“You know how photographers put paper in a chemical bath, and gradually the image starts to come up?” asks painter Elizabeth Henderson. “I feel like that’s the way my art does. Images come along, as I go along.”
She describes her painting process as a kind of stream-of-consciousness surrealism. She typically starts with a central structure, maybe an architectural, biological, or geometric shape. “Then it flows from there,” Henderson says. She uses water-based paints, acrylics, and watercolors to create washes, superimposing outlined figures and structures over the color. “Then it just develops itself,” she says, “and it’s surprising to me what I come up with in the end.”
Guided by intuition, “my paintings are continually evolving visions, and I’m prone to going too far,” she admits. “I’m trying to teach myself to say ‘done’ when it’s done. But it just flows. Painting is very meditative for me, kind of like a spiritual practice.”
By incorporating iconography that tends to resonate on a universally perceived level, she insinuates a sense of profound spiritual gravitas. But she puts it all together with a playful, childlike sense of wonder. Her work often evokes comparisons to that of Joan Miró, Marc Chagall, and Antoni Gaudí.
“It’s fun,” Henderson says, “and I believe if you’re not having fun you might as well not do it.”
Henderson fluently borrows elements from diverse traditions and cultures. She’s a well-versed polyglot of symbolic expression, for sure. Native American rock paintings, medieval European manuscripts, Egyptian art, Aztec hieroglyphics, traditional Middle Eastern rugs, and Early American needlework are all within her purview and up for grabs.
The artist has lived in Taiwan, the Azores, and Slovenia, with stops in Crete, Venice, Rome, and Jerusalem. She soaked up art in France and was awed by Buddhist temples in Indonesia. She paints like a foreign sightseer on an expansive journey to no particular destination — except the labyrinth of her imagination.
“I was also a comparative religion major in college,” says Henderson, “and I’ve always been a seeker and interested in sacred art.” She earned her MFA at Corcoran School of the Arts and Design in Washington, DC, where she trained as a figurative sculptor. But it wasn’t until she moved to Asheville about 12 years ago that she found a community of like-minded artists.
“I didn’t have much of an artist’s life in Washington. The museums were great. But the artists I knew there were doing totally different kinds of things — monumental installations. I was just not too drawn to do things like that. I really started to draw and paint a lot when I got here. This place has lots of art energy. In Asheville, I’m in art heaven.”
Elizabeth Henderson, 310Art (191 Lyman St. #310, in the River Arts District) and at Riverview Station (191 Lyman St. #217). For more information, call 828-776-2716 or 828-301-5533 or see 310art.com, elizabethhendersonartist.com.