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  Patrick HENIGAN

Patrick Henigan CV (PDF)

The art of Patrick Henigan presses way beyond what we expect is involved in rendering a figure.  His agitated works seem almost acts of emotional laceration.  Henigan embarked on drawing as a means of self-examination.
Standing bare to the waist-the self stripped of externals-he obsessively rendered his face and figure in a mirror, searching for every line, every dent, every twist, shape of the cranium, of the nose, of the eye.
Henigan did not let up for nearly a decade, his drawings the record of an internal dialogue, an essentially private discourse of a man arguing with himself; for he was not aiming through them to produce an exhibition.  (He produced an entire show of still life drawings for public display; then the gallery owner, when he glimpsed the self-portraits on a studio visit, refused all other works.  He wanted to exhibit only the pieces Henigan had made for himself.)
            Art historians sagely speak of a difference between nude and naked.  The nude torso is idealised and general, a form of stereotyped figure, the human as abstraction from the particular.  In other words the nude is a thing.  Whereas the naked is always a person.  It is the rendered figure as someone.  It retains a sense of the subject's character or identity, indeed, it delves into their human imperfections.
There is a level of psychological truth.  So when we say a drawing is naked we mean it confronts us with emotional nakedness, not with mere visual nudity; which is what Henigan was pursuing when he stripped and drew.  And it is the eventual achievement, after doing this to himself for some years, which I find so moving, even upsetting.  This is raw truth.  The shift in register came when Henigan appeared to fix on the marks he was putting down.  There was a change in concentration, a lyrical awareness perhaps.  And so much now seemed to be happening in each laboured line, a hard-to-explain combination of intensity, spirituality, courage, passion, even sexuality.  Looking at those fraught marks is like seeing what was inside laid out on the surface.
Often in drawings we cut down to an existentialist image, although what Patrick Henigan has achieved is an existentialism of process: hence the harrowing physicality of his strokes, the way they are racked with misgivings.

Christopher Heathcote
Melbourne, 2012

Extract of conversation between Trevor Fuller and Patrick Henigan at Place Gallery about Henigan’s tableau drawing of the life of Nijinsky. Recorded 23 July 2009.

TF: What about the compositional issues you faced in making this work Patrick?
PH: Well, I based it on his biography (Nijinsky, by Richard Buckle, Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1971). And it (the drawing) was so spontaneous I had no idea how it was going to work out, and I was praying a lot and I started telling it in full to me as I did it. And also, because I could ruin it very easily, I was trying….when I made a mark, I left it. And I didn’t dolly it up or start or try to make something else out of it. So it’s a linear drawing record in colour, of Nijinsky’s progression from a boy to his finishing up as a man in the asylum.

TF: What about the mechanics of its making Patrick. How have you paced yourself through the 24 metres. How did you determine how much space you would allocate to ….?
PH: I didn’t consider that at all!

TF: You didn’t?
PH: Because I had no idea (of) what I was going to do.

TF: Is that right?
PH: Yes. It was so spontaneous, so, so naïve and I didn’t design it to do that there and do that there. No, it just developed. And each part of it accords with another turn of his life story.

TF: But you did make those little linear, strips (small off-cut bands of paper with sketches)….
PH: Yes, but that was in charcoal. That was done very very quickly and very spontaneously. They were variously stick figures or gestural marks to ….and because the paper wasn’t as wide as I’m used to using, I couldn’t put the whole figure in, in the narrow width of the strip. And that had a lot of bearing on how it came out.
I was talking with somebody about it and he said well, the only thing I can suggest is when you are doing it, is to remember it’s going to be one long roll and to have the figure in interesting places and use the space in between them and keep it in mind all the time, that it’s going to be a movement. You know that there will be a horizontal thing and then there will be a …. Then I’d feel inspired to create another space at the bottom or the top of the picture and it came out quite fresh, and it has that feeling to it. It has got that freshness of somebody who has been drawing like graffiti on a wall almost.

TF: You have got complexity, or a thing that helps in that way is that you have changed the scale of the elements regularly. I mean there are vastly different scales that are involved.
PH: Yes. Just a head and shoulders, and next to it you have a whole body. And I also pushed this figure of the girl in there because it had to relate to the other one. This looks very coarse this red figure (Nijinsky) and I wanted to gesturalise the lines to express what was going on in his mind instead of trying to create a realistic picture. He’s put his hand to his mouth muttering… is that all going? Was that me? Is that ……. And she is there behind him. And she is also looking ahead.
But, it’s only a drawing really. It’s very basic.

TF: So what about this dense, more heavily worked figure up here? The ballerina, there is Nijinsky in the yellow and the…
PH: Well, I think that was because I was having in mind the rawness which Nijinsky portrayed  and that affected my work because I felt I had to measure up to what I had seen in books and whatever. I didn’t work from a book at all, but I had seen pictures in which he was dressed very, very sumptuously and so that affected the work.

Patrick Henigan 2006 Exhibition
Patrick Henigan 2007 Exhibition
Patrick Henigan 2009 Exhibition
Patrick Henigan 2011 Exhibition