Artist Interview: Kelsey Henderson

Kelsey Henderson: Dull The Will at Envoy Enterprises

Currently on exhibit through to January 9th, 2013

On December 3rd, Art-Rated’s Lily Koto Olive sat down with Brooklyn-based artist Kelsey Henderson to discuss her solo show “Dull The Will” at Envoy Enterprises in the LES. The show opened this past Saturday, December 8th, with the official opening party next Sunday, December 15th.

Lily got a chance to have a sneak peak at the paintings in Kelsey’s studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, before they were packed up and sent to the gallery. Below Lily and Kelsey converse about her newest body of work.

AR: Thank you again for having me over to your studio space Kelsey. I have admired your work for several years now, and it is a pleasure to be able to come here and see them in person. When I think of your paintings, the first thought that comes to mind is the pearlescent translucence you manage to convey through your painting handling of figures. Some of the deadpan gazes and lounging fleshy white bodies in your past work make me think of Phillip Pearlstein. Is there a conceptual reason for desaturing the tones in the flesh? What guides and informs the decision making in your palette choices?

KH: Thanks Lily, I’m happy to have you! The reasoning for the pallid color palette is to project a self portrait element to the work/the individuals I’m painting. My skin is almost transparent and fragile; I’m constantly covered in bruises or am blushed so I try to find those similar qualities in the subjects I’m painting and push it further by desaturating / draining the entire environment.

AR: This is your second time showing at Envoy Enterprises, correct? Tell me how you first came to find the connection with the space, and how, in your opinion, this body of work and particular showing varies and differs from the previous solo show “One Day At A Time” you had there in 2009?

KH: Correct. It was through a friend of a friend at the time. He saw my work and loved it, then showed it to Jimi (the owner of envoy enterprises) and shortly after I was invited to show my work. In the past I did a lot of nude portraits lounging around, often trying to steer the viewer away from a direct sexual reading with the focus being “now is your chance to stare at someone.” Remember that beautiful person you saw walking on the street the other day, and when you made eye contact you looked away? Well now is your chance to keep looking.” But with that idea I think I kept a distance from anything too intimate… keeping my life and personal interests less obviously involved, where as now they’re much more prevalent. I guess I’m just allowing more of myself and subculture to have an intentionally stronger presence… and along with that this show in particular is also more about creating a world and experience. Each painting is intended to give further context into the other pieces. In my past shows each painting followed a similar visual rule… almost that they all meant the same thing,whereas this show isn’t intended to be like that… it’s more about these off images being together specifically to tell a bigger story.

AR: The way you paint your figures comes across as very much steeped in a belief in the powers of Realism; an attempt to capture the essence of a personal moment by recreating it through the lens of a viewer looking through a camera or examining a photograph. Sometimes your attention to specific details of flesh is phenomenological, akin to an obsessive nature of close examination along the likes of Lucien Freud. What is your relationship to photography and painting, and how does it play a role in the way you create your final images? What is most important to you in terms of specifically replicating the images you choose for your works and what is this process like for you?

KH: There’s such a strong tie between the two as to how photography guides the handling of the paint and value of the image. It’s the reason for why I paint so thin – I don’t want to try to fool the viewer into thinking I’m working from life by using thick paint strokes to imitate the real thick flesh in front of me. Instead, I’m trying to relate more to the flatness of the photograph as the object that it is itself. I think my reason for replicating the work verses just letting it be the photo that it is or veering off from the image too much with a level of abstraction is to try and create a greater meaning to the image, demanding people to give it more consideration… and I believe that is what painting the photographs does. It is asking for more time… it creates a more intimate reading of the image not only knowing it took time to make it… but because viewers can also lost in the paint marks.

AR: This show and body of work seems to be somewhat a departure for you compared to previous paintings I have seen. Tongue-in-cheek dark humor, morbidity and a sense of object fetishism appear forefront in the new images, which I really enjoy. I love the way you have expanded upon your personal handling of figurative painting and infused voyeurism and a nod to the music and culture in your personal life into the pieces. Tell me more about what prompted this new approach and how your current process in the studio and conceptualizing differs?

KH: I had to get a bit weird in order to satisfy myself. I really just needed to reflect on myself more in life and tap into my interests and have the confidence to say… “this is it”. Life needs an energy and excitement and whatever it is that I’ve tapped into with this body of work and the attitude it has – it’s doing just that for me… it’s a reflection of my social, personal, subconscious and emotional life in a way that’s observing, not necessarily participating in it. It’s all of these things yet presented in a way that’s open for interpretation… in the way our dreams reflect on our lives in these fragmented unclear manners, that’s how I wanted to approach this body of work. Knowing not to get too fixated on the subject matter of one piece, knowing that it’s about the relationship between the one image and all the others combined.

AR: An aspect that I am particularly drawn to in your new work is the mysterious ambiguity of the scenarios that are presented. In your piece “Gloves” there are so many readings that a viewer could’s unusual cropping is similar to the way Belgium painter Michael Borremans skews the readings of his pieces. The strange and intriguing way you have chosen to frame some of your newest works leaves the viewer with a story to complete themselves; questions which lead to only more questions.

