Bathers, is Henderson’s newest group of hyper-real sociological oil paintings derived from found web images, focusing on a particular cultural experience -in this case, the ‘summer retreat’. Her paintings are based on vacation photosand snapshots of Americans engaged in the long-standing, class-specific summer ritual of departing the city and suburbs for shore and lake houses during the summer season. The images explore the contradictory nature of these escapes – both their sensory pleasures and their accompanying feelings of isolation, dislocation and wistfulness.
Henderson’s bathers are based primarily on images that have been posted on photo-sharing websites. The artist composites, recrops and refocuses them, using the altered digital image as the paintings’ modulo (using personal supplementary life references as necessary). The artist states, “I find that, through the transformative act of painting, an image can be stilled and changed into something more archetypal: it ceases to be simply about the particular person or fleeting moment captured, and becomes instead something more public, permanent and aesthetically deliberate.”
As the title suggests, this series is in part homage to the late-19th-century Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist painting theme of bathers, particularly as explored in the works of Manet, Seurat and Monet. Being drawn to their uneasy balance of modernity and nostalgia, these paintings reflected a complex and contradictory attitude toward urban society and fashionable resort life, keenly depicting the social changes that made the sea-bathing fad possible, while, at the same time, reaching longingly back to classical themes of the nude in an idyllic landscape.
In their depiction of a contemporary version of the seaside retreat, Henderson’s paintings also reflect a deep ambivalence toward their subject. The artist communicates a strong sense of affection and nostalgia for the pleasures of these rituals, for their moments of beauty and physical pleasure, while also conveying a sense of general malaise and anxiety that come with routinized periods of leisure- the sense of always chasing after an experience that never quite lives up to expectations.
Mary Henderson received her AB in Fine Arts in 1995 from Amherst College in Amherst, MA, and her MFA in Painting in 2001 from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA. Recent exhibitions include: “Mirror Mirror: Contemporary Portraits and the Fugitive Self,” The Museum of Art, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT and “As Others See Us,”
Brattleboro Museum, VT.
Mary Henderson lives and works in Philadelphia, PA and has been represented by Lyons Wier Gallery since 2006.