Bill Henderson RIP

Tribute for Bill Henderson LG

What a lovely man. It is so hard to digest his absence. We were, none of us, ready for this. For such a gentle, unassuming personality, what a gaping emptiness he leaves.

Quiet, clear and true, carefully thoughtful, at ease with opposites: both cautious and an adventurer, slow and careful yet courageous, private and utterly communicative, a soothsayer, a dreamer, and yet also very down to earth, a striver, a dogged grafter and a gleeful celebrator…

My first memory of Bill: the 8th floor office, St Martins, 1982, a veritable pressure-cooker of male egos-but there across the room was a receptive, encouraging smile, and a preparedness to engage with care. What a relief, a palpable and open generosity of spirit. How lucky we all were to have such a presence, such a moral and human yardstick for us all.

Working along-side Bill for 20 years, negotiating the institutions changing roles, theoretical conflicts and personality dramas, Bill remained gentle, prepared to listen, open, supportive, always able to entertain the other person’s viewpoint and to measure it up against his solid, grounded, thoughtful sense of value.

The students adored him; what a gift to have the full attention of such a careful and empathetic presence, and not only that, they had access to his attitudes to painting and the demanding, playful and constantly evolving nature of his practice. They benefited, as we all did, from the insights of a major British artist, who despite early success, prestigious exhibitions, Arts Council and Tate Gallery purchases, deserved way more recognition than he received.

Looking at his paintings and talking with Bill has always been a unique experience of humility, openness and honesty, of mischievousness and curiosity, all fired by an urgent determination to affirm the inclusiveness and aliveness of his creative and personal journey- as he said:

“…the only time I know I am humming with pictures is when I am saying, you can’t do that, it’s ridiculous! Otherwise,” he adds, “you’re just riffling through a card-index of styles and things you’ve done before”.
His constant drive, was he said, “to overcome the doubts, to get to that new place you’ve never been before..”

In the catalogue of Bill’s 1983 Arnolfini Mid-term Retrospective, Lewis Biggs describes: “the pulsing quality in all Henderson’s paintings,… the echo of a gesture… pounding rhythms, breathing spaces, assonance and dissonance, an endless variety of diction”… (Bill’s love of sound, music, dance, reflected in those words,) and Bryan Robertson says: “formidably gifted and… in my view one of the most distinguished and original artists working in Europe now”, continuing…. “there is a double edged interplay in all Henderson’s paintings between delicacy and passion, emphasis and restraint, light and colour, set against darkness…. intimate presences and an almost claustrophobic bristling… and…darkly shadowed…loaded action…”

Those dark shadows, always seemed to me integral to Bill’s work and story, evidence of his courage to question, to allow, and so importantly, to reveal self doubt and vulnerability, and of his will to really account for his experience. His unique character and sensibility would recurrently, right through to his very last painting, see him emerge with fresh, renewed power and audacity.

If each of our lives are like a pebble dropped into a pond, then I can only see the ripples made by Bill and his work, as being gentle, generously life-affirming, challenging and full of such beautiful care. I know that Bill’s deeply beloved Rosie, Anna and Joe will keep those ripples spreading and I have a strong sense that, with the gratitude, delight and appreciation we feel for Bill, so too will all of us here today.

Tricia Gillman LG Oct 2019

The London Group Open 2019 is dedicated to Bill Henderson LG (1941-2019) elected to the group in 1990.

Bill’s painting Shadowplay Black Moon Rising (2019) will be exhibited in Parts I and II of The London Group Open 2019, 20 – 29 November, The Cello Factory

Shadowplay Black Moon Rising (2019)