Mike Henderson: Honest to Goodness

San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, United States
13 Sep 2019 - 17 Nov 2019

Image: Mike Henderson, Me and the Band, c. 1968, oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Haines Gallery.

Image: Mike Henderson, Me and the Band, c. 1968, oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Haines Gallery.

Mike Henderson: Honest to Goodness celebrates the work of pioneering African American artist Mike Henderson (b.1944, Marshall, Mis­souri; lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area), bringing together a selection of key works from a dynamic practice that spans more than fifty years.

In 1965, Henderson left behind a rural farming community in the Midwest to attend San Francisco Art Institute (BFA 1969, MFA 1970), where he found a vibrant community of artists and friends that would nourish his creativity for decades to come. Galvanized by a new atmosphere of protest and possibility, the young artist set to work producing a breakthrough series of large-scale, figurative paintings—some overtly political, others joyfully depicting his San Francisco scene. Remarkably, as Henderson was completing his education, works from this series were included in two important exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art: Human Concern / Personal Torment: The Grotesque in American Art (1969, traveled to the Berkeley Art Museum, 1970) and Contemporary Black Artists in America (1971). These shows brought Henderson’s early works into dialogue with a range of artists concerned with social justice.

Henderson received his MFA degree from San Francisco Art Institute in 1970, a year that marked a dramatic change in the form and content of his work. Like many African American artists searching for new modes of expression following the tumult of the previous decade—Joe Overstreet, Frank Bowling, and Raymond Saunders among them—Henderson left behind his figurative style and turned his artistic vision towards abstraction. In following decades, he developed a set of creative inquiries that continue to fuel his practice to this day. With their lushly built-up surfaces and striking palettes, the more recent paintings included in Honest to Goodness will offer viewers an opportunity to view Henderson’s evolution as he explores the tension between gestural and geometric abstraction.

In addition to painting, Henderson is an accomplished blues guitarist and filmmaker. His experimental short films, made from the mid-1960s to the 1980s, have been screened at venues around the world, including recent presentations at the New York Film Festival (Lincoln Center); the Gene Siskel Film Center (Chicago); and Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris). A selection of Henderson’s films will be screened at SFAI in conjunction with Honest to Goodness (schedule to follow).

Mike Henderson has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship (1973) and two National Endowment for the Arts Artist Grants (1989, 1978). His paintings and films have been exhibited in such distinguished institutions as Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA; de Young Museum, San Francisco, CA; and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, IL. The artist will be the subject of a large-scale solo exhibition at the Shrem Manetti Museum, Davis, CA in 2022.

Mike Henderson: Honest to Goodness is held in tandem with the Tate Modern’s groundbreaking traveling exhibition Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983, which will be on view at the de Young Museum from November 9, 2019 to March 15, 2020. The San Francisco presentation of Soul of a Nation will feature an important early painting of Henderson’s Non-Violence (1968), which the artist created during his time at SFAI.




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