10 Minutes with Henry Hussey

Henry Hussey’s artworks are often emotionally and physically raw, yet contrastingly beautiful and intricate, created with force through often paradoxically laboured mediums, including textile, glass, ceramic, paint and film. Whether through an expanding vocabulary of quasi-mythological symbols, or in embellished lines of text extracted from performative situations, Hussey explores personal and national identity in response to aggravating relationships and events. Recent experimentations reveal a deep concern with control and chaos and the sweet spot in between these two distinctive states.  

Henry Hussey is a British artist born in London in 1990 where he still resides, who is represented by Anima Mundi Gallery, St Ives. Hussey studied at Chelsea College of Art before completing an MA at the Royal College of Art. His work is widely respected and has been exhibited in notable exhibitions including The Textiel Biennale 2017 at Museum Rijswijk in the Hague, a solo presentation at Art Central in Hong Kong, the Bloomberg New Contemporaries in 2014 at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London, the Royal Academy London and Volta New York and the Young Talent Contemporary Prize at the Ingram Collection in 2016. Hussey has participated in residencies at La Vallonea, Tuscany, Italy in 2018 and Palazzo Monti, Italy in 2020. Also in 2020, Hussey was part of a retrospective of artwork by Palazzo Monti residents at Mana Contemporary, New Jersey.

Following a previous collaboration in 2019, Huma Kabakci invites artist Henry Hussey for a 10 Minute Interview to talk about his past and present works, his inspirations, preferred medium, upcoming projects and more.

We first met through Katherine Finerty’s curated Forum: Host of Guests organised by Open Space and back then you ran a live model session exploring both historical but also recent issues around the white, male gaze. What have you been doing since then? Have you taken part in a workshop or event similar to this? 

Exploring the idea of Whiteness and examining Western Culture has been at the forefront of my mind over the past few years. I have been reading from diverse voices, for example, ‘How To Be An Antiracist’ by Ibram X. Kendi and ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge which were revealing and insightful books and have informed subsequent works.

I am fascinated with archetypal themes and ideas and often draw on mythological stories of empires falling and civilizations declining such as Nebuchadnezzar and Ozymandias. Many of my works are inspired by the ancient world and refer to classical sculptures and pottery. Overall, I endeavour to distil human culture down to the essential story of sacrifice. 

Recent works have also been dealing with the fallacy of utopia and the end route of ideology. The works very much draw on ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ by Hieronymus Bosch which I have always interpreted as you have to go through hell to get back to the garden. All utopian views are in a way an attempt to get back there. Yet to truly reach the garden everyone needs to share your view, although each ideological movement thinks they finally have the right answer, they have all got it wrong. Seemingly you will cause chaos before you achieve harmony. 

Do you have a preferred medium? If so, what is it?

My preferred medium is textiles. It was with textiles that I first found my voice and sense of identity. However, from about 2016-18 I took a break from the medium and began focusing on glassworks, printmaking, film and photography. What I found extraordinary was that by working in a new medium I became a novice again, which gave me the ability to push different boundaries to see what is possible. 

When I returned to textiles I was reinvigorated, and my mark-making had completely changed through the process of learning glassblowing and printmaking. This hugely informed the new textile works and gave them a renewed energy. From this process what I have found works well is to create in a cyclical nature – work in only one medium until I wain in interest and then switch to the next. This encourages a perpetual wheel of momentum, and I am continuously excited by the new possibilities of what is coming next.

Recently I have been combining mediums; hanging ceramics from textiles and building standard bearers with glassworks positioned atop them. They remind me of reliquaries – large elaborate objects containing small body parts or the hair of a saint or martyr. The devices bolster and enhance the sacredness of the fragment and in a similar manner the textile elements magnify the power of the sculptures attached to them. 

The Past (2019)
Digitally Printed Linen, Dyed Linen, Dyed Yarn, Screen-Print, Embroidery, Dyed Rope, Clear Glass and Steel Pole.
265cm (H) x 145cm (W) x 40cm (D)
Courtesy of Henry Hussey

What inspires you on a daily basis?

I was part of a mentoring programme recently and the person I was mentoring asked what he should make work about, my answer was: ‘What is the worst thing that has ever happened to you? Make work about that.’ For me it is the analogy of digging down through your floorboards to reveal a hidden truth lurking beneath the surface, or even digging down to reveal an entire basement of hidden truths. 

You look around this newly discovered room, reading forbidden documents and learning more about yourself but what then happens when you dig further, and you break through into yet another level of truth and hidden secrets. This reminds me of a Jung quote “No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.” We must dig down to the very base rock of our existence to gain a full understanding of ourselves. 

An idea that comes from Plato and Socrates is that all learning is in actual fact remembering. We are all born with innate knowledge at our disposal and over the course of our lives we must aim to relearn what is already inside us through new experiences. I align myself with this philosophy and believe that when you venture into unexplored territory you fill in another part of your map; if you now understand the terrain, you will gain a better grasp on your surroundings.

