Mary Henderson’s “Winter” at InLiquid’s 2021 Benefit

For InLiquid’s 2021 Benefit, we’re talking to artists to get the stories behind themselves and their work being featured this year! Mary Henderson‘s Winter is included in this year’s Benefit, which runs April 7 – 11 both in person by appointment, and online. Keep reading for her thoughts on the her studio practice, how the pandemic affected her artistic endeavors, and why art matters.

Jeffrey Holder: A question we’ve all been seeing, especially over the last year or so, but we’d like your personal perspective on it: Why does art matter?

Mary Henderson: Being home all the time over the last year, I’ve found myself spending a lot more time engaging with the art in my house — mostly works on paper and trades with artist friends. It sounds trite to say, but it has been such a source of comfort and a reminder of what’s waiting for us at the other side of all this. Art is ultimately about human connection and communication, and I think we are all a little more aware right now of how much those things matter. 

JH: Tell us about the piece you have in the upcoming Benefit. What’s the story there?

I intentionally hold back on telling people the background stories of these paintings, for the same reason that I take out certain details. I want all the focus to be on faces and gestures and the energy of a group of people. So you just have to supply your own narrative!

JH: What was your most difficult or even frightening moment on the job as an artist? And what inspired you to keep going through it all?

I think that last summer was the most difficult. The gallery I had been working with for 15 years, and for which I had been preparing a show, was forced to shut down because of the pandemic. It made me wonder whether I’d be able to justify continuing to make artwork — to do it without any prospect of having the work be seen. But it’s also potentially liberating — the chance to just make what I feel like making, when I feel like making it, and to see where that takes me. 

JH: What is it you enjoy most about your work?

MH: Seeing my work together and out of my studio tends to make me like it better. The interactions between paintings in a specific body of work — seeing the “thesis” of a body of work become more apparent once I’m able to get a little distance from it — is my favorite part of the process. 

JH: What goes into creating one of your pieces (process / time)?

MH: I keep a massive archive of photos (some taken by me, some by friends, some found through image research) that I use as source material. I sort through them periodically to look for anything that stands out in some way: a particularly interesting gesture, an interaction between figures I like, a mood that I want to explore. I make lots of studies in Photoshop to help me narrow down ideas. Most of my source material is of pretty poor quality because it’s often based on a detail from a much larger image; this is where the real labor comes into my process. I have to interpolate a lot, pull additional source material in to inform where details are blurry or just wrong for the painting. So they’re really stitched together from a lot of sources. I try not to think about how long any individual painting takes me because it’s too depressing. I work on more than one painting at once but generally speaking, a smaller painting might take 3-4 weeks, a larger one at least a couple of months. 

You can also find Mary’s work in our latest exhibition, Design for Living, a two-person show with Sarah Zwerling.

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