When you read great writing, or when you listen to great music, what it tends to do is open upa space into which your imagination can fall. It is as though the experience creates a space in which you can really daydream properly. The best experience is to go away from a work with more questions than you came with and if this is compelling, in a way you are falling in love. You have a great sense of longing and wanting something –it can't be measured and analysed, but it is powerfully apprehended and powerfully felt, and of course that is what we all want. One doesn't want the hum drum, the familiar. To paraphrase Einstein, 'Mystery is the thing that makes life beautiful'.–Bill Henson1–
Bill Henson's new exhibition is a glittering array of never-seen-before photographs. Some were commenced in the 1990s; all were completed during Melbourne's long COVID lockdowns. The sense of deep time behind Henson's images is a hallmark of his approach to photography –an attempt, as he puts it "to get closer to things."
"It sometimes takes years for me to work out what I want to photograph, a rumination which gradually clarifies itself over a long period of time," he says. "I spend a lot of time thinking about things, daydreaming. It takes awhile for things to get to the point to say I know what I need. It's a face, or a body or a landscape of a particular kind, or it's the effects of the weather and how that changes the nature of the landscape."2
The National Gallery of Victoria, famously debuting Bill Henson in 1975 at the age of 19, describes him as "one of Australia's leading contemporary artists. His powerful and edgy photographs approach the painterly and the cinematic, bringing together the formal and classical with the gritty, casual dramas of the everyday. Henson defines and redefines his subjects with a rigour that is inseparable from his technical command. He is a master of the use of light and dark in the tradition of the great European masters. Beautiful, confronting, and unforgettable his images capture a universal essence and enliven our own sense of being."
Capturing intense intimacy, unknowable mysteries and breathtaking tenderness, Henson's works are "encounters with the sublime" (Time Magazine, 2013).
1 Quotes from Bill Henson in conversation with National Gallery of Victoria Senior Curator of Photography Susan van Wyk. Published in the NGV Magazine, July 2020
2 Quotes from Bill Henson in conversation with Newcastle Art Gallery curator Sarah Johnson, May 2021
Press release courtesy Tolarno Galleries.