The paintings and collages of Kyra Henley are a Cargo Cult of found images washed up onto the idyllic shore of an island that has a dark jungle heart. Her use of images from dead media (old magazines, thrift store coffee table books, miscellaneous defunct encyclopaedia) is at once familiar and strange.
Her work brings to mind Caspar David Friedrich’s 19th Century targeted ad for mountain climbing ‘Wanderer above the Sea of Fog’. Like the wanderer his mountain, the use of dated media gives the viewer the distance of time. She is lifted up and out of the churning boil of imagery created by social media and allowed to coldly survey the terrifying awe of the psychic-sublime in all its beauty.
A young girl receives a possibly problematic tennis lesson in a chic 70’s living room, two old men meet on a wind swept moor to sniff whisky and a lone wind surfer drifts towards an ominous rococo portal while lightning splits the sky. These images are slow-lookers, not the barely registered scroll fodder of your feed. Like a Zen koan they provoke a didactic doubt that has you immediately asking for core samples of the 6/7ths of the iceberg below the water.
The beauty and deeply skilled realism of her work is comforting, but her subject matter is disquieting. If you stare at a photo of a cake from a 70’s cookbook too long all the ingrained misogyny of the society that made that image begins oozing out between the icing. Her work is shamanic like that. Its beauty coddles you, rubbing your forehead while the strange jolting subject matter pours bitter psycho-actives down your gullet.
Both approaches are requisite to coax the viewer into a new and necessary understanding of that which is around them. There are few artists out there who embody the role of visual shaman with quiet aplomb. Kyra Henley is one of them.
- Steven Latimer