Untitled No. 8 (Shattered Glass) is a large collage of black and white photographs adhered to paper and mounted on board. The photographs show details of diversely textured and patterned urban surfaces, principally grids of wire mesh and details of shards of glass. Henderson has over-painted parts of the photographs in black ink to create an effect of splintering. This assemblage of large and mismatched photographs and brush-applied ink markings collectively creates an abstract pattern that evokes the fragmented surface of broken glass. The work was unglazed when acquired by Tate, and it was probably intended that it remain unglazed because of the subject matter.
This work unites the artist’s long-standing interest in the medium of collage with a fascination with the visual effects suggested by fragmented urban textures and surfaces. Henderson began experimenting with collage in the late 1930s, when he worked at the National Gallery as an assistant to the picture restorer Helmut Ruhemann. He returned to this medium after the war, around the time of the end of his studies at the Slade School of Art, where he was a student from 1945-9. At the Slade he had become close friends with fellow student Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005), who began working in collage from the mid 1940s. Later, Henderson and Paolozzi collaborated on Untitled (Study for Parallel of Life and Art) 1952 (T12444), a photocollage conceived during the planning of the exhibition Parallel of Life and Art, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in 1953, which they were both involved in curating. Henderson’s small Collage (T01915) of 1949 is a precursor to Untitled No. 8 (Shattered Glass). In the earlier work, the artist combined collage with oil paint to create a raw assemblage of textures in an abstract design suggestive of the urban environment.
Henderson took up photography in the late 1940s, drawing on London’s East End where he lived for his subject matter. His attention was directed towards everyday street scenes, in which he identified diverse urban patterns and textures as found objects. In Chisenhale Road 1951 (P79313), Henderson uses a prosaic scene of children’s play to explore the abstracted patterns that emerge from the layering effects of distorted shadow on the etched markings of a hopscotch grid on the road’s surface. In other works, including Bag-wash 1949-53 (P79305), the artist focuses specifically on details of urban decay: weathered windows, torn signage, scratched and broken surfaces. With Untitled No. 8 (Shattered Glass), dating from 1959, Henderson rejects figuration and moves entirely to abstraction. It is thought that this work was exhibited in his solo exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1961 (listed in the catalogue as Big Photo Collage, Shattered Glass.
Untitled No. 8 (Shattered Glass) refers to the Brutalist aesthetic that permeated Henderson’s work in the 1950s. Reflecting in 1978 on this period, he noted affinities between his art and the work of the French artist Jean Dubuffet (1901–85) (Nigel Henderson: Photographs of Bethnal Green, p.5). Dubuffet’s Large Black Landscape 1946 (T07109), for example, evokes the rawness of urban textures. Untitled No. 8 (Shattered Glass) is similarly hard edged, but, unlike the Bethnal Green photographs, suggests violent destruction rather than simply rawness or decay.
Nigel Henderson: Recent Work, exhibition catalogue, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 1961.
Nigel Henderson: Photographs of Bethnal Green 1949-1952, exhibition catalogue, Midland Group, Nottingham, 1978.
Victoria Walsh, Nigel Henderson: Parallel of Life and Art, London 2001.