Melbourne, Victoria, Australia born 1955

Untitled 1990/91 (Paris Opera) (Young girl wearing jewelled necklace) [(Young girl wearing jewelled necklace) Henson no: Untitled 2/1] 1990-91 Description: from the series Studies for the Paris Opera
Materials & Technique: photographs, Type C colour photograph

Dimensions: printed image 120.0 h x 125.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1991
Accession No: NGA 91.395
  • Bill Henson’s art issome distance from the association of the camera with the literal world. He is known for a succession of moody photographic series, in which figures move seemingly out of normal time and space within strange unhomely places and spaces. Each series is usually identified only by the year of making.

    Henson’s world is one created with light and shadow; the elements may be staged or may be fragments of scenes extracted from ‘real life’ as recorded by his camera. Each series raises immediate questions about where it is going, at the same time as leading the viewer down a personal path of reverie. Henson’s characteristic saturated but subdued palette has an other-worldly character and also a sense of a grandiose art and culture now vacated by its original inhabitants and wanly occupied by others. Henson’s printmaking involves complex use of different film stock, colour processing of black-and-white film, and intervention in the development and exposure of the prints. The resulting prints have their colour and mood precisely orchestrated by Henson, for whom classical music is a passion.

    In 1990, Henson was approached to be part of the ongoing program of commissions to artists by the management of the Paris Opera. The commissions are open-ended and Henson made several visits over a year to the three Paris opera houses. Having determined that he would look at the idea of the audience rather than buildings or performances, Henson made his photographic ‘sketches’ in Paris. On returning home, he put these aside, feeling the photographs he had made were too documentary. Instead, he directed a new series of tableaux in which the Paris Opera building does not appear; indeed, the landscape images were shot in America. Within the 50 images of the series, there re-occurs an elegant gentleman watching a performance, perhaps from the privacy of a box, and a pale bejewelled girl-child who at times appears to whisper into his ear like the zephyrs of a Renaissance fresco. The figures do not thrill or emote or call for an encore from the invisible performers. They are passive but, in losing themselves, seem to live more intensely.

    Gael Newton

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002