Giving your narratives open-ended readings makes them that much more powerful. Similar to the way Borremans images curiously resonate with me, I am fascinated by the ambiguous nature of some of your newer paintings. As a viewer, it feels much more satisfying and challenging to be given the opportunity to examine the pieces and come up with our own stories. Could you tell us as an image maker what seems the most important to you in terms of conveying your ideas to viewers? How do you feel about readers creating their own personal narratives in conjunction with your work? Was it intentional?

KH: I can never control how someone interprets my work even if I’m giving them all the arrows and signs that I can saying “this is what I mean”… so instead I’m going with that concept and wanting to throw clear readings off… I’m happily inviting multiple readings into the pieces… it’s a bit of a fun game perhaps because it ends up tapping into the viewers subconscious just as much as my own. Like “is the glass half empty of half full?” I think how one reads it is a great reflection on themselves as much as it is a reflection into my subculture and youth. People like to classify things as “good” or “bad” which feels detrimental and arbitrary. These paintings are trying to distract the viewer from having a clear sharp reading or if someone has one, they’ll at least know the person standing next to them most likely has a different impression…… the paintings are asking the viewer to accept being in that unknown state… it’s a good and vulnerable place to be.

AR: How do you select your models and the subjects of your work?

KH: Ha. I feel like that’s often the hardest question for me to answer… sometimes I’m fixated on an idea based on paint colors… like “I want to paint a redhead, because of the pale pinkish hues in the skin, etc” or sometimes it’s a more general level of attraction. But no matter the individual I like painting my peers as another way to reflect upon myself. I also often prefer painting people I don’t know that well in order to not to get lost in the complexity of my relationship with the individual. By painting someone who I have some distance with, I’m able to project more onto them through the image.

AR: Culture and music seem to play more of a role in your newest works. Can you tell readers how you view this tie?

KH: I think it’s just another level of that self portrait aspect that I mentioned…. it’s also an element that I don’t get to see too much in a painted format. I believe it’s important to see in that way. By allowing my culture and musical tastes into the work… I feel I’m attempting to slow the present moment in life down and give the viewer a chance to reflect while it’s happening.

AR: I know your official opening night party for your exhibition is next Sunday December 15th. I heard something about a band playing? Tell us what you have in store and what to expect at your opening.

KH: Yes! I asked one of my favorite bands at the moment, Raspberry Bulbs, to play a show at Gracie Mansion – a basement space located directly below the gallery. I wanted to bring the music scene that inspires me so much together in with the art scene. To get the very culture I’m a part of and reflecting on to be at show … furthering the experience element of what the show is intended to be… it’s a world, a happening… and for the shows opening we can experience it all together. There will also be prints for sale that Marco Del Rio of Raspberry Bulbs and I collaborated on with the rest of the band’s merchandise to further a tangible connection between all of these worlds and my inspirations.

AR: What do you have planned for your work after this show comes down? Any new ideas, projects, or directions you plan to explore?

KH: I want to keep working on this current show concept that I’m calling “dull the will”… I feel like I’ve only scratched at the surface and I need to go a little further down the rabbit hole.

AR: Nice. I can’t wait to see what youThanks again Kelsey for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. Good luck with the show, and I am very much looking forward to coming to your opening night party!

KH: Thanks Lily! It should be a fun one.


Kelsey Henderson (1982, MA) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She received her B.F.A. in painting from the Rhode Island School of Design. Her solo exhibitions include Dull the Will, envoy enterprises, New York, NY (2013); Pallid Spell, Mahan Gallery, Columbus, OH (2010); One Day at a Time, envoy enterprises, New York, NY (2009); and Platonic Crush, Red Door Gallery, Providence, RI (2005). Group exhibitions include DIAcussion, envoy enterprises, New York, NY (2013); FG.FT Fad Gadget. Frank Tovey, envoy enterprises New York, NY (2012), This is Not an Invitation to Rape Me, Fox Art Gallery UPenn, Philadelphia, PA (2010); New Works from Emerging Artists in Drawing & Painting, 3rd Ward, Brooklyn (2010); and Quizotic, Troutman Studios, Brooklyn, NY (2009). Projects include Album art for Xeno & Oaklander’s Sheen and Par Avion singles (2013) Platonic Crush Documentary, (Film) Melissa O’Brien (2009); Platonic Crush (Film), FLY 16×9 (2009); and FLY16x9’s Platonic Crush, MoMA MIXXX, New York, NY (2009).


Lily Koto Olive is a New York-based artist, writer and musician. She began to write critically about art in 2010 while attending the New York Academy of Art for her MFA in Painting. She has exhibited her work at The New Britain Museum of American Art in New Haven, CT, Sotheby’s, HERE Arts Center, Sloan Fine Arts, and ISE Cultural Foundation in NYC, the Dumbo Arts Center in Brooklyn, NY, Marketplace Gallery in Albany, NY, The Museum in Leipzig, Germany and ZSenne in Brussels, Belgium. Lily is also a contributing writer for The Brooklyn Rail.



  1. kessy matata kinyogoli
    December 12, 2013

    I would like to make communication with you for art activities in general,

    Thank you,
    kessy matata-Artist/Painter

  2. kessy matata kinyogoli
    December 12, 2013

    I like your works,keep it up

  3. Umar Saeed
    April 11, 2014

    Your work is really amazing Kelsey Henderson. I like your way to approach such beautiful arts. I think you should place your paintings for sale on some online art gallery. They will reward you a good living. Thanks

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