Artist Statement Paula Henderson
How our contemporary social landscape is shaped is the subject of several series of paintings and drawings loosely organized under a rubric I refer to as Social Fabrics.
Our shared use of prevalent systems of representation, an important and always evolving part of the social dynamic, works as well to fix and limit our perceptions of one another. My re-arrangements of these forms of representation question their function and authority as a means to elicit or suggest their inherent agency. I perceive that productions as seemingly unrelated as entertainment, such as sports and fashion, or graphic illustrations, such as maps and signage, are experienced with such familiarity that their determinative nature is masked just below their finished surfaces. The complexity of these enterprises is, so to speak, hidden in plain sight. It is the intersections of the histories, practices, and authority of these productions, and our relationship to them that constitute the conceptual and formal aspects of my query, in the form of pattern paintings, schematic abstractions, and maps.
Much of my work in painting addresses patterns of iconic representations of gender and race in sports and fashion. In my compositions I utilize bilateral symmetry to create a decorative camouflage in which tracings of the contours of male and female media figures are multiplied and transformed into mirrored abstractions of themselves. The resultant compositions evoke domestic fabrics and are metaphors for the promotion of media gods and goddesses - images invested with the power to shape contemporary behavior.
In the series Ballpark Figures, newspaper sports coverage is the source for compositions based on contours of athletes 'in play.' Ironically reminiscent of Mannerist figures they soar into heights capped by courts or playing fields transformed here as the outer limits of their rarified space. Filling their forms with lush paisley abstractions resonates with the peculiar reality of players who are reduced to a number yet simultaneously elevated by the fetishism of their fans. Additionally, paisley, a common fabric pattern with a deep and complex past, serves as a metaphor for erased history and the emptying out of significance when a figure or form is commodified through its manufacture. Problematic aspects of the commercialization of sports slip away in its overwhelming spectacle. The series,
The series, Great Expectations, combines postures of male athletes with those of female models posed in familiarly sexualized tropes. In Collide-a scope I, iconic female bodies in gender appropriate pink fracture around a central blue orb in a reference to the perpetuation of the impact of the 'male gaze'.
The schematic abstractions, Court(ed), puzzle the fraught relationship between the business of professional sports and the sites from which players are drawn. The surround of school courts by emblematic NBA court patterns mimic the magnetism exercised by professional sports in neighborhoods otherwise short on investment that have become gardens for harvesting talent. With this series I am interested formally, in the use of abstraction decipherable as a type of social codex.
For The Domestic Balance series, I mine the decorative fabric patterning tradition characteristic of toile, and adapt its narratives of pastoral bliss (and occasional social stratification). I re-configure them, utilizing the simplistic international figuration of pedestrian signs to create social tableaus drawn from familiar images in art, architecture or pictographs, etc. My acknowledgement of social change over time is reflected in the shifting of fortune from image to image. In, Domestic Balance/ Wheel of Fortune, I deploy the familiar Vitruvian figure. Here the figure is racialized and multiplied to resemble spinners on a wheel in a tableau that depicts the disparities in urban/suburban development.
In The Extended ReMix maps I probe mapping's authority to order as much as to describe and I symbolically redress-in space-the images of social engineering that maps can represent over time. Historic segregation by race/class in US cities is dismantled in a loosely alphabetical arrangement. Color designations gathered from census maps flow over the borders of neighborhoods forming an organic (unfixed) grid that resonates with the movement of people across borders.