Open Secrets

I n Kate Henderson’s painting The Source (2019), pools like oil slicks of blue and green and gold coalesce across a plane surrounded by tree-like spires. A blue arm points like a shaft of light to one pool, whose rings spread like the concentric circles of a pond disturbed by a pebble. As in many of Henderson’s paintings, the canvas is layered with fragments of overpainted paper collage. Bold colors and irregular forms give The Source a sense of energy that tugs against the otherwise serene suggestion of a forest glade.

Henderson shares the bill with photographer Marjorie Gillette Wolfe in Kehler Liddell’s newest show, Exposed Secrets/Secrets Exposed, on view through October 17. The exhibition title’s second half refers to Henderson’s work, which she says exposes, in part, her artistic process—not just the paper fragments hidden in plain sight but also the source of the fluid round forms that populate so many of her paintings. Henderson worked for many years in IT and graphic design at Yale, where part of her job involved photomicroscopy—taking photographs through a microscope. Among the prints for sale at the front of the gallery are several built from pictures of cellular material, though Henderson has layered and colored and manipulated these images beyond scientific recognition. “I’m always looking for organic, natural abstraction,” she says.

sponsored by

The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven

Sometimes these abstractions are brought into sharper focus. In Persephone in the Underworld (2020), for example, the reference to the myth of the seasons organizes a brooding collaged paper and pastel painting. A pink form trailing veins of white from the painting’s center suggests a heart connecting the vertical halves of the canvas—a duality of fireball hot and icy cool, each gathered inside lines that suggest human figures.

At other times, Henderson’s curving forms read not as a unity but as an assemblage. You might find the cup and stem of a wine glass, the cross-section of a fruit, the dark interior of a bowl tipped on its side—but only because you can’t help but search for the familiar. Taken together, these crowded, jostling shapes bob in a sea of color. At the same time, there’s a sense of balance and organization to each painting. “Rules are here, but they’re here to break,” says Henderson, who’s currently teaching the principles of two-dimensional design to new students at Paier College of Art.

Henderson’s Walk series (2012) of eight gouache and watercolor pastels is filled with forms that suggest her surroundings: a blue canal, a purple wall, a brown-orange hill, a gray and white path slashed by shadows, the thick, black arc of a bridge. In contrast, a series of encaustic paintings addresses more formal geometric patterns, with deep parallel lines scratched in the waxy surfaces. In conjunction with Wolfe’s mostly landscape photography, a conversation of sorts emerges. It, too, seesaws between dualities: color versus black and white, nature’s abstracted forms versus those realistically captured on film.

Henderson, who has just stepped into the position of gallery director at Kehler Liddell, also sees a back-and-forth in the process of creativity itself: the times when “we’re alive and creating, and when we’re… more sort of processing and in a quiet time.” Exposed Secrets/Secrets Exposed invites visitors to tap into that quiet time themselves and contemplate these varied ways of exposing the world.

Exposed Secrets/Secrets Exposed
Kehler Liddell Gallery – 873 Whalley Ave, New Haven (map)
Thurs-Fri 11am-4pm, Sat-Sun 10am-4pm through October 17
(203) 389-9555
www.kehlerliddellgallery.com/current

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Images—of The Source, Persephone in the Underworld and Walk 6, respectively—provided courtesy of Kate Henderson.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg's associate editor. She's also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Her perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the green and a coffee milkshake.

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