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Alicia Henry: Fine Art and Teaching

Posted: April 13th, 2011 | Filed under: artist, dog, painter | 4 Comments »

I was nervous driving to Alicia Henry’s home this past week. She was the first real art celebrity that I’d be photographing for this project. I’d seen her show at Zeitgeist Gallery a few months ago and was really moved by it. One piece in particular literally brought me to tears.

My friend Lain York had put me in contact with her, but was concerned that she might not get back to me — said she was very committed to her work and kept a low profile, when she wasn’t teaching at Fisk University. (That scored points with me. Respect points). So when my phone rang a couple of weeks ago, and it was Alicia on the line, (sounding hesitant and reluctant to be photographed), I got very excited that she’d even called me back.

When I arrived at her home, near the Fisk campus, she greeted me at the door with a warm smile, and even helped me drag my gear into the house. In the kitchen, she was making homemade granola. It was a beautiful old southern home — the residence downstairs, and a studio on the second floor. The feeling in her home was like turning back to the clock to 1945 or so. She asked if I had dogs, and I told her my long story about losing Dottie and Clyde. She went to the basement door and let her three sweet dogs into the house to meet me. Madden, a large German shepherd was ten years old, which seemed very old for a large dog. Her hips were going, but she was still full of spunk. Tango was a little Chihuahua mix, and Missy appeared to be a beagle mix.

We shot some portraits downstairs, and then she took me upstairs to the studio where she did her work. Every room upstairs was filled with works in progress. Faces; full length figures that were life size; all painted on fabric. Either starting with felt, or burlap. Some were stitched. All of them with multiple layers of depth. I wanted to shoot some video of her, explaining the work, but she declined and smiled. Shown below are some of the pieces that were on her walls.

Here is the description of her work from the Zeitgeist site. I’m not much on art talk; I’d just advise seeing the work in person. Walk up very close and really feel it.

Isolation and interaction is a common recurring idea in my work. I am interested in the complexities and the contradictions surrounding familial relationships as well as societal differences and how these variations affect individual and group responses to themes of Beauty, the Body, and Identity. My current work explores these ideas, addressing the process through which groups (specifically female) navigate these issues. This installation will investigate this in five parts. Through a depiction of the roles that age, class, gender, nationality, and race, have in the idea of Households.

I know I’m posting a lot of similar portraits of Alicia, but I just loved her face and her spirit. She’s an Old Soul, but also funny and warm and sweet. I kept asking her about herself, and her history and her work, but she always deflected it back toward me — asking about my work and my motivation. It was like a fun game of Mental Chess. Very enjoyable.

(Above image): Beautiful light pouring into the front foyer area of Alicia’s home. With Madden and Tango.

(Above image): Second-floor workroom/studio area, with works in progress.

(Above image): Front porch, with Tango, Madden, and Missy.

(Above image): Second-floor workroom/studio area.

(Above image): Second-floor workroom/studio area.

(Above image): Second-floor workroom/studio area.

(Above image): Two classic Beware Of Dog signs that she used to keep in her back yard area. But they began to wear with weather, and she liked them well enough to bring them inside to preserve them. I agree.

(Above image): Classic southern front porch.

4 Comments on “Alicia Henry: Fine Art and Teaching”

  1. 1 Tamara said at 7:08 pm on April 13th, 2011:

    The masks are amazing. I love her work. What a beautiful encounter. I’d love to have experienced the day with y’all. Thank you for sharing it Mark, and thank you Alicia for opening your home.

  2. 2 susan said at 7:21 pm on April 13th, 2011:

    What depth, strength and tenderness I see in Alicia Henry, as a woman and artist. I am so glad to be introduced to this person. The work appears so rich in story. I would love to sit with Alicia, even for moments to hear about her own life and her desire to express in this way. The work is inspirational! Thank you! She has articulated in words a ‘theme’ that is close to my heart as well. Amazing!

  3. 3 VirgilM said at 12:04 am on April 15th, 2011:

    Lovely character and artwork. The portraits, as always, are wonderful!!! Thanks!

  4. 4 Kristin said at 6:37 am on April 15th, 2011:

    Absolutely timeless—-the photographs, the woman, the art. The first portrait and the one with the dogs are my favorite. She seems like a person who doesn’t wear a mask, but let’s her soul shine through fearlessly. Oh, and I love the way she wears her hair.