One of one: Henry gets squared away

Untitled painting by J.M. Henry.
Untitled painting by J.M. Henry.

Nudges, requests, even pushy demands for coverage–- those I get all the time. But it's rare an artist asks me not to review his or her show. Nevertheless, painter J.M. Henry, whose "Works on Paper" currently hangs in the McGuffey Art Center's main gallery, recently sent an email that essentially said, "Keep walking. Nothing new to see here."

He's wrong. Gone are the landscapes and horizons that characterized Henry's 2009 Angelo show in favor of a return to pure abstraction. Henry continues to mine his technique of building and sanding back layers, enabling  color and a few asymmetrical marks to ignite events on the page, but he quietly refines his methods and subtly reaches into new areas.

Henry says printmaking techniques served as influences while preparing the current body of work. As is his familiar custom, he imposes a central square on the page, and builds his painting within that implied frame. Evidence of the numerous layers involved in each composition is visible at the edges, similar to the colorful residue left at the perimeter of a print after several passes of ink. Like a printmaker, he achieves particular color effects by overlaying pigments rather than mixing them on a palette. In addition, Henry occasionally introduces scratch-like marks reminiscent of intaglio techniques.

But don't be fooled by the "1/1" Henry wryly writes on many of the pieces, which suggests they are perhaps monoprints. These are paintings doing things only paintings can do. Whereas a print can only suggest texture, Henry often builds interest with dimensional strokes and granular paints. He creates spatters. He rubs through layers.

In the compelling #5  (all 16 works are untitled), several tiny explosions erupt near the upper right corner of the predominantly turquoise square, with another small blast occurring at the bottom of the imposed frame. Brief strokes and minuscule dots of eggplant and orange, along with dabs of red and blue energize these near-circular areas. But what subtly moves the painting forward is a tiny, almost unnoticeable brushstroke of pure orange on the left side of the square.

The exhibition also includes three pieces that are a clear departure. Each watery horizontal rectangle has a frenetic, de Kooning-like energy fueled by marks that are more conspicuous than in the artist's studied squares.

Although his techniques may be familiar, Henry's skillfully executed abstracts always reveal something new and well worth seeing.

J.M. Henry's exhibition, "Works on Paper," is on view through January 31 at the McGuffey Art Center. 201 Second St. NW. 295-7973.