Exhibition: The light fades but the gods remain – Bill Henson

Exhibition: The light fades but the gods remain – Bill Henson

The light fades but the gods remain is a major exhibition showcasing two key series by Bill Henson, one of Australia’s most eminent artists, exploring the suburb of Glen Waverley where he grew up. 

In celebration of MGA’s 25th anniversary, Bill Henson was commissioned to revisit the suburb of his childhood, Glen Waverley, and to produce a new body of work that reflects upon his earlier series Untitled 1985‐86, known by many as ‘the suburban series’. Both series of work will be exhibited in July 2019. This ground-breaking commission offers an unparalleled insight into one of Australia’s most revered artists, as he revisits the landscape of his childhood to explore the notion of home, intensifying the everyday to a point of dramatic revelation and romantic beauty. 

‘The commission is a unique undertaking. Asking Bill Henson, one of Australia’s most revered artists, to revisit the place of his childhood has resulted in series that provides rare insight into his practice. As the majority of Australians grow up in suburbia, the new body of work speaks to a shared history, harking back to childhood, and capturing something of Australia’s national identity, our sense of place, belonging and home.’ Anouska Phizacklea, MGA Director 

Together, the two series, from the 1980s and today, offer insight into the notion of mortality, which Henson investigates through his inimitable lens. The initial series featured the burgeoning city of Glen Waverley, in sequences interspersed with portraits and ruminations on foreign lands. The new works, produced more than three decades later, comprise eleven photographs that are a deeply reflective and psychologically charged response to the suburb where Henson spent his childhood and adolescence. They explore universal themes of loss and mourning that touch us all. These new works will be seen for the first time at MGA in July. 

‘In the new works, it is as though the sun is sinking on an empire that humanity has all but abandoned. Henson has not disturbed the sense of gathering dusk that began in 1985–86. In fact, he has intensified it, parsing it through a grammar of memory and melancholy, meshing a net to capture it.’ Pippa Milne, MGA Senior Curator 

The commissioned works will enter the MGA collection, complementing the holdings of twelve works from the 1985–86 series. The July exhibition will draw these two series together. 

Over a period of several years I came to understand that what I wanted to capture and hold on to was a place which no longer existed. The possibility of photographing the landscape of memory and in so doing return to the ‘lost domain’ of childhood seemed both beguiling and yet so unlikely. The fact of these photographs, and of them having been made in the last two years and yet in them the depiction of a place which ceased to exist fifty years before, must surely be an impossibility. Nevertheless, I’m always hoping there just might be something ‘impossible’ about a picture – some profound ‘unlikeliness’ that documents both the world of the imagination and our shared, physical world. Perhaps it’s only through searching for this that we might draw closer to some deeper sense of continuity.’ Bill Henson. Artist

Monash Gallery of Art. Victoria. 27 July – 29 September 2019 

Untitled 43. 1985-86. Inkjet print 106 x 87 cm. MGA collection

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This article was written by
David Tatnall

David Tatnall is a Melbourne based fine art photographer.

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