Hithermost at Pertwee Gallery
Keaton Henson responds to interview questions with Emily Dickinson and Byron quotes, experiences intense stage fright, and creates illustrations that haunt, seeming to look back at you from the paper. A Renaissance man whose creative work includes visual art, pensive, folksy music and poetry, Henson’s art is currently on display in the apt Pertwee, Anderson & Gold gallery in Soho. The remote, isolated work sits well in the cramped, richly subdued space of the gallery. There’s a decadence that calls to mind dark chocolate and bourbon whiskey, a familiarity to the images that makes us question ourselves as we consume it and are consumed.
The work, largely pen and ink illustrations of grossly disfigured animals that nature never intended, and children with distorted features and too-large heads, is angsty and outspoken, coming as it does from such an introvert. We are vaguely reminded of Edward Gorey and Shel Silverstein in turns. Despite a certain morbidity, or perhaps because of it, Henson’s work has a wry humour to it, a knowing smile that says he doesn’t take himself too, too seriously. This is good, because that sly wink prevents the whole ship from tipping into the deep sea of pretentious art-land and taking us all with it, spilling pinot grigio everywhere and shrieking in all-caps Helvetica while M Ward plays in the background.
The crowd is trendy, hip, new-money London meets Hackney literati, all tasteful tweed and spectacles and bright, earnest smiles. We can’t help but notice that the art is selling fast, little red stickers popping up next to piece after piece. One can imagine them gracing sitting rooms in West Hampstead – the queer picture in the hall you were inexorably drawn to as a child that filled you with dread and fascination. Looking into Henson’s work is like looking at the worst parts of your adolescence, and finding out everyone else was having just as awful a time as you were.