The following text has been edited from a manuscript found amongst the contents of a trunk left outside the offices of a-m-g5 in May 2021.
In it Henshaw records his thoughts about his book of drawings.
[EXT. SWIMMING IN THE LAKE. DAY. 2004]
Neurosis, according to Abraham Maslow, is everything that gets in the way of us being our true selves.
Life can become a process of treading water, a series of errands to keep one’s head above the surface.
My oxygen supply at present is a pen and a book and a modest supply of paints – items that cannot be denied to me by financial insecurity or failed funding applications.
[INT. STEAMING COMPOST HEAP IN A SUBURBAN GARDEN. NIGHT. 2016]
Neurosis can be regarded as the product of floundering growth. Fleeting moments of creative progress offer a welcome antidote. Drawing in my book performs the vital role, re-establishing the depletion of fulfilment, belonging, love – the soil formation for the terra firma of re-adaption.
I need the repetition of pen marking paper to dull the interference of the impulsive urges of gratification and to close my ears to the desire to be loved and recognised for my creative contribution to the world.
[INT. SEA OF THETA BRAIN WAVES. DAY. 2017]
Drawing requires a state of direct contact with the page, an intense compulsion to deal with the matter before you, a detachment from time and place.
The emphasis is on inhabiting the theta brain wave frequency through the mantra of mark making, where a deeper intelligence of assimilated knowledge lies, away from the choppy surface of neurotic chaos.
[INT. ATTIC OF ACCUMULATED STUFF. DAY. 2019]
Every page of the book starts by shutting my eyes and drawing the noises in the space with pen on paper to focus my senses. After ten minutes I come back into the room and respond to the marks on the page, building and layering translucent pigment and line. I rake through irrational core beliefs, the dusty heirlooms and worthless paraphernalia of sensory gratification, until something catches the light that is peculiar and intriguing. I am given a fragment of a form a piece at a time. It becomes the restoration of a something that already exists but is buried. Both text and form come to the surface in random synchronicity, each drawing has its own rhythmic signature that I must adjust my internal metronome to otherwise the page is lost.
[INT. MATERNITY CLINIC FOR 40 YEAR POST-TERM BABIES. DAY. 2020]
The reduction in palette and materials on the page forces me to narrow my approach and work with focused intensity without distraction. By mining in one spot, with limited tools of expression, the opening becomes deeper and more penetrating. I see this as a process of narrowing the consciousness, similar to the way a hypnotherapist uses only the rhythm and tonality of voice to create a multi-sensory experience. Every mark is a question, that can go unanswered for weeks and months, the answer comes like the change in the climate, it requires adaption to something that is bigger than myself.
Once the initial spontaneity dies it is a case of hanging in there, rather than bounding between mediums, styles and approaches to cultivate oxygen in the work. I endure hours of stale gesture before the door can be opened into a second naïveté. (Second naïveté is a wise presence that can perceive as a child, think as a child and react like a child, with a set of sharpened tools to achieve a layered idiosyncrasy. It recovers innocence within the complexity of an art form, a way of being that is organised around total fascination.)
[INT. A PAGE AS THE LOCATION. DAY. 2018]
I mark the page with repetition until it bleeds through, a form of rumination. (Rumination: from the French word to turn over in the mind again and again.) The ink bleeds through to the next page suggesting a new image for a new day.
[INT. STAGE. NIGHT. 2018]
When line and layering of translucent pigment refuse to reveal a narrative, I approach the conflict with the responsibility of unconditional love for the art form. A refusal to give up. Building the image from a platform of trust, I ruminate with mark making until a stage is lit for characters to appear and overcome their stage fright. The repeated pattern of line in the background keeps me in contact with the signal because, once lost, the fragmented image disperses into an abyss.
[INT. A ROOM FOR NO SHOES AND SOCKS. DAY. 2020]
I never draw from life or photographs, simply from the images in the corner of my mind and the fleeting blessing of instinct calling. A book of drawing closes itself to the world every night, protected from the rays of UV and the cruel judgement of the internal critic.
