For over five decades, Judith Henry has created evocative multimedia artworks that explore the friction between interior life and the public self. She repurposes a cornucopia of materials like newspapers, magazines film clips, internet appropriations and studio detritus in poignant and amusing explorations of identity. These tools enable her to explore the misalignments between cultural representation and inner psychology. Contradiction and anonymity become a source of freedom.
Plain Folk (2015-2017) In this series, Henry has constructed hundreds of small sculptures from detritus in her studio. She sees them as very small scrapheap enigmas. They are roughly 7 inches high and become solid in their polymer skin. The materials include various adhesive tapes, push pins, paint tubes, sponges, cotton balls and swabs, nails, clips, screws, anything and everything she can glean. These recombinant assemblages allow her to continue to explore personal identify by hiding in the outside world behind created identities.
In Makeover (2016) Henry created small painted collages of women’s faces paying close attention in each to the area of the brain, the center of thought and emotion. These paintings appear, as in earlier work, to be another way in which she has hidden herself within her work. Each painting serves as a mask, and in fact Henry later uses them as masks. But in a sly way she has cautioned the viewer not to think these are different manifestations of herself, and to make this point in the ironic way she names each one on the painting itself: Betty, Sue, Hilda, Rita.
The Artist is Hiding (2014-2015) For this series, Henry makes abstract paintings that refer to and are informed by existing paintings she has seen. Each new piece is painted on top of the prior one and in each she is photographed hidden behind a new mask. Thus, the last painting ceases to exist and the new one becomes a commentary about painting. Sometimes the mask informs the painting; sometimes the reverse is true. Once again, Henry’s hands are the only part of her that is visible and thus the only clue to her identity.
Me as Her (2014) In this series of black and white photographs Henry continues her long-standing practice of remaining hidden/masked within her work. She reimagines herself behind masks of significant and accomplished women who have died. The photo-masks themselves reveal very little about the personality they depict, underlining the truth that there is little any of us can know about who we see and who sees us. The photographs are shot in natural light on location within a one-mile radius of her home in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The appearance of Henry’s hands is itself a reflection of her own aging process and an important signature of each piece
Girls, Girls, Girls (2012) In this photo-based series Judith Henry restages high school senior yearbook portraits in an ambiguous gesture of shared identity. Henry creates drawings based on teenage girls from different eras, locations and social strata. She then uses these drawings as masks, shielding her own face in photographic reenactments of the original. Working within the yearbook’s gridded format, Henry performs a range of disparate hairstyles and clothing, all cropped within recurring conventions of pose and expression. The series extends her longstanding fascination with the tensions between societal norms and self-presentation. In her retracing of each girl’s face, place and time, Henry creates an empathetic parody of youth.
Rebirth grew out of Henry’s fascination with public obituaries, which the artist has been collecting for years. In the works, Henry arranges obituary portraits in clean democratic grids. Each of the printed heads is partially obscured by fragments of celebrity faces from fashion magazines and other glossy journals. These hybrid portraits of the great, the near great and the unknown flicker in and out of recognition; their mutability underscoring the slippery nature of identity and our uneasy public relationship with death.
Masquerade is a series in which Henry creates digital collages using texts, found images and reconfigurations of past work to portray idiosyncratic and uncanny cinematic mise-en-scènes. Her dark photomontages suggest film noir as well as a theatrical stage. Within this shadowy field, the artist, her family and fragments from her previous artworks are reunited in evocative tableaus of memory and loss.
Boxed Sets are composed of small modular paintings arranged in a linear format typical of cinematic or sequential art. Within their colorful and painterly surface, Henry juxtaposes overheard fragments of conversation with enigmatic personal photographs and collages. These disparate sources are emotionally suggestive even while the work resists a clear narrative.
Walking and Talking (2003) is a compendium of Henry’s multi-decade project of observing and recording strangers on the streets of New York City. Consisting of video, wall based works and books, the installation integrates her various recording techniques by layering sound, image and movement. Henry scales down the silhouetted pedestrians on the wall and repeats the composition in a framed piece, suggesting pattern in the multitude and order within chaos.
In the Triptych series (1979), Henry began developing interactions between text and photography; a strategy she continues to explore and refine. In this work, Henry sets up a dialogue between overheard conversational snippets and seemingly random snapshots of strangers in public. Henry’s idiosyncratic treatment of text, by turns adventurous and subtle, breaks with typographic convention in pursuit of heightened tension and expressive force.
Who’s Who (1977) Faces and masks are motifs henry often uses to stress the ambiguity of individuality. in a precedent for her later obituary series, Henry frames found newspaper portraits of various celebrities and public figures within the generic silhouette of a human profile. Some of the iconic faces endure, pushing past the uneasy confines of the mask, but most recede – their identities lost to time.
Overheard Book Series (2000-2006) For over three decades, Henry has traversed the streets of New York City with a small notebook and camera, secretly photographing and eavesdropping on the people she encounters. These records are compiled in her Overheard Book Series, published by Universe/Rizzoli (2000-2002). The series consists of four books: Overheard at the Museum, Overheard at the Bookstore, Overheard While Shopping and Overheard in Love. After the first Overheard book series, Henry continued the project in three other American cities. Atria Books published the result, Overheard in America, in 2006. As in Henry’s previous work, text and photos are paired in surprising juxtapositions that suggest narrative while resisting closure.
Who I Saw in New York, circa 1970-2000 is an evolving photographic archive composed of images that Henry takes of pedestrians throughout New York City. The affectless black and white images are reminiscent of surveillance photos. Henry’s voyeuristic project is an ongoing time-lapse journey, quietly recording the gradual changes in clothing, postures, haircuts and the city itself.
Anonymous True Stories (1996) For decades, Henry has listened to and tape-recorded women telling highly personal anecdotes from their lives. in her book, anonymous true stories, each intimate memoir is given a unique typographical configuration that adds dimension and tension to stories that are by turns hilarious, tragic and familiar. the stories are arranged under iconic chapter headings: mothers & fathers, sisters & brothers, husbands & lovers, friends & foes.