Beyond the Pale – Stephanie Henderson

There is so much in the world that generally someone will find offensive.  But one person’s love is another’s hate and all that.  I find it so interesting to understand the points of view of people to see what drives their passions or pure hatred for something.  Personally I am never driven to hate anything that much, possibly because I like to research and understand before jumping on a bandwagon of discontentment.  I am obviously talking about the world of the arts in this case.  There are plenty of things I hate in the world outside of the art and culture…tea, cancer, sufferance, these are all things I hate, I won’t go on or this will really turn into a cranky post.

Henderson has created a piece of art steeped in symbolism in “Beyond the Pale”.  At first glance, it looks like it is structured in the same way as a renaissance master would structure a skull painting, and I have to say, I was so taken with the skull at first seeing this, that I completely missed the splatters of blue paint.

Henderson herself talked about this piece as a capturing of conflicts.  The dislike in some areas for bullfighting, tattooing, graffiti, priests… a whole network of values which are constantly being questioned and put on display.  The painting shows these elements under attack, as the painting itself is under attack.

I find the way that the attacks have been portrayed in this work so interesting.  Let’s start with the skull, representation of humanity, tattooed (so to speak) with a red rose for love on the forehead, and with a classical representation of Jesus to the side.  It’s telling that these are on a skull, maybe the thoughts of love and religion dying out, in a world which is moving ahead and way from traditional ideals.  Controversy over catholicism and the values of some of the actions of it’s contingent.  I think we are all very aware of what I am talking about here.  This said, not all priests are the same, I don’t want anyone thinking I am casting unfair judgement, and neither is Henderson, she is merely showing the depravity reported on at time of painting.  We can also see flies crawling over the skull.  Now I could link this to the ant usage in Dali’s work, indicating decay, but Henderson talks of her thoughts on the ants, flies and bees in her work.  These represent a network, and an abundance, simply because insects are one of the most industrious and abundant species on our planet.  Their role in nature is vital and they assist with the natural flow of birth and death.

The silver bull with the sword toothpicks in it’s back, highlighting the cultural distaste which has grown for bullfighting over recent year.  Obviously we are now all very aware that this is animal cruelty and frowned upon, yet in the past was considered a sport which people avidly followed.

The eye with the sword through it, a representation of the visual assault that we now face, with images and news of all the controversy associated with these things.  With the rise of the internet, the world has become a much smaller place, and we can easily access the gory images and detailed news that perhaps in the past we could not have.

Painted in 2010, I do feel that Henderson has managed to capture a lot of what was going on at the time.  We have a chalice with vine leaves and grapes behind it, a very clear image of Bacchius, I feel that this is linked to the culture of binge drinking, as we all know Bacchius liked to party hard.

Finally there are 2 two blue splatters of paint, almost as though someone has thrown it at the work to deface it.  Showing the controversy that art faces.  Art has the ability to anger the masses, pushing audiences to do outlandish things, like throw acid at paintings on occasions.  This, in itself, highlights the actions of people who are moved in a negative way to art.  Emphasising the attacks on all the cultural references shown.

Henderson creates the aged feel to her work, by applying many layers of glaze.  This means that it dulls the colour pallet used and presents the work as timely and ageless in the same look.   Her realistic depictions assist to engage the viewer in to the work, and draw them in to her very specific style of symbolism, yet they still have an almost ethereal feel to them, moving her work away from the hyperrealism genre and in to the lowbrow or pop surrealism art form.

If you like Henderson’s work, you can find more of it here.

Why don’t you tell me what you see in this picture in the comments?  Like this post?  Why not share it?

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