Matt’s Gallery presents Emojimio, an exhibition of new work by Ron Henocq. Accompanying the exhibition is a free publication including a text by Dean Kenning.
For 36 years Henocq has been an active force in the London art scene and a pillar of the Bermondsey arts community, founding and directing the Bermondsey Artist Group and Cafe Gallery (now CGP London). Throughout this period, he has never stopped making and is now focussing again on his own practice.
The artist’s presence is felt throughout 92 Webster Road, where he has lived and worked. Keen eyes will spot his drawings in cement visible from the garden, Matt’s Gallery is currently in residence in his studio as we prepare to open our new gallery space in Nine Elms (due April 2020).
Henocq is a printmaker who gathers and creates images, drawing from mythology, alchemy, mysticism and magic. He combines and re-orders these into assemblages that create and inscribe meaning and narrative. In previous works he has collaged and printed over photographs from the vast collection he has created throughout a lifetime of travels.
Emojimio is an ambitious site-specific installation conceived especially for our 3x3x3 metre cubic gallery space. In a new departure for Henocq, he will let his lino-cut motifs, characters and icons escape the page and the frame and roam the walls of the gallery creating a mise en scène of suggested narrative and stories.
Dean Kenning - Signs in the House of H
Spread out over the bare wall we see a pattern of peculiar floating signs: hares on hind legs, winged heads, shadowy cowboys, pilgrims on horseback, nubile silhouettes, rockets and airplanes, gymnasts, five-pointed stars, ritualistic masks, an adumbrated poppet or gingerbread man covered in eyes, an Epsteinian angel. Like the unity of opposites represented by the various embracing and conjoined male & female figures, this multitude of signs embraces both the living and the dead; the archaic and the contemporary; vegetable, animal and mineral alongside manufactured objects. It is a bestiary drawn from land, sea and air; from heaven and earth; the mythic and the everyday. Then there are the weird juxtapositions and uncanny composites: the fez-crowned cat, the seductive snake ladies, the half-human crocodile and frog-man.
The icons array themselves around a large red figure, portrayed in pharaonic profile, moving with an arm outstretched. We might conjecture that this figure represents the artist Ron Henocq, the red benefactor, the wellspring of marvels and wonders. He conjures it all into existence, creating a universe of assorted elements.
The figures constitute an unlikely, perhaps devious typology. At the level of content, what connects a hare, a mermaid, a cowboy hat and a missile? At the level of stylistic convention, how do we assimilate illusionistic figuration with flat abstract symbols? At the level of culture, can we countenance such a hybrid pantheon of forms beckoning us alternatively into the language, logic and mythos of ancient Egyptians, Renaissance alchemists, Mayan civilisation and twentieth century westerns?
The figures do not lead us along the path of a reliable, rational, picture language. They are too idiosyncratic. What brings them together - not as a unity but as characters that relate to each other as consistent, and continuously expanding world - is both the lino cutting process itself, which delivers material uniformity, and the life of the artist who ‘discovered’ them. Ushered forth by Henocq from the scrapbooks of general culture, these archetypes appear, nevertheless, as singular, enigmatic system of invented signs, constituting a personal iconography: an emoji-mio.
The printing process flattens hierarchies, enabling commonality amongst heterogeneous elements. The practice of printmaking is alluded to through the repeated motifs of hands. It is the hands of the figures that communicate the sign of manual intelligence, of manipulation in the production of an imaginative world: drawing, cutting, chiseling, gouging, pressing. The hands become signs of the physical process that made them, whilst also being a primary means to portray gestural expression in the artist’s figures.
Henocq’s life is indeed intimately connected to his imaginative practice. Once speculates that his exploratory research began in childhood storybooks of the mystical east and wild west, and continues with adventures as an artist such as the year he spent after art school travelling through Mexico on a scholarship. What is particular about this Matt’s Gallery exhibition is that above the four walls of the 3x3m gallery space is a two-floor ‘museum’ of prints, hung in every spare inch of wall. This has been a domestic space and Henocq’s studio for the last four decades. * Engraved linoleum sheets lie hidden under the carpets, and strange hieroglyphs can be observed from the garden on a dodgy cement repair job on the outside wall. Having previously been used in various unified print compositions, the separately cut out autonomous printed figures on the gallery walls not only catalogue years of symbolic propagation, but begin to assume the appearance of distinct transportable house spirits illuminating and protecting the abode they arrive in, whilst acting also as fragmentary monuments to past events.
A mad assortment of domes and steeples spring up inside a city’s walls, civic monuments of everyday lift: town halls, viewing towers, buildings topped with insignias of fish and boats; the lands dedication to the sea. A port city open to the world. Do the birds and vegetation merely adorn the city walls as decorative inscriptions, like the tatooed skins of several figures - or do these marks represent something real? Ivy spreads over the second domed entrance, whilst inside, the city bursts with tropical foliage.
From the wall of floating signs a number of figures are moving in an orderly procession along the conjoining wall towards the walled city. In keeping with the miscellany they will stride, tiptoe, prowl, side-walk, dance, crawl on their bellies; they will swim, summersault, flap, trot, pounce, glide; they will float along in boats or ethereally in the air. Stars light the way, Hands reach out. We are going home. In our city we can adopt new characteristics, try on new garments, follow new paths, dream new dreams, and build, in our symbolic polymorphism, a community that can be added to and tweaked, infinitely, with material from the storehouse of general availability. Once dressed up, puts on a fez, becomes a crocodile, and angel and acrobat…