The artist Nigel Henderson (1917–1985) pursued a creative career that spanned fine art, photography, exhibition-making and interior design initiatives. This research project, which was co-led by Mark Hallett and Rosie Ram (Royal College of Art), examines the collage practice that underpinned Henderson’s thinking.
Henderson’s experimental collages combine printed matter, paint and photography. In his collage work, he assembles fragments of image and text in order to activate them in new ways. He wrote: ‘I want to release an energy of image from trivial data. I feel happiest among discarded things, vituperative fragments cast casually from life, with the fizz of vitality still about them.’ His works bring the visual detritus of modern British life into dialogue with imagery from other places and periods. They reflect on the passing of time, the ruins of war, and the crumbling of empires. Henderson’s collages also engage with the historical legacies of collage: with the Victorian hobby of ‘découpage’, for instance, and with the subversive collages of dada and surrealist artists, from Hannah Höch to Kurt Schwitters. At the same time, his pieces respond to more recent artistic developments, including the rough textures of brutalism and the bold graphics of pop art. More broadly, they engage with the visual culture of their own time and cast a critical eye across contemporary images intended to stimulate aspiration, consumption and desire.
This research project generated a Spotlight Display at Tate Britain, Vital Fragments: Nigel Henderson and the Art of Collage (December 2019 to March 2020), which was co-curated by Hallett and Ram, with Zuzana Flaskova of Tate Britain. It also led to the publication of an accompanying guide to the artist’s collages, and the production of twelve short films devoted to one of Henderson’s most ambitious works, Screen (1949–52 and 1969), created by Hallett and Ram in collaboration with Jonathan Law.