Bill Henson

Untitled 1987/88 , 1987-1988
type C photograph, adhesive tape, pins on marine ply panel housed in ultra low UV Perspex box
240.0 x 180.0 cm
signed, dated and inscribed with title (on the reverse)


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The artist, Melbourne
Private collection, Melbourne

"Bill Henson: Three Decades of Photography", Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 8 January-3 April 2005; National Gallery of Victoria, 23 April-10 July 2005

'Bill Henson: Mnemosyne', Scalo, Berlin, Zurich, New York, 2005, illustrated p. 347

The 'Untitled 1987/88' series were all taken in New York and Los Angeles, exposing through Henson's interpretation, the night-life and/or low-life of each city. Powerful night images of Los Angeles' expansive lights, the neon flashing lights of girlie bars and Eros cinemas, prostitutes, Time Square and generally figures caught unknowingly exposing their vulnerability to Henson's eye.

It is interesting to note that the cut-screens are not torn but are cut. As Isobel Crombie notes 'This implies consideration and precision rather than the rhetorical flourish of a rip. To emphasise the absence of capriousness in this act, it is only necessary to look at the careful eye for composition and different cutting techniques in these works. Although this cut paper creates a potential chaos, there is a satisfying unity between the various components of the overall work that connects with the similarly fragmented photographic narratives. The cut shapes are integral players in the overall drama of the work, accentuating moods evoked by the actions of the figures or of a dramatic light effect. Sometimes these shapes operate as punctuation points, dividing the planes of the picture; sometimes they are jagged, suggestive of violence; and at other times they have a more tender quality, softly tumbling down the image.' (I Crombie 'Untitled' in 'The Photographs of Bill Henson', Bill Henson, Melbourne, 1995, p.13).

The work is a unique work from a series of 19 collage pieces that were based on images taken in New York and Los Angeles

  • Untitled 1987/88

Image is courtesy of the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

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'Henson’s work is a celebration of the amoral. He makes no judgements, takes no positions, addresses no issues and yet reveals all manner of human instincts, intuitions and imaginings. His work and its inviting intrigue compel us to contemplate the imponderable and to wonder at the impenetrable. As such they are revelations of the imagination made seductively tangible but never fully complete or comprehensible.' (Edmund Capon on Bill Henson, 2004)

Bill Henson is one of Australia’s leading photographers. He has exhibited for over forty years in Australia and internationally, with his first major show coming at the age of just nineteen at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Whether working with figures, landscapes or architecture, Henson’s theatricality, masterful handling of light and willingness to experiment with printing processes yield rich, painterly surfaces that have left an indelible mark on the history of photography.

Writings on Henson abound with literary comparisons from Marcel Proust to W.G. Sebald, the common denominator being the belief that the body is an artistic medium. Whether candidly capturing the lives of ordinary people in Melbourne’s CBD as a photographic embodiment of Baudelaire’s flâneur or in his staged and highly theatrical tableaux vivant images exploring youth and sexuality, Henson is unrelenting in his quest to document the totality of human experience from the depths of boredom to the peaks of ecstasy.

In 1995, Henson represented Australia at the 46th Venice Biennale with his unique and highly celebrated ‘cut-screen’ photographic works. In 2005, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, staged a survey of Henson’s work that travelled to the National Gallery of Victoria in 2006 to unprecedented crowds. In 2006, too, he staged his second major international solo exhibition, Twilight, held at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. In recent years, the Art Gallery of New South Wales held a show dedicated to his Cloud Landscapes, and in 2017 he showed at the National Gallery Victoria as part of their Festival of Photography. His work is the subject of two extensive monographs: Lux et Nox, 2002, and Mnemosyne, 2005, both published by Scalo, Switzerland.