Darren Henderson has built this debut solo exhibition around his obsession with owls and their symbolic, poetic and cultural resonance. His forthcoming show at Gorker Gallery is one big parliament of owls. Dare I say the biggest collection of owl paintings by one man in one place?
Darren talks to TheVine about these evocative birds, his preparation for the show and lots of facts about his current favourite subject.
How many works are in this exhibition? How long has it taken you?
There are 271 paintings. They range from 60mm x 60mm to 500 x 500mm. When hung they come together to form a world map. But I have since decided to add Antarctica so there will be approximately 300 by the time the show opens!
What is the impetus to making so many artworks?
Over the last few years I'd always painted fairly small pictures. I've always wanted to do something on a larger scale so I have combined a variety different sized paintings and joined them together to create something bigger.
The owl theme has been a focus of mine for a long time. Unique and original whilst being extremely odd and beautiful. Misfits somehow. I can't stop painting them once I sit down. The most appealing thing is that there is no planning in them at all. I just grab a frame and start. Some are simple and take moments, whilst others take hours. But somehow I am always happy where they end up.
How are you installing these? Have you got a vision for the space?
Luke from Gorker and I are going to install them with the old fashion screw in the wall. It will take a while but it needs to be hung properly.
I thought about using some strong double sided tape to speed things up a bit but if a small painting fell from the top it would probably take out 40 on the way down. That wouldn't be a good first solo show experience. Ha.
The world map will take up the large wall at Gorker and a couple of paintings, gocco prints and a large character will feature on the small wall at the end.
How have you made these artworks?
I have made all of the artworks from scratch. I have a little house at Cape Woolamai called 'Hendonesia'. I have a drop saw, compressor and a staple gun.
I quite enjoy the manual labour of building these. It's almost a meditation. Also I enjoy the feeling when you have finished 40 frames and now you can get stuck into painting them.
My best friend has been Hendonesia. A place to escape and concentrate on getting things done. Also it is a five minute walk to my favourite surf beach. You can't work all the time!
What got you obsessed about owls?
I became obsessed with owls a long time ago but only really started painting them a few years back.
They are loved, feared, celebrated and even hated. I also love that owls have a long history in many cultures throughout the world. They are found throughout the world except in Antarctica. But I have painted Antarctica for the exhibition. So that is now un-true.
What are your top favourite facts and myths about owls?
Aaaahhhh...there are so many!
1. A group of owls is called a parliament of owls.
2. The Snowy Owl is eaten by the Inuit in Alaska and may be legally hunted by Alaskan residents.
3. Owls have four toes / talons. The outside toe is reversible. It can face the front or back depending on the owls needs. No other bird of prey has this.
4. Owls cannot move their eyes in their sockets. They have an extra vertebrate in their spine that allows them to turn their heads 3/4s of the way around....or up and down.
5. Owls are the only creature that can live with ghosts. So if an owl is nesting in a house nearby it must be haunted!
6. In northern India, if one ate the eyes of an Owl, they would be able to see in the dark. In southern India, the cries of an Owl were interpreted by number: One hoot was an omen of impending death; two meant success in anything that would be started soon after; three represented a woman being married into the family; four indicated a disturbance; five denoted coming travel; six meant guests were on the way; seven was a sign of mental distress; eight foretold sudden death; and nine symbolized good fortune.
7. In Poland the owls symbolise death. They also believe the Owl does not come out during the day because it is too beautiful, and would be mobbed by other, jealous birds.
8. In Transylvania: farmers used to scare away Owls by walking round their fields naked.
What's the soundtrack to this exhibition?
Thats a tough one. I've been struggling with this. Maybe Gil Scott Heron with some old hip hop followed by Eddy Current Suppression Ring.
What are some of your favourite things in your studio at the moment?
I am painting in a shed in Balaclava owned by an lovely Italian woman called Carmel. There is a vintage Alfa Spider in there and me.
Also Carmel's family's home made pasta sauces! A year's supply. I was lucky enough to be given two bottles. After the first meal I was reluctant to share the second bottle!
None of these are my things! I'd have to say my iPod and 400 cans of paint. Mmmmm...baby blue and shock turquoise.
How are you preparing for winter?
With a 4'3 wetsuit followed by an open fire and a glass or two of red.
Get Lost, Find Something
an exhibition by Darren Henderson
Opening Thursday 29 April, 6:30pm
Exhibition runs until 16 May 2010
395 Gore Street
More at thevine.com.au
Words by Paintergirl