Buried I (2018)
Oil-based monotype on paper
30cm (H) x 28cm (W)
Courtesy of Henry Hussey

Which five words would you choose to describe your practice?

One word that immediately comes to mind and I am happy to expand upon is ‘duality’. I am fascinated by the way in which humans have come to conceptualise the world around them. Our ancient ancestors noted that the sun rose each day and set at night as the moon took its place which would repeat over and over. Every year, the seasons change at the same time, and humanity realised that there is a structure surrounding us that could be planned to and, in a sense, negotiated with. 

For me, human’s greatest achievement is arguably our ability to comprehend our surroundings and its parameters in order for our species to survive. Duality has come to shape our lives whether it be women and men or life or death, we juxtapose elements of existence as opposites which then come together to form union as the sexes come together to create new potential. Equally for each ideal you strive for you need to find a balance – the golden middle nestled between the two extremes. 

If you could invite anyone to sit down at a table with you for one evening, who would you invite, and why (please list up to 5 people)? 

This was a strange question for me as I immediately thought I should give a dishonest answer, as the person I wanted to pick is seen as a controversial figure. I would want to have dinner with Jordan Peterson as I think he is a fascinating public intellectual, who I came upon in my late 20s and now in my early 30s I believe has made me a more compassionate and thoughtful individual. 

I do think Peterson is possibly the most disingenuously represented person in Western culture which in itself is reason enough to want to speak with him, but I do think it raises a larger issue with regard to being in fear of speaking with those that you might have opposite viewpoints with and how contention or disagreement is now viewed as violence. 

Another public intellectual I would like to sit down with is Jonathan Haidt who in ‘The Coddling of the American Mind’ writes about how we now interpret what people say in the worst possible manner instead of perhaps viewing it in the best light or a more balanced and nuisance way. Ultimately, I think this is all very damaging as it leads to individuals only listening to those who they already agree with which as a whole makes society more fragmented and disjointed and draws us further away from unity. 

The Past (2019), detail.
Digitally Printed Linen, Dyed Linen, Dyed Yarn, Screen-Print, Embroidery, Dyed Rope, Clear Glass and Steel Pole.
265cm (H) x 145cm (W) x 40cm (D)
Courtesy of Henry Hussey

Are you watching or reading anything at the moment? 

Recently I watched ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ which is a 6-part documentary series by Adam Curtis. The series takes on the mammoth task of trying to unravel 20th Century socio-political history. Looking at the attempt by the West to reject the ideologies of Naziism and Communism Post-WW2 which initially led to individualistic democracy but then mutated into this strange capitalistic monstrosity that melded with banking, technology and algorithms. At the heart of Western civilisation there lies a multi-headed hydra that we can no longer control or stop even if we wanted to as it has taken on a life of its own. 

Adding to this, one subject which appeared in this documentary as well in Jared Diamond’s book ‘Upheaval’ was the student protests during 1968 in Germany. The student protesters wanted their elders to reveal the truth regarding the Nazi atrocities, and when they refused to talk about it the students viewed them as Nazis which led to their challenging of the system. Exacerbating the situation was the fact that this uprising by young students reminded the older generation of the Nazi rise to power, so both viewed each other as evil perpetrators. There is something in this situation that speaks to the demonisation of the other that is happening today. 

If you could teleport yourself to any time or place in the world, where and when would it be? 

I would want to see the construction of the pyramids whether it be in Egypt, South America or Asia. Pyramids are such an incredibly fascinating and revealing structure, innate to mankind, that has been created throughout cultures, civilisations and continents. It is mankind’s desire to ascend to the heavens and in way create a bridge between us and the sun – the archetypal representation of god. You have to look no further than the recent extension at Tate Modern to see that this structure prevails as an ever-present symbol of humanity. 

Any exciting projects coming up?

Post-Lockdown in June I will be part of ‘Castle of Sands’ at Anima Mundi in St Ives, Cornwall. The international art exhibition will coincide with the 47th G7 World Leaders Summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, 1 mile away from the gallery in St Ives. I am excited to see how the exhibition will shape as the gallery’s programme has always had an introspective as well as critical eye on both our place in the world and the circumstances surrounding us – how we both can change things for the better or make them worse.      

Also coming up in June in South London is a group exhibition with Oliver Projects – ‘In the Light of the Present Day’ – showing works alongside Mary Herbert, Kemi Onabule and Tamsin Relly. The exhibition takes its title from a passage in Carl Jung’s 1962 autobiography ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’. Each of the artists are concerned with exploring relationships between the figure and its environment – whether imagined, man-made or natural – each artist’s practice examines our place in an ever-changing world through a unique lens.

Currently I am also part of the virtual space, AORA’s third exhibition which is explores the idea of “bodies” – expansive rather than formulaic, the exhibition brings together sculpture, painting, installation and photography by artists across the world reflecting on not only our physical properties but also the spaces we inhabit and our individual psychologies. I am showing a watercolour on paper from my ‘Collapse of History’ series which draws from the imagery of ancient Greek and Roman statues. Acting as a vessel of duality, the bodies represent perfect balance between men and women.