The Curator’s Eye: Mary Henry, Painter (1913-2009)

Lost in Vermillion, 1996, acrylic on canvas, 72 x 96 inches


Selected by Billy Howard, founder/director, Howard House

Very few artists have the opportunity to draw inspiration from over nine decades of life experiences. But Mary Henry accomplishes this with the same conviction and determination she had when she embarked on her path as an artist seventy-five years ago. Although she has slowed down in her ninety-fifth year, Mary is to be admired for homing in on her path as a modernist painter and embracing the rigors and beauty of this movement.

In 1945, she met the constructivist master László Moholy-Nagy; the meeting changed her life and gave her the foundation to become a modernist master herself. She left her two children with her mother to study at the New Bauhaus School of Design in Chicago.

Mary’s bold, beautiful, hard-edge abstract paintings are the antithesis of her rural, wooded Whidbey Island dwelling. I think it is a metaphor for her life: The encroaching forest and gardens are pushed back by her large, fiercely colored geometric canvases just as she pushed back society’s expectations for a woman. This alone is to be admired. —BILLY HOWARD

I paint shapes and colors in relationships that excite and satisfy me. I want my work to exude a physical strength and beauty. I want my work to overpower me, to be more dominating than I am, to have a life of its own so that when one of my paintings goes out into the world it can establish itself with no further help from me. I think of my paintings as presences. —MARY HENRY [(1913-2009)]