A Review for Tulane Fine Arts Department
Published May, 2013
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heaven of Hell, a hell of Heaven.
– John Milton, Paradise Lost
Solitary and timeless figures fill the canvases of Caleb Henderson’s most recent work, inhabiting the vacant landscape like Spartan sleepwalkers. Landscapes fixed with static light stretch like vast, vacant lands that once burned. A first year MFA student at Tulane, Henderson’s insistent theme is that of estrangement; of humans from each other and of ourselves from the spaces we inhabit. Henderson’s work is paradox, a forlorn search for objective truth coupled with religious intensity and tone. This contradiction underlies the struggle within his body of work between the very gray worlds of perceived reality versus objective reality.
The traditional painterly techniques of great Renaissance masters are under appreciated in art institutions these days. Multi-media works and heavy-handed design fill white-walled galleries. Henderson emerges as an anomaly in this world; his work, implausibly, influenced only by painting preceding the sixteenth century. Raphael and Rembrandt, with their studious, analytical and meticulous work have more in common with Henderson than Eric Fischl ever will.
Like Renaissance masters, Henderson is looking at the human body in an objective, scientific way in order to find a tangible truth. “[I’ve realized] that there are things going on in another person’s head that I have no access to at all. They have a whole universe inside their mind. There are times when I look at my wife, who I know as well as I know anyone, and she’ll be a stranger to me.” Henderson’s deft illustrations are technically stunning, impartially depicted like a scientist recording a cadaver. By breaking down figures into patterns and shapes, he can see the infinitesimal details. Fine muscles and bones reveal well-loved subjects. However, no study of immeasurable details can reveal the internal mechanisms of the mind.
In Henderson’s newer works such as I’ve Almost Forgotten It All and Time Passes there is a new evolution; a movement towards psychological inquiries rather than spiritual. Muscled male subjects in motion plunge through the composition in dangerously unbalanced ways. Color has also seeped out of the picture frame in this new series; the bright blues, reds and greens of Michelangelo no longer appear. Could it be that Henderson’s struggle to understand liminal realities has led him to a state of abandon and release?
There is a timeless quality about Henderson’s work that allows his work to have a continuous dialogue. While some bodies of work can become dated with references to political movements, social history and pop culture, Henderson’s work will remain relevant. Two years or ten will determine the outcome of these works- these adventures into liminal reality that open the porous spaces of the mind, where perception expands and faith has no threshold.