For Anton Henning: Portrait, floral still life, interior and pin-up

Anton Henning
Portrait, floral still life, interior and pin-up

‘Was uns als natürlich vorkommt, ist vermutlich nur das Gewöhnliche einer langen Gewohnheit,
die das Ungewohnte dem sie entsprungen ist vergessen hat.’
Heidegger 1935/36

When I walk into the hallway of the exhibition space of Anton Henning, I stop at the door. The painting doesn’t
hang on the expected place at the middle of my eyesight. It shifted slightly towards the right; I also turn
my gaze to the right, to get a good look at the painting. In a flash I hear and see Jan Hoet – who made an
exhibition with Anton Henning in Marta Herford – and I remember his laughter with the proposition I made in
1992 to change the title of Documenta IX, Displacement to Das richtige Daneben: ‘It’s a good title, but not
for my Documenta!’ The painting Blumenstilleben mit Früchten No.55 hangs precisely daneben and shows
the corner of a room with a painting, placed on the wall on the left, which shows a sky of Holland and a
Delfts blue vase with flowers shaped like propellers on a Japanse Lacquer table. The wall on the right
shows another floral still life in perspective or does it show the same vase within a mirror? My gaze gets
pulled more towards the right as I step into the space.
Immediately with the first painting I become a part of a spatial strategy, a thematic staging and historic, theatrical
storylines. It doesn’t matter where I am, inside the painting or just outside it, the painting steers my
gaze. It’s like a bellboy who guides me to my hotel room.
Anton Henning is a master in mixing different motives and styles from Art History. He knows his role models.
The style variations of the female figures of his paintings aren’t always as easy: the Pin-up, yet a profession
with self-presentation as objective, has difficulties to stay dimensionally stable and struggles with
multiformity. They decay to mere details and get distorted in the many perspectives from which the timespace
of the painting is built. Their relations to the objects, who have no issue with the distortion and overlap,
becomes very intimate. Everything gets deformed, a form can even become unrecognisable or it can
leave traces in an ornament or motif. The entire interior is subjected to metamorphosis, who has been put in
motion but hasn’t been completed. Anyway, what would be the direction of this proces: towards construction
or deconstruction?
The Interior is an important historic genre, where the space transforms into a living room; a private domain
becomes public. That’s also the Pin-up. The room in the painting Interior No. 544 has a corner line, but no
floor, the flowers bloom but not all have a stem. In the painting there are other paintings. In Portrait No. 503
there are parts of a sculpture in the space as if a spiritual seance has taken place, lifting the object of its
place. The tables and chairs in his interiors are standing as after a party. I see the room of a house where a
child has fallen asleep because it became dizzy and stayed up to late. Each interior is a ceremonial space, a
banquet hall for painting where shapes, lines and colors occur in a historical setting.
That same evening I talk to my friend Vasily Wells from Saint Petersburg on Skype and tell him about Anton
Henning’s exhibition:
‘Sometimes, when I look at his works, it’s like I’m immersed in a pond. A pond, which you know from a story
in a book with dark red worn linnen covers. The story takes place at a different time, where it’s always
late in the afternoon. It’s about a big family with many children who don’t attend school, but are always
busy and exuberant. They can’t be called into order, yet they will always be at the table at 6 o’clock for dinner,
laughing and blossoming and mixing French words with Italian, Russian and German. The pond, to be
more precise the pond right next to the house, where someone has died, but nobody knows who and where
an old lady drinks red wine and laughs at the world and the people who say: ‘act normal’ and ‘keep to the
rules’. She laughs at those people because…’
‘This reminds me of my childhood, Henk’ I hear Vasily say ‘when we were still Communists.’ I see how his
hand strokes his glass of beer. Afraid to get caught up in Vasily’s childhood stories, I continue describing
the exhibition. ‘There is peace between the visitor and the painting, Vasily, a peace that belongs to looking
itself. Do you know the feeling, when after a hot day your skin has the same temperature as the soft breeze
that strokes it, when there is no resistance, no obstacles between you and the world?’ ‘Between your body
and the world.’ Vasily corrects me. I again don’t respond to him: ‘Between reality and myself is a wonderful
order that I’m part of: you could call it the sincerity of the art.’ ‘Ah, like Pasolini.’ says Vasily. ‘He is my hero,
you know, he dared to approach mankind. Do you know his early poems from when he was 24? The senses
are liberated in the here and now… within the arcadian silence of a mirror … In the silent mirror I am a blue
fish. Henk, I always wanted to tell you, your work is part of that oral tradition, which Pasolini portrayed.
What do you think?’ ‘Yes of course, Vasily, I am the missing blue fish’. Vasily stares at something at his
desk, behind him I see a poster with a work by Olga Rozanova, the Suprematist painter of the Revolution,
who died too young. We saw the original work in Malaga, in the dependence of the Russian state museum.
Malaga, the birthplace of Picasso.
‘Pasolini’, Vasily echoes slowly in Russian with his eyes closed, repeating his words ‘liberated in the here
and now…’ I am struck by his enthusiasm. He continues, ‘Henk, I remember being with my family in the
theater listening to a Mussorgsky concert in the newly opened Youth Theater at the Bolshoi Sampsonievsky
Prospekt in northern part of Saint Petersburg. I remember the exciting moment before the orchestra begins
to play and the instruments are tuned. At that moment all the instruments sound like they have free play
which gives them a great, enjoyable, lively, happy fusion of sounds, pitches and rhythms. Delightful, better
than any piece of music. Liberated from order, structure and hierarchy. The tuning of the instruments, sharpens
the senses. Beautiful. I felt free and safe. I found myself inside the music. Is this what you meant by
stating you were inside the painting, Henk?’ Without awaiting my reply, he goes on: ‘But when the first violinist
turns a page of his sheet music with his bow and everyone gets up straight, the audience has some
time for a final cough then everything changes. For a moment it becomes quiet and all the musicians look
tense. At that moment my grandfather looks at me, with a strange smile and a wrinkled forehead, what we
later would call the smile of Stalin. My mother nervously changes her seating position.’ Vasily becomes silent
with this memory, but then continues his story: ‘Then a man in a black suit takes the stage, he looks at
the audience for a brief moment and then he rigidly turns around and wildly starts to draw arabesques in
the air with a small stick.’ I can picture it before me.
‘Like you want to go back to the theatre, I want to take place in the chair of the painted interior and be a
contemporary of the painted. Inside the interior I’m tracking the derailment and attempt the unprecedented
jump of quality into a world which has been rearranged.’ ‘Yes.’ Vasily says. ‘It is remarkable, the space is
not cut into multiple spaces like in the collage of the Russian constructionists, in which an image is autonomous
and separated from the other.’ ‘Everything in his painting is of the same age. The flower has the
same age as the wallpaper, the table has the same age as the floor and the Pin-up has the same age as the
serpentine line. Everything is subordinated to a whimsical game of shape and color. The work can’t be psychologically
interpreted, there is no question of guilt or morality around, there is no symbolism. That’s why
the painting is so accessible, friendly and inviting and gives you unimpeded access to … reality.’
‘Reality, Henk?’ Says Vasily, as if I said something wrong … ‘Yes, the reality, as it becomes visible in our experience
of the world.’ ‘The world?’ Asks Vasily again. ‘Yes, the world, where everything exists and who
can’t be claimed by anyone because the world belongs to everyone. It belongs to old people, who lose their
keys, and children, who comb their hair and travel to visit their mother who lives alone in a house with a
pond. She sits on a chair in a room where a painting hangs obliquely on the wall. A painting with a high sky.

Henk Visch,
26 May 2017, Eindhoven