|Suburbia used to be the best place for resistance. The myth of conformity was the space where we were nonconformist. The creation, dissection and our attempted destruction of that space could be accepted as the industrial strength narrative of the twentieth century. The battle of normalcy has itself become mainstream. Later for suburbia that took too long. The same war happens instantaneously in cyberspace and it is won and lost in the blink of an eye. This is an age so dependent on recycling that yesterday's rebellion becomes tomorrows fashion at an astonishing speed. In the western world a new millennium has brought with it a tragic question. With no opposition to seemingly anything, what is there left to rebel against? Simon Henwood is no the answer (unless you're that bored) but Henwood ecstatically reanimates the question. A painter of spoiled adolescents and humanoid blobs, an illustrator of sanguine gothics tales for children, an animator of fantastical visions of worlds eerily like this one but not close, a publishers of indie magazines that bring together the cacophony of voices that hover between the marginal and the traditional, a collector of high and low cultural artefacts and an ever growing media presence who neither bites nor strokes the hands that are feeding the uber-producer: Simon Henwood.
To begin to unravel Henwood' s cultural production would probably induce the schizophrenia that might appear to be at the roof of that production. But Henwood is actually very simply stated a saviour of the root of that production. Melancholy mixed with spurts of joy and exaltation attempting to break out the coffin of boredom in that oft related tale of pubescent angst. What Henwood does brilliantly is locate that angst to the pint that an 80 year old will feel it as if it were acne, and the endless quest for something new to do was a disease of the elderly and not the young. In the paintings we discover mellifluous snapshots of all the moments that define this stage paired with anthropomorphic realisations of those moments. They bring a delicate balance of horror and seduction that Henwood will then spin out into narrative. In Johnny Pumpkin for example a creature seems to exist solely to tempt children with an orifice that one they enter they turn said creature inside out. What lurks in the mind of the madman is eerily similar to what is lurking in the mind of everyman. In Henwood' s entire opus the evidence of everything is gingerly peppered about.
Accessing the pop culture database is a mammoth task and Henwood is a maestro. References collide like American trains throughout all the narrative work. Star Trek, Johnny Quest, Ed Gorey. Men in Black, the Betty Pages, Kirby (both Jack and the Nintendo icon), manga and Steven Spielberg all sit comfortably in the tableau of Johnny Pumpkin for example. The encyclopaedic knowledge it would take to read all of the references would make Derrida happy but also serve to point out the populist sentiment at the heart of this body of work. Unlike some of his colleagues however Henwood isn' t simply borrowing the culture but his conscious choice of diversifying his output to include comics and television, let' s say, as well as paintings separate him from the herd. This is also why the books, especially the catalogue for Spoilt Children and White Kitten, prove so invaluable. They contextualize the work in a normally problematic format: reproduction. The interesting thing about Henwood is that the reproduction provides simply another opportunity to read the work instead of a shadow of the original.
Larry Clarke and Takashi Murakami come to mind when musing the production of Simon Henwood. Clark' s investigations of childhood sexuality have brought him to the edge of America's fascist moralism. In Europe, for the most part, kids are acknowledged as sexual beings. While the women in Henwood's labour and not solely relegated to babeland, it is not unusual to find a Betty Page type lurking around not so casually forever emasculating a pure excuse for masculinity. Murakami' s cultural output comes from the same self-produced hyper-machine that Henwood must access. Murakami produces his own line of manga inspired sculptures crossed with an anime X-rated presence which finds women playing jump rope with their own breast milk or boys using their cum as lassoes. So innocent is the boy! Henwood has yet to go so hardcore preferring to maintain the bubble of fragility that softcore embodies. Although, I've seen the naughty bits lying around his flat and would not be surprised if a Henwood red light district pops up somewhere in his universe.
From Damien Hurst to Puff Daddy is has become evident that the best way to leave cultural production untainted by the big machine is to be ones own machine. The unrealised potential of the Internet as a place where anyone can be anything has already been diluted by the fact that very few people want to be everything. The next millennium is not about artists as cultural producers but cultural producers who make art. A breakdown of class structure is inherent in the elevation of mass entertainment and the devaluation of the temples of culture. This is the age of hypernation. One role is no longer enough if ever it was. The misnomer of Renaissance man applies to Henwood in only the capacity of someone who does many things. The reality of the situation is that Henwood is doing the same thing in all available formats. Visually narrating the moment just before that boring switch gets turned and we become adults (some of us, anyway). Sometimes this will call for a painting and sometimes and elaborate animation. Typographic interventions carry the same weight as bold brushstrokes fraught with the weight of philosophic dilemmas in a true democracy. We are quickly approaching that blissfully egalitarian moment when the mixture of culture and commerce isn' t and indicator of compromise. The future is Henwood. Open up and swallow it.
Christian Haye is a contributor to Frieze magazine and curator based in LA and New York