Nigel Henderson



Not on display

Nigel Henderson 1917–1985
Oil paint and photographs, black and white, on paper on board
Support: 328 × 366 mm
Framed: 480 × 512 × 25 mm
Purchased 1974

Display caption

At night, Henderson used his bathroom as a makeshift darkroom. He exposed negatives, enlarged images and experimented with ‘camera-less’ photography. Collage demonstrates the inventiveness of Henderson’s darkroom practice. He coated glass sheets in gouache paint or thin plaster and ‘doodled’ into these coatings with sharp tools. He then used the inscribed glass sheets as negatives to produce photographic prints. Collage is made up of several prints with oil paint added. Henderson cited experimental filmmaker Len Lye as an influence. He visited Lye and observed his method of painting abstract marks directly onto film strips.

Gallery label, December 2019

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Catalogue entry

T01915 COLLAGE 1949

Inscribed 1949 ‘Nigel Henderson 1949’ b.r.
Oil and photogaphic collage mounted on card, 13 3/16×15 (33.7×38.1)
Purchased from the artist (Gytha Trust) 1974

The following notes on T.1915, T.1916 and T.1939 are based on a conversation with the artist (15 January 1976), and approved by him.

T.1915 was executed either at the Slade School of Fine Art or at the artist's house at 46 Chisenhale Road, Bethnal Green, London.

After leaving the Royal Air Force in 1945 Nigel Henderson attended the Slade for 4 years where he met Eduardo Paolozzi and in his last year became interested in photography. Besides taking, in particular, photographs of Bethnal Green and graffiti in Paris, Henderson produced photographs by a non-conventional method which he considers to have been related to Paolozzi's work (see below). Gouache or a suspension of plaster in water was applied to sheets of glass with a brush or by being dripped on, and when dry, he ‘doodled’ on the coated glass, making lines by scratching with a nail or a point of a pair of dividers or a compass. Coffee grounds were sometimes added to the gouache. Such sheets of glass were used as negatives and photographic enlargements made, which constituted ‘a stack of visual bricks’ for collages. T01915 was made from parts of several such photographs. Oil paint was used to link up lines between different parts of the collage. ‘There was no conscious art attempt, but looking for order when I reassembled bits of prints and I bridged the gaps in the lines’. Henderson considers a factor in the genesis of his collage works such as T01915 was the work of Len Lye in the late 1930's. On one occasion when Henderson visited him Lye was making a cinematographic film by painting non-figurative marks directly onto the surface of the celluloid. Another work by Lye was a book cover for a volume of poems by Laura Riding. On the front was a photograph of a collage made from pieces of cork, rotting wood and muslin, and on the back was an enlarged detail of the collage. At about the time when he was working as an assistant to the picture restorer Helmut Ruhemann, Henderson made collages using paper; two such works were included in an exhibition of collages by Braque, Schwitters, Picasso, Juan Gris and others at Peggy Guggenheim's Gallery Guggenheim Jeune in Cork Street which was managed by Henderson's mother, Wyn Henderson. One collage included a ‘Players’ cigarette packet, ‘the other had an eye mounted upon a sort of ragged pylon standing on a desolate plateau (tried to get that Feeling of intellectual landscape you Feel in Yves Tanguy, but I dare say it had that romantic Englishness that, “like the one drop of rum flavours the bloody bucket”.)’

Henderson elaborated on the relation of his work c.1949 to that of Paolozzi's in a letter (29.1.76) to the compiler. 'The point I want to make is this. I think Paolozzi was the first person to take the idea of pre-fabrication from the world of Technology and make use of it in Art. (I may be wrong but it is certainly where I got the idea.) So-having made my prints-in the case of this collage-I regarded them (thanks to E.P.) as a set of units to be assembled into new identities later. I didn't and don't always work in this way-not by any means but I found, and still sometimes find it an invaluable aid to work where I have a disposition to look into something or other (scrutinise is the word I like) without prejudice of whether it is going to be useful to me or not-just a pleasant way of putting time to some use by having a look at something that seems to have been having a look at me for rather a long time without my having had the courtesy of acknowledging a deepening relationship! I know this seems rather ridiculous but it is, as I see it, the basis of the “object trouvé” idea. You see something that disturbs you and you must have it-you must turn and pick it up (loop of string with teased fibres, knotted and knifed and kneaded underfoot, paper-again temporarily assembled by rain and wind and foot buffeting etc.) These concatenations affect you I suppose because they symbolise (as mild seismographs) the disturbances of the nervous system. They are maps of graphs offered you gratuitously out of anonymous occurrences at work all around you. So-in a somewhat analagous way-you can set up a field of interesting visual data, wider than any specific need, from which you can later select. It's all, for me, very like the flying experience [Henderson was a bomber pilot during the Second War]-the experience of scale-wherein at say 15,000 ft. the terrain takes on an overall unity, identity, that you can selectively break down by diving-by gliding down. This is the action of the microscope and of the enlarger which has such interest for me.

'This 'setting up of a “Field” is what I did in the case of this collage. The investigation led to the prints which were laid aside and assembled later. This “field” was a number of thin sheets of glass small enough to pass (like a sheet of film which it well could have been) along the film channels of the enlarger. So this is the Len Lye association for me. The assembly is the Paolozzi idea. I told you of the cover Len Lye did for a book of poems of Laura Riding published by my mother at The Hours Press (about 1930) very “Bushman” (Lye was Australian). I would have seen this when I was 13. Its influence was subconscious. I later realised L.L. had used the sort of idea later invented for myself (the Ashbox). He made a “field” and took images at 2 scales.'

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978

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