[EXT. AT THE BOTTOM OF A DAM WALL. DAY AND NIGHT. 2017]
When listening to instinctive impulses through the process of drawing I can become disturbed by ugly sub-personalities that latch onto my underbelly with the stubbornness of barnacles.
[INT. CAVES OF THE SEMI CONSCIOUS. DAY AND NIGHT. 1325/2018]
The dread of mediocrity and apathy was released in the shape of a half bird, half barrel-chested delinquent, doing unsightly deeds on a chaplin’s dog collar – a vision worthy of the Gorleston Psalter1.
[INT. SOUND STAGE FILM STUDIO. NIGHT. 1325/2020]
The unknown artists who created the marginalia of the Gorleston Psalter offer an insight into the power of anonymity as a creative force. The anonymous artist plays the role of a great cinematographer, illuminating the vision of their internal director, stepping out the way to let the story and vision punch through.
The Gorleston Psalter embodies a timeless creative process that is transformative and wildly imaginative. I describe the process as the three ‘A’s: Anonymity, Autonomy, Authenticity. Anonymity of expression opens a door to Autonomy; Autonomy is the key to the Authenticity of peak experience.
[INT. CASE FORMULATION. DAY. 2020]
The characters in my drawings and texts yearn, in their unforgiving existence, for connection with a platonic intimacy. The instinctoid calling brings up a series of isolated figures, often appearing with exaggerated facial features, who live off the land and provide. The accompanying texts reveal the fictitious skills and traditions that support the figures’ autonomy – skills and traditions that will die if not passed on or archived by my pen on paper. It is a fantasy of a paternal form preparing you for something tangible that has a deep transcendent purpose.
[INT. PRADO MUSEUM. DAY. 2004]
A man in his late sixties with thick grey hair, wrinkled tanned skin, teenage legs in chinos and wearing leather shoes with no socks, stands in front of Diego Velásquez’s Forge of Vulcan. He paints a copy on a linen canvas resting on an easel with a well informed, historical technique. Due to yesterday’s Madrid train bombings the gallery is as empty as an English parish church on a Sunday morning.
The brush is dipped in translucent oily substance with a hint of pigment not visible to the naked eye. The rendering of this copy of the master is built with the patience of a breeze eroding a lump of granite. I notice the fleshy gap between the Spanish man’s trouser and leather shoe, his ankle is youthful and smooth, the same hue as Apollo’s pale chest in the painting hanging on the adjacent wall.
[INT. INSIDE A CLOSED BOOK ON THE THIRD SHELF TO THE RIGHT. DAY. 2019]
I decided that in 365 days I would fill every page and by the time the year was over the book was full and double the thickness due to the layered translucent material. I think of the Spanish man’s ankle, and wonder if it is still alive.
[INT. STUDIO. DAY AND NIGHT. 2020]
Dead and distant mentors place a warm hand on my shoulder offering companionship and support with the hunt for authenticity. In the blending of their knowledge with mine their existence lives on in me. The Ancient Greeks referred to this transmigration as Metempsychosis – the passage of the soul of a human being, or animal, into a new body of the same or a different species.
[INT. FRITZ PERLS GESTALT WORKSHOP FANTASY CIRCA ’71. NIGHT]
Fritz Perls, the godfather of Gestalt therapy, warned me of the trap of character. Character is predictable and has a number of fixed responses. The more character a person has, the less their potential.
Fritz Perls, smoking a cigarette, looks through my book of drawings. I look on, concerned, as ash falls on a page.
“In the less successful mark making I find a charismatic neediness to please the viewer’s discerning retina.”
“Yes, this is major conflict in all my work.”
“Stop being a phoney.”
1 A medieval manuscript peppered with delightfully irresponsible marginalia. Named after the town of Gorleston in Norfolk, it is housed in the British Library in London.
