Henrietta is a painter currently living in West Penwith, Cornwall. She descries her abstract paintings work as ‘autobiographical deconstructions and reconstructions of life’. In Quite Lovely we have showcased the preliminary sketches of the erotic studies which will follow in our next issue.
Read the interview with Henrietta which is featured in Issue Two. To see the essay of illustration you can purchase the magazine here.
Your body of work mostly comprises abstract paintings, which you describe as ‘autobiographical deconstructions and reconstructions of life’? Could you expand on this for us?
All the paintings I create whether abstract or figurative I see as autobiographical to a certain extent. I create them as a response to what is occurring in my life, what I’m looking at, reading, and experiencing on a personal level. They are pared down and rebuilt, creating a dialogue within my experience.
What do you find so captivating about the female form?
The female form is beautifully voluptuous, sensuous and curvaceous. Whatever shape or size, the fluidity of line which follows the curve of the hip, the roundness of breast and belly is feminine and seductive; it almost draws itself, the variation so vast that one can produce infinite moods. Having said that, I am as attracted to looking at the female body as a male body, and fascinated by the taboos that surround nudity.
Do you paint your figures from models or your imagination?
Largely from my imagination. I have been drawing and painting figures for as long as I can remember. I rarely work from life. I am strongly driven by the way it feels to embody a body, but many of my figures are informed by my looking at paintings, painters, art history, magazines, photographs, films and ‘cultural’ videos. I remember as a child I was rather obsessed by the naked figure and used to fill sketchbooks with rather elongated pencil studies of female nudes. Maybe it was a way of coming to terms with my own physical development, but it was also a way of fantasising about an adult world and the romantic view one often assumes will arrive with maturity.
You capture the female form using bold brush strokes and beautifully rich, vivid colours in an abstract style. What is it that you try to communicate by portraying the human form in this confident and primitive style?
I’ve always worked in a very direct way; the bold lines and brushstrokes are a way of quickly putting ideas on to paper or canvas. My figures, mainly female, tend to lean toward depictions of women who are strong. I attempt to synthesise different considerations into each composition. Colour field backgrounds dictate mood and create ambience, in some cases almost engulfing the subject. The characters are individualistic in that I usually have a clear idea of who the painting is about, and yet
the overall message might be that of a universal circumstance which anyone might experience. I try to express an archetype, but make each one personal by using either myself, my daughters, or a beautiful woman whom I might see in a photography book or magazine as inspiration. Subject matter that I approach ranges from the vitality of youth, including youthful sexual energy and expressions of experimentation depicting gaucheness, naïvety or particular vulnerabilities. I process influences which enter my consciousness through my painting. The boldness of mark-making can push the comfort zones; consideration, gaze and a degree of voyeurism are one way of making sense of what it all means.
The watercolour sketches included in this issue were only ever created for personal pleasure. After some gentle persuasion, you allowed us to showcase these in the magazine as a prelude to a more considered body of work that you might look to commence for the third issue of the magazine. What was it that initially made you unsure about exposing these particular sketches to the public?
I never imagined that these ‘Escapes into Pleasure’ would be showcased to a wider audience. They were created at a time when I felt particularly free, and certain events sparked my imagination to continue my explorations in to my studio and sketchbook work. The sensitive, raw and personal approach was not something I envisaged would become public. At the time they felt very private, intimate fantasies. However, I did wonder whether there was a platform on which to expose these works on paper, knowing that erotic art has a very valid place in art history. There is always a question in my mind as to what people might think about what I do. This goes for all aspects of my painting, and life. I think it is healthy, though, to openly explore thoughts and to be free enough to express them.
And what was it that finally swayed you to divulge these delightful erotic illustrations?
Having received my copy of Quite Frankly and been so thrilled and inspired that a publication such as this had been produced I was delighted to be invited by Katherine and Alice to showcase my work. I felt this to be the perfect moment to share these early explorations and a wonderful opportunity to be able to work with the QD team on their eclectic and stimulating project, a serious and sensitive production which I felt could place my drawings into
a gently erotic context. After all, what I am portraying is a perfectly normal human activity, designed for pleasure.
Where did your own interest in erotic image-making come from?
I think that I had a fairly liberal upbringing. The house was always full of interesting people and I found the adult world that I witnessed to be stimulating ground. Nudity was never an issue, with topless sunbathing the norm and blissful summer afternoons spent around the swimming pool, everybody comfortable in their own skin. There are one or two artworks which stand out particularly in my memory. My parents had a print above their bed which they referred to as ‘the boot’, but it was clearly a couple in a sexual embrace. By the same artist, whose house we visited regularly, was the forthright portrait of a woman which made a huge impression; bold and naked, with breastsand huge nipples, her pelvis thrust forwards, she was brazen in her pose. What I loved, in retrospect, was that there was no attempt to hide these images from my innocent gaze. A few miles away at Charleston Farmhouse, along the foot of the South Downs in Sussex I saw the art of the Bloomsbury Group, and this was another huge inspiration. I in turn decorated my bedroom walls and cupboards with abandoned female nudes. Human interaction and sexuality is a powerful force, and as I moved into the study of painting I found myself attracted to Schiele, Klimt, Bonnard, Balthus, Picasso and Rodin, and especially their highly eroticised works. I now admire Cecily Brown, John Currin and Richard Prince, not to mention many photographers.
You have always shown great enthusiasm towards The Quite Delightful Project and its publications, and we would love to showcase more of your work in future issues. Do you think there is a place for a luxurious, erotic photography magazine, like this one, that celebrates forthright image making in today’s market?
Yes. I think we need to do everything we can to expound healthy sensuality which both respects and informs. We need to celebrate truly consensual image making, and I love the written pieces in the magazine just as much as the images. All together The Quite Delightful Project is embracing an enormous need to produce and, without getting too heavy, is approaching this with a measured sense of responsibility, too. It is to be admired and applauded. The Quite Delightful Project is fantastic and all aspects of it are beautifully produced. The actual magazine is physically beautiful, and its content stimulating, intellectually as well as erotically. It is explicit yet sensitive, informed and liberated, fearless and seductive. It has great artistry and soul, and is a joy to behold. So yes! There is definitely a place for this project and, yes, it is to be encouraged! I am hugely flattered that Quite Delightful have approached me, and excited to have a tangible opportunity to explore this area of erotic imagery in greater depth. I am very happy to be part of the history and see these erotically inspired drawings as an expression of human documentation.
Do you intend to carry on producing sexually explicit images? Where do you see your art practice going next?
That would be telling! Who knows? But given licence I am sure the creative muse will find fertile ground, and I will have great fun working on a body of work which I will enjoy exploring and sharing! Both in my mainstream output and in the erotic genre I think making work with the aspiration that it will stand the test of time is an important goal, and one for which I always aim. I will continue to paint, whatever the circumstance, and I will continue to read and look. There is
a plethora of material which I need to imbibe, and it will be exciting to see where it all leads.
Visit Henrietta’s website here.