes the whole? The central figure’s enormous penis, extending from his fly to the ground like the third leg of a tripod.

Phalluses make another appearance in the equally satirical “Small Celebrants and the Emergence of a New Poly-phallic God,” an image your imagination might be able to conjure, but only if you leave it open to both the outlandish and the mythic, for this new deity is not only multiply endowed in the region you’d expect but also shares a trait with Samson. His hair is an unusual source of strength. Yeah. Those aren’t dreadlocks.