Review of Bill Henson Exhibition

Review by Marilyn Brown

Bill Henson
Art Gallery of New South Wales
8 January to 3 April 2005

Bill Henson is an artist that uses photography as his medium. The treatment he gives his subjects, in his series, succeeds in creating a carefully composed piece of art, where light, tone, colour, as well as his developmental techniques, all play a part. 
He was born in Melbourne in 1955 and had his first solo exhibition in 1975. Today he has collections in galleries across Australia, Europe and The United States of America. 
Judy Annear, of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, together with Bill Henson, has chosen 350 Images from dozens of series to present this exhibition.
Henson’s photos, I feel, are designed to make a direct impact on the viewer. I didn’t look at any of his photos and think: “That’s a nice photo!” I was thrown into a thought process straight away, where I was questioning the meaning of each series, quite often coming up with several possibilities.
A clear example of this is the Untitled Sequence 1978 where a portrait of a middle aged man is placed within a series of photos of a boy running. Was this his father, coach, abuser or himself as he is running towards his future? Does he mean to flee from this man; impress him or, in running, forget his childhood to become a man?
This quandary is intentional, as I believe his unique style enhances the image. They were softly focused, sometimes blurred with careful positioning of the subject. This treatment of his photos seems to be common throughout most of his collection, which gives the observer a sense of ambiguity.
The Untitled series in room 3 is another example of Henson’s treatment of his subject matter. This I felt was very confrontational, maybe even shocking for some. The image of a naked prepubescent youth, clearly uncomfortable, the use of lines, tone and contrast in these photos almost allow you to see right through the subject showing his most private inner core. Henson achieves this effect in other photos of youth, without the use of graphic nakedness, and I feel he does this without par.
The series in Room 7 are an example of this. These portraits, combined with the landscapes of dramatic colour and perspective, all combine to give a dramatic feeling to the viewer.
The portraits are reminiscent of Rembrandt or even Caravaggio. The light highlights the faces and the rest of bodies and detail falls into the dark background. The ruby red lips and use of the conspicuous jewellery add to the drama of the pieces. Henson uses chiaroscuro as the painters of the renaissance did, with the same effect.
The skills in creating the collages, specifically in Room 8, are self-evident. Henson’s collages combine many visual effects, which form a subtle, complete story, from the careful choreography of the subjects (guiding the viewers eye around the work) to the construction of the pieces in the darkroom. The torn edges, youths in uncomfortable limbo, between childhood and adulthood, and the backdrop of nature, all play like a symphony orchestra bombarding the senses.
I find myself wanting to expand more on this exhibition, from Henson’s use of windows, black with no reflections, paralleled by the masses of pictures of indifferent crowds possibly representing windows to the soul being empty, as in the faces of the people.
Bill Henson’s work is very thought provoking and whether an individual would be offended by the imagery is beside the point, his pictures make you stop and think, as they still do for me, several days after visiting his exhibition


Art Gallery of New South Wales – Summer Exhibition Pamphlet

Art Gallery of New South Wales – Bill Henson Exhibition Pamphlet

Art Gallery of New South Wales – Exhibition Hand Out

Bill Hensons website
A big thank you to Ozcloggie for proof reading this review for me!

Review of Bill Henson Exhibition by 

Review of Bill Henson’s Exhibition at AGNSW in 2005.


  • Lost Lost
    Lost Lostover 7 years ago

    The link to Bill’s website doesn’t seem to be working?

  • Martin Derksema
    Martin Derksemaover 7 years ago

    Wow, Marilyn, this is a great review. I think it is written in a style that is open and inviting to read further. You made a perfect blend between facts and personal observations and thoughts. Now I am going to stroll around on his website, because you made me very curious!

    This website

  • Marilyn Brown
    Marilyn Brownover 7 years ago

    Thank you for that website Flyboy and thank you for your comments. Pehpsi the website I linked in my article no longer exists so I have linked it to roslyn oxley9 gallery, that together with Flyboys link should give you a wider set of information on Bill Henson.
    Thanks for visiting my writing portfolio.

  • gmarq
    gmarqover 7 years ago

    I saw Mr. Henson’s work at the Denver Art Museum in the late eighties. I was blown away. His work was shown in a small side gallery which seemed to work with the intimacy of his work at the time. I could not leave that gallery. I had forgotten about those days, thank you for refreshing my memory. Greg

desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait
desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait

10%off for joining

the Redbubble mailing list

Receive exclusive deals and awesome artist news and content right to your inbox. Free for your convenience.