CJ Hendry

This week’s International Eye feature artist is Australian-born, CJ Hendry, who is currently based in New York. At a first glance, when looking at Hendry’s Rorschach, it may seem that the viewer is observing blotches of paint that have been slathered onto paper: vivid, luminous colours engulf the picture plane, suggesting that the viewer is looking at a photograph of glossy, wet paint. Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the viewer is not actually focusing on an abstract work, but instead a drawing that is designed to deceive the viewer into thinking that they are looking at thick, impasto paint. Hendry’s New York studio is filled with thousands of coloured pencils and photographs which she uses to inform and meticulously create each drawing.

Having developed her technique over several years, Hendry has garnered a massive online following and has worked with a multitude of galleries and brands including Christian Louboutin. Hendry has also seen her work in many solo exhibitions with Rorschach being the most recent. This series marks a conceptual move away from her initial experimentation with the depiction of paint using coloured pencils. In our conversation with Hendry, we delved into the psychological undertones of this body of work.

Q | What was the motivation behind your series, Rorschach, and were there any influences for this body of work?

A | Rorschach is a psychological test in which you are the subject and are shown a series of ten inkblot images. Your perceptions of these images are recorded and analysed, measuring thought disorder and schizophrenia. It’s not about what you see, it’s about how you see. I think what makes Rorschach tests so intriguing is that, unlike questionnaires and other languagebased approaches to personality assessment, you are presented with a visual task. Upon seeing the images for the first time some people will gasp, some look away, some stammer secrets they have long suppressed. There is a fascinating correlation of science and art, objectivity and subjectivity and ultimately this series is the science of artistic response as the key to personality.

Q | Could you elaborate how you form these hyper-realistic, intricate drawings that are emblematic of tangible blots of paint? Was there a reason for your choice of colour pencils as your preferred medium over paint for this series? Q | Could you elaborate how you form these hyper-realistic, intricate drawings that are emblematic of tangible blots of paint? Was there a reason for your choice of colour pencils as your preferred medium over paint for this series? 

A | In the beginning and for the first few years of my career, I only used black felt tip pen. In 2017, I started experimenting with colored pencil. My first series, Complimentary Colors was made with colored pencil. I created these paint swatches, which was a bit of tongue in cheek because it was pencil that looked like paint. I have not created any paintings yet, but it is a progression I would be interested in exploring. To create my drawings, I always photograph the composition and reference that as I draw.

Q | When displaying this series at a large warehouse in Downtown Brooklyn, you transformed the space to evoke the interior of a psychiatric institution. Why did you choose this setup as opposed to the typical white cube setting and what did you aim to convey to the viewer in doing so?

A | I am so bored of traditional white cube art exhibitions where the art just hangs on a wall. It seems so two dimensional to me. I want to create something so that the viewer can really experience my artworks. The only way to view the Rorschach drawings was to bounce through the 3,000 square foot custom built bounce house that I created. The bounce house was designed to reflect the artworks’ both childlike and psychological characteristics. On first impressions, it is just a bounce house but as you continue to move through it really mimics the padded cells of an old school mental asylum devoid of the colors and shapes you might expect in a child's bounce house.

Q | How did you move from creating smudges of paint through drawing to developing your Rorschach series?

A | For years I struggled with how to make hyperrealism more interesting and even abstract because by definition hyperrealism is the opposite. A Rorschach test is open to interpretation and everyone sees something different without being dictated as to what the picture is.

Q | How relevant and important are the psychological references to the conception and execution of the series?

A | The psychological references were extremely important to the concept and execution of the Rorschach series. To those unaware of the Rorschach test the psychological aspect could easily be glossed over but regardless of that the viewer is always going to see something different which at its core is the purpose of the test. These artworks were designed to test the viewer which may force them to question why they might always see sexual imagery or animals or nothing at all.

Q | Since Rorschach, have you shifted your focus to consider other areas of interest and what can you tell us about the projects that you are working on currently?

A | I think as an artist, and certainly in my own practice, you always need to be shifting focus and evolving and creating new concepts. It would be so easy for me to continue with the same concepts but that is not going to challenge me as an artist. I have worked on a few very exciting projects including an exhibition in Philadelphia in a church that I have bought. It is absolutely beautiful and I cannot wait to share more details.

The abstraction of Hendry’s Rorschach series allows us to question our own psyches while simultaneously bestowing upon the viewer an opportunity to view works that question the role and depiction of different media, in this case paint and coloured pencils. The viewing experience that Hendry developed for this exhibition also infuses the act of looking with links to asylums, mental health and ultimately influences our perceptions of these works. While the physical exhibition has ended, an online version available on Hendry’s website allows the viewer to digitally walk through the exhibition and experience the works through their screen.

27th January, 2021 Visual Art | Paintings