Yesterday, I had a curious, but ultimately delightful meeting with a young artist named George Henry. He is working on a collection of photographs of the poor, dispossessed, and wounded. And he thought I might be of some help in this endeavor—how much remains to be seen. Until I met with him, I had not seen his work, but a cursory review of his online photo-album showed him to be at least a very interesting artist.
The meeting did not start off terribly well. I was concerned about the project that George had in mind; I thought it might be exploitative. This concern quickly vanished after seeing some of his work and talking to him. Just as my concern was fading, his was rising. He became agitated. “Why are you helping me?” he wanted to know. This struck me as a strange question, so I answered bluntly, “I’m not helping you—at least not yet.” And then he was concerned that maybe I wasn’t who I claimed to be. This all ended in what was—for me—a humorous episode where I showed him my driver’s license. This seemed to assuage his concerns and we went on to have a three-hour conversation with topics as far-flung as the cardinality of different infinities, using literature to determine if you are dreaming, and how platonic idealism makes me a bad artist.
Even without this young man’s (he is only 21 years old) formidable talent (more on that in a moment), he was well worth meeting. It is so rare that I meet people—much less young people—who are interested in much of anything. George seems to be interested in just about everything.
The self-portrait above is a very good likeness of him—both in appearance and attitude. He has a certain frightened yet defiant air about him. Whatever the reason for this (and I could speculate, but it makes me sound so old), he comes off as a cool guy. You can imagine him at the back of the Royal Roost in ’49 to experience Miles Davis at the birth of the cool before anyone new it was cool. One of his paintings is called, “All My Heroes Are Long Gone.”
From left to right, they are: Leo Tolstoy, Bill Hicks, GG Allin, Andy Kaufman, Travis Bickle, Salvador Dali, and George Orwell. The inclusion of Travis Bickle is a bit perplexing or just creepy, given that he is one of the most evil characters I can think of. But he does fit in with this group. All of them are rebels. The problem with Bickle is his motivation: “Kill a senator? Kill a pimp? It’s all good.” George Henry does seem to have a certain fascination with death.
What is most compelling about his photographs is what he chooses to shoot. It has a profound affect on his art. Looking at many of his photographs, I often think that I am looking at images from my childhood. There are a number of shots around a junkyard that are exceptional. I particularly like a shot of two little girls who apparently live there; the camera is tilted slightly—giving the feel that the girls are being flung off the earth. His feel for pain is tangible, and he snatches it in the most unlikely places. And, as you can see in the picture of the train stopped in the middle of a snow-covered forest, he is capable exquisite photographic composition.
George Henry’s painting is less consistent than his photography. This may have something to do with his media: he often works on plywood and even particle board. He seems much more at ease with charcoal and paper, as in the self-portrait above. But he always has interesting ideas. The following image, called “Made of Paint,” is very compelling.
There is a great deal to like from this talented young man. I will be very interested to see what he does over the next couple of decades.