Arts & Culture · Fine Art

Grace Visits: Artist Judith Henry

This August, our frequent arts contributor and artist herself Grace Graupe-Pillard is making studio calls. This week she shares with us her visit to the studio of the artist Judith Henry, who for over 40 years, has created evocative multimedia artworks that explore the friction between our interior lives and public selves.


I deal with alter egos in my work and find it liberating. Behind a mask we can delve into the myriad “personas” that we are capable of imagining and slide down a slippery slope of dream and fantasy. The need to relate to the past, to jump on the back of historical figures and bring them into the present with all the wonder and mystery that a leap in time conjures, is a captivating one. Judith Henry’s artwork over the past five years probes both the desire to be hidden as the “other” and the wrenching psychology of being oneself. Both are viscerally revealed through the act of painting: instinctively applying pigments, overlaying and gouging the canvas, and at other times approaching the artwork as gently as a butterfly’s wing nuzzling a bare arm.

Mask on tableMask – Paper Mache

Her recent one-person exhibitions at BravinLee Gallery in NYC, and the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey  focused on her conceptual photography. The Me as Her series consisted of a group of black and white photos of women who have been trailblazers in their fields — the absence of color is indicative of the tabula rasa of the forgotten. Henry melds herself into these individuals, creating an amalgam of yesterday and today. The artist is not so much hidden as absorbed into their beings, but at the same time she relocates them into her own space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn where she lives and works. A mutual transference is thereby consummated. Some of the women that Judith Henry embodied are Betty Friedan, Dorothy Lamour, Judy Garland, Emma Goldman, Lucille Ball, and Miriam Makeba.

In The Artist is Hiding — a photographic series of Henry standing in front of a large painting — her face screened by the pervasive altered masks with only her torso and hands visible, is both heartrending and exquisitely heartbreaking in the unveiling of an artist’s psyche. The images in this series are conceived through dramatic sweeps of slicing brush strokes, intense hues, as well as silent, muted tones of color, often incorporating collage. If X-rayed, her use of only one interactive background painting would reveal the pentimento of Henry’s myriad selves. Through art, an interrelationship is formed that yields either a fighting duel or a calm truce charged with impassioned expressionism, which is then photographed,  the surface textures “smoothed,” maintaining  a modicum of distance.

Having used masks as a way of making work about herself through anonymity, Henry has recently allowed the paintings to exist on their own. The tactile act of wrestling with paint surfaces, the infinite marks that create textures, the collating/cutting and pasting of images from women’s magazine ads, the electrifying light that glitter adds to a work, the bruises and intoxication of the process itself are now available for us to witness and feel with the barriers removed.

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  • LaThoriel June 10, 2020 at 2:21 pm

    Judith work is always timely. Her caregiver watercolor series are terrific! Especially while performing such care.

  • Grace Graupe-Pillard August 23, 2016 at 10:35 pm

    Thank you Suzan, Phyllis and Lauren for your comments.

  • Lauren Donner August 23, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    Wonderful explanation of Judith Henry’s exquisite work. I especially gravitate to the turtles and girdles work but am in awe of new work, the Makeover series.

  • PhyllisRosser August 15, 2016 at 3:17 pm

    The mask ofjudith’sfacewasmyfavorite.

  • Suzan August 15, 2016 at 2:15 pm

    Thank you for this beautifully written introduction to Judy Henry’s work. I am taken with her anonymous yet intimate portraits in The Artist is Hiding series.

  • Grace Graupe-Pillard August 12, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    Richard – that is another thing that intrigued me. Thanks for commenting.

  • Richard August 12, 2016 at 8:02 am

    enjoyed the article and artwork, interesting look into the female psyche

  • Grace Graupe-Pillard August 11, 2016 at 9:00 pm

    Thank you Nina – The minute I saw the Makeover Series I knew they had to be written about.

  • Grace Graupe-Pillard August 11, 2016 at 7:16 pm

    Thank you Karen. I agree and that is why I wanted to write about them.

  • Karen austin August 11, 2016 at 6:01 pm

    I enjoyed viewing Judith Henry’s humorous & satirical gridlock series. Her very powerful portraits of women have such a primordial feel to them.

  • Nina Litvak August 11, 2016 at 5:10 pm

    Very insightful analysis of Judith Henry’s exciting work. I especially love the new works, the Makeover series.

  • Grace Graupe-Pillard August 11, 2016 at 10:59 am

    Thank you Judith Escalona for reading and your comments on Judith Henry’s work. Much appreciated.

  • Judith Escalona August 11, 2016 at 8:42 am

    Very nice. Thoughtful and imaginative. Masks and the truths they reveal. Well-done Judith!