HETERONYMS AND BABEWYNS
Reflections on “The Drawings and Writings of Richard Henshaw. Vol. 1”
Caught up in dreaming, I never dreamed That in this life we dream while awake, That in this world we live by dreaming.2
I’ve created various personalities within. Each of my dreams, as soon as I start dreaming it, is immediately incarnated in another person, who is then the person dreaming it, and not I. To create, I’ve destroyed myself…I’m the empty stage where various actors act out various plays.3
…reality does not tolerate its reflection, rather it rejects it. Only a different reality, whatever it is, may be substituted for the reality one wishes to convey. The difference between them mutually demonstrates, explains, and measures them, reality as the invention it was, invention as the reality it will be.4
Richard Henshaw is a pseudonym, but his creations are numerous and they each have their own characters. Perhaps we might call them heteronyms. Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa used the word heteronym to describe the individuals under whose names he wrote and for whom he invented their own life stories. They played out, in a certain way, the life their creator chose not to live in the real world. The heteronyms, ingenious vehicles for producing literature, were also paths to self-knowledge writes Richard Zenith in his 2021 biography of Pessoa, “An Experimental Life”. Self-multiplication became a means towards self-realisation.
Sub-personalities: contrasting facets of our innumerable selves, grotesque translations of what we wished to be, of what we inwardly and truly are.
The Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard also wrote using various pseudonyms. Kierkegaard’s notion of ‘choosing oneself’ is basic to the emergence and development of what he calls the ‘ethical character’, someone who can be said, consciously and deliberately, to take responsibility for themselves; treating their personal traits and dispositions as a challenge. Self-knowledge, Kierkegaard wrote in “Either/Or” (1843), is not a mere contemplation, but a reflection upon himself which is itself an action. The ethical individual does not surrender to the arbitrary governance of outside circumstances and incalculable contingencies. Nor, from the standpoint they adopt, can success or failure be measured by whether or not their projects in fact find fulfilment in the world. What finally matters is their total identification of themselves with these projects; it is the spirit in which things are done, the energy and sincerity with which they are undertaken and pursued, that are relevant – not the observable consequences of actions performed.5
The creative process is redemptive and part of taking responsibility for yourself.
Babewyn is an anglicisation, that appears in Chaucer, of babuini (the source of the word baboon), a term that might be translated as ‘monkey-business’. Ape-like creatures appear often in the margins of illuminated medieval manuscripts, but the word babewyn came to stand for any composite creature depicted there – the ancestors of the figures drawn by Henshaw.
According to art historian Michael Camille, the marginal images that accompany the texts of medieval manuscripts are, in some respects, conscious usurpations, perhaps even political statements about diffusing the power of the written words by unravelling them. They are ambivalent in the sense that they belong to more than one domain at a time. They possess attributes of liminality which are necessarily ambiguous because they elude or skip through the networks of classifications that normally locate states and positions in a cultural space. In the Middle Ages people’s fears were exorcised by dumping them on those who inhabited the edges of the known world. If those edges were dangerous, they were also powerful places. In folklore, betwixt and between are important zones of transformation. Margins were not only the site of representing ‘the other’, but also the place of self-inscription for the medieval artist.
Camille concludes by arguing that the art of the Middle Ages was not, as is often supposed, a sombre expression of social unity and transcendent order, but was rooted instead in the conflicted life of the body with all its somatic as well as spiritual possibilities. In “Postmodern Culture” Hal Foster argues that our modern social order knows no outside and must contrive its own transgression in order to define its limits. Paradoxically, representation is policed more thoroughly today than it was in the Middle Ages because the truths our custodians want to articulate are no longer so fixed and stable as they once appeared to be.6
The margins are places where a contemporary sense of self-estrangement is played out, where we seek remedy and search for unity in an unstable world into which we have become fragmented into parts of unease.7
Andrew Mummery, December 2021
2 Calderon de la Barca (1600-1681), Life is a Dream. Quoted in Richard Zenith, “Pessoa: An Experimental Life”. Allen Lane, 2021
3 Fernando Pessoa, from “The Book of Disquiet”
4 José Saramago, from “The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis”
5 Patrick Gardiner, “Kierkegaard: A Very Short Introduction”. Oxford University Press, 2002. pp 52-55.
6 Michael Camille, “Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art”. Reaction Books. First published 1992.
7 Richard Henshaw, You look shattered, from “The Drawings and Writings of Richard Henshaw’, Vol. 1. A-M- G5, 2021.