John Henry

For four decades, John Henry has been at the forefront of contemporary sculpture.  As evidenced by his two works in OPEN2OO7, he continues to be extremely prolific, pushing to new limits the linear forms that have defined his work since the pre-ConStruct days in Chicago in the early 1970s. While John began his career as a painter in the early 1960s, and has worked with a variety of sculptural materials over the years, his first love and the primary materials of his oeuvre are welded aluminum and steel. The pieces in this exhibition, “Traveler” and “Zach’s Tower, both modest in size relative to Henry’s internationally recognized monumental work, equally embody his remarkable sense of scale and balance. Using the linear elements of his pieces as lines in space, he is masterful at finding that place of equilibrium that often suggests a defiance of gravity. Each piece, regardless of its weight, suggests lightness and a sense of motion as part of the viewer’s experience, not unlike the monumental Illinois Landscape #5, located at the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park at Governors State University, or Alachua, located on the campus of the University of Florida. In recent years, John Henry has spent a considerable amount of time in Europe, and much like an aesthetic sponge, this reflective time has found its way through his hands and heart into his work. The Cathedral Series, inspired by the grand cathedrals John explored in Italy, gave birth to a number of pieces, while more grounded with massive vertical trapezoid shapes, still emanate the spiritual emotion experienced in cathedrals, that of ascendance into the heavens – a kind of balance, if you will, between our humanity and our relationship with the universal. While identified by some in the 1970s as part of the Minimalist Movement, the geometric forms that have defined John Henry’s work for more than thirty-five years have their aesthetic and historical base in Constructivism. John has a supreme commitment to the materiality of his work, and an unwavering insistence on maintaining the integrity of the process and the materials in developing his visual vocabulary. While his aesthetic sensibilities flow from his creative intuition and life experience, John has always been devoted to researching technique and process in an effort to more successfully realize his vision, an artist unafraid of contemporary technology and the information age. Consequently, John Henry’s impact on monumental sculpture and the notion of public art in general during the past four decades is unparalleled.

The two works by John Henry in OPEN2OO7 reaffirm his place as an eminent international sculptor. An artist secure in the visual language he continues to explore with a passion that has not waned with time; quite the contrary, a passion that is fueled with his zest for life and the exploration of his life’s experience through his art. There is a powerful maturity and sensibility in this body of work that reflects an artist who continues to deliver some of the most important sculpture being created at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Text by Ken Rollins Interim Executive Director Tampa Museum of Art, Florida