K Henderson Evokes Memories of a Midcentury Childhood—for Viewers from Every Generation

Pulp novels, card games, collections of curious rocks—these are among the once-loved and well-used childhood relics that K Henderson has been meticulously painting for years. A selection of her newer works is currently included in CK Contemporary’s “Bang! Bang! Pop!,” a two-person show that evokes the mid-century child within all of us (even those who may not have come of age in the 1940s and ’50s).

Henderson grew up in Tulsa in a family of shop owners and collectors, and in a house filled with antiques and family heirlooms, including a trove of artifacts predating the establishment of the state of Oklahoma. This inspired in her an enduring fascination with old objects and the stories they hold. Additionally, her part-Cherokee heritage draws her to vintage “Cowboy and Indian” books, toys, and other items, which figure prominently in her work.

“I have an obsession with vintage toys and have a large collection of them,” Henderson once admitted. “I can’t pass by a thrift store without going in. Many of my treasures come from these stores.” Her studio is bursting with these treasures, which she paints singly or in whimsical, loosely narrative still life arrangements. She works in oil, the better to capture and convey with photorealistic precision every tear, crease, and scratch that use has imparted to these objects. In fact, when scouting for material, she gravitates towards the beat-up books, games, and toys, which she sees as having the most character. “I like the ones that have been well played with and well loved,” she once said.

Among the paintings included in the show is Batman Puzzle, a mid-scale composition featuring exactly what its title describes, and more. Against a pastel blue background, the image of this iconic superhero appears on a nearly completed puzzle. Two cards, one featuring the diabolically grinning face of the Joker, the other a second image of Batman, fill the upper part of the painting. An inviting cup of tea sits nearby, surrounded by cookies in the shape of the Batman logo, one already half-eaten. With this tabletop still life scene, Henderson reminds us of the simple pleasures of play. As she reminisces: “Remember when we came home from school, ate our Twinkies and Coke while watching an episode of Batman? We then went outside and chased our friends around the neighborhood playing ‘Cowboys and Indians’ until our mom called us in for dinner. Ah, life was good!”


Karen Kedmey


Bang! Bang! Pop!” is on view at CK Contemporary, San Francisco, May 16 – Jun. 16, 2015.


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