Of all the works by Glen Cooper Henshaw, his oil paintings are hard to find because there are very few. We will be offering an oil on canvas titled “Boats at Sunset” in our American and Indiana Art Auction, November 17, 2013 at 1pm.
The title is attributed to an inscription (probably added later) that is found on the back of the frame. While sunsets and boats are common themes among his works, it is my belief that this painting is not of a sunset, but rather of a funerary ritual in which the dead were buried with their ship. When you examine the magnificent pillar of gold and orange that some have interpreted to be a sunset, you’ll notice that it sinks deeper into the structure of the boats than a reflection. It climbs higher than a sun pillar in a vertical blaze that terminates in smoke that blends with dark clouds, yet this flame is not shared across the horizon line. On close inspection, the horizon line and the sky above it, are dark and somber- smoldering with bluish black clouds.
Henshaw had written of a funerary boat ritual he observed while in Italy. He spoke of how he thought he was painting a boat scene, but as the subject floated closer, he realized it was in fact a ritual burial of the deceased. This experience brought an emotional response and forever changed the way he painted. His characteristic style was born in this moment. This experience is responsible for the atmosphere in his paintings that seem to hang on the macabre, the beautiful, and the elusive. They borrow from shades of evening, of darkness, of life drawn in bright staccato rhythms contrasted by darkness, obscurity, as well as the unforeseen reality that is just beyond.
Henshaw’s effort to grasp the duality of mortality and life through his landscapes reveal more than just a ‘stylistic’ technique. There is a sublime intention behind his brush or pastel strokes. He was not merely making ‘pretty pictures’ of landscapes and boats. His style speaks emphatically towards something deeper and subliminal. He’s searching out the meaning of life and it’s absence. He’s seeking to capture the dichotomy of the mortal and immortal within the natural world. He leaves us with a sense of occultation, foreshadow, imagination, and wonder.
I am doubtful that these are merely, ‘boats at sunset’. Glen Cooper Henshaw’s work is an expression of the duality between the sublime and the common place; the obscure and the tangible world; the natural and spiritual.