Bill Henson

Untitled #117 (CB/JPC SH112 N4
), 2000-2003
Type C Photograph, number 3 from an edition of 5 + 2 A/Ps
103.0 x 153.0 cm
signed, dated and titled (lower left and right)

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Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Private collection, Sydney

'Bill Henson 2000-2003', Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney, 2003

All of the mesmerising elements of Bill Henson’s practice are present in this portrait of two seated youths, where a collection of delicately folded limbs are directed in and out of darkness by the artist’s studio lighting.

A simple black dress is used powerfully in composition. It pins Henson’s two sitters to centre, so that when the girl’s limbs sprawl out from her clothing, and the lithe line of her companion’s neck meets the arch of his shoulder, they glow blue-white against the darkness that envelops their tandem form. Four hands, one foot, and two faces are linked together by velvety chiaroscuro and the sense of high Romance it conjures.

The flushes of pink, and tracery of veins beneath skin, beneath bruising and grime that has come to be seen as Henson’s signature skin-tone, feature beautifully here, recalling John McDonald’s words on the series,

‘The bodies of teenagers are transformed into living sculptures, infused with a slivery-blue sheen, every bruise and blemish captured in unsettling detail…

Henson's images are testimonies to that quality Nietzsche calls the "great intelligence" of the body. In simple, mute images, unencumbered with pseudo-intellectual claptrap, they show us bodies that effortlessly conjure up thoughts of the soul and the self.’ (Sydney Morning Herald, April 9 2011)

  • Untitled #117 (CB/JPC SH112 N4

Image courtesy of Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney and the artist

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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.