‘My work is generally described as abstract, although I would describe my paintings as autobiographical deconstructions and reconstructions of life. These ideas appear on the canvas surface often as an abstract gestural web, occasionally tangled, occasionally bold and resolved. An iconic form is liberated from a void into being.’ - Henrietta Dubrey
'Henrietta Dubrey’s female nudes are ferocious; primitive, boldly linear and curvaceous, they face the viewer centrally, frontally, with a knowing confidence. Set against flat, brilliant backgrounds of solid colour, despite their comparatively muted flesh tones, visually they engulf the surface plane as the focal point of attention. These are pieces which through rapid and determined painting a tangible sense of movement and poise communicates itself forcibly. Depicted with faux-naïve simplicity with more than a nod to primitivism, these figures are unabashed and luxurious in their femininity, the sex stark and strangely integrated into the geometric formation of the body. Inspired thus by the giants of linearity, Picasso, Le Corbusier and Hockney, Dubrey brings us a thoroughly contemporary image of the female, draped in cutting edge or avant-garde clothing. Indeed, sensitive to forward thinking fashion and the diffusion of imagery through modern photography, this is made apparent in the strong sense of unwavering focus throughout the works; that an image, once conceived, is rapidly recorded onto canvas with ruthless efficiency.
Indeed, Dubrey continually compiles ideas and images in her sketchbooks as her eye records snatches of visual interest or intrigue throughout the bustle of everyday life. Shapes, juxtapositions and details that are so easily overlooked are picked up fastidiously by her curious and searching visual sensibility, feeding into a body of work that conveys innumerable tones, moods and characters in each piece. Retrospectively considering this oeuvre, she feels that the pieces which should be regarded as more successful are those that achieve a certain clarity. These are pieces in which such snatches or glimpses of promising visual detail or mood are communicated via canvas most faithfully. In this respect, ‘Coffee Morning’ considers the same style of geometric and bulky (certainly with regard to pictorial space) nude, yet transposes this mass to the simple activity of taking coffee in a social context. The change with regard to mood is a powerful one. Far from the assuredness of nudes draped in the latest fashions, it is a comment on the social requirement for dressing in a particular way and the accompanying insecurities and nervousness this entails.
Like all naïve work, Dubrey’s figures are deceptively simple, relying on the confidence of hand and stroke as the source of exhilarating movement. The process of completion from sketchbook conception through application of line is in fact a steady, carefully considered journey; through the long period preparing materials – including sizing with rabbit skin glue, followed by a lead/oil based primer which must cure for three weeks – the image is thoroughly worked out. The sense of movement and excitement, then, exudes from the split second application of line. The minute degrees of spacing and form which together create the highly individual figure and character stem from that intense relationship between mental conception and the hand’s physical capability of interpreting it. The entire character of a work can be dictated by the split second movement of one stroke, and it is this poise and daring element of chance that makes the work potent with energy. Where Dubrey’s work is most enticing is where her strength of line is bold, confident and unflinching – correct and devastatingly powerful in each singular brush-stroke.
Furthermore, her clearness of line, the deliberate layering of lines, and the varying degrees of texturedness of smoothness all function within the notion of clarity, resulting in an enormous range of emotional content between each piece. Through the simple application of single outline (or indeed multiple layered outline) figures can resonate unease, defiance, confidence; any number of complex human emotion Dubrey has encountered and lodged as a fruitful subject. The result is emphatic, compelling, and above all thoroughly energising. It is made entirely clear to us the brutalist power of the line and the contour it signifies. The figures appear caught mid-movement, like the camera shutter capturing a split second of a model’s gesture or movement. Like the singularity of line decided by chance, these are single images captured by a single camera click (or indeed, Dubrey’s snapshot memory) out of many innumerable possibilities. Caught almost in the headlights, the viewer is let in on the model’s unguarded thoughts, making for an intimate relationship between the two. ‘Back Stage’ exploits this profitably; betraying a world more emotion in the figure caught mid-movement, mid-dress, and away from the glaring spotlight, than the polished performer in control of a larger, public crowd.
Similarly, inspired by the modern, defiant girls of the catwalk, or Peter Blake’s conception of figures draped in cascades of rainbow colour, these figures gaze out at us, through us, half aware of the compelling allure of their forms as wrapped (or unwrapped) in avant-garde clothing. Dubrey cites George Condo as a visual influence; though where his distinctive method of rendering staring, front facing heads is deliberately repellent, hers is an altogether more seductive relationship with the viewer.
Set against background colours of brilliance and bright zingy colour, these figures are modelled using flat facets of pale colour. Like the figure denoted by the most economic use of outline and linear detail, so the spectrum of shades and pigments present in the human skin is broken into separate areas of colour, providing wonderful subtlety. Combined with the primitive treatment of the visages and abstraction of bodies and limbs, there is visible homage to the influence of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, while remaining thoroughly rooted in the visual language of today’s contemporary fashion, and even the street attitude associated with it. With this method Dubrey successfully draws attention to the innumerable shades of beiges, blues and pinks that comprise the skin’s luminosity, striking excellent balance against the bright draperies and background. It is a testament to the enduring visual resilience of skin and bare flesh against the riotous colours imposed on it by fashion items and surroundings. '
-Olivia McEwan, June 2014
Born in Sussex in 1966, Henrietta Dubrey studied painting in the 1980s at the Byam Shaw School of Art, Wimbledon School of Art and the Royal Academy School. Her work has since been shown across the UK, including Edgar Modern, The Belgrave St.Ives and London, and with Lynne Strover in Cambridge, as well as at art fairs around the world. Henrietta now lives and works in west Penwith near the tip of Cornwall, an area which has attracted many artists she admires: Roger Hilton, Patrick Heron, and Terry Frost amongst others who were drawn by the inspirational qualities of light and space.
Hampstead AAF - Stand H7
27 - 30 October
20 October - 30 October, 2011