Art to Last Through the Ages, Dominic McHenry Returns Sculpture to the Crafting of Timeless Objects

India Dickinson
Aug 29, 2018 2:53PM

Dominic McHenry is a London based artist and one third of the sculpture collective Bask. His work is about to be exhibited at the START Art Fair in September in a solo booth run by the India Dickinson artist agency. Here he discusses how his work attempts to recapture the essentialness of objects rather than convey a deeper understanding of their maker.

'11', 2017, Marble, 36x12x12cm each

“I don’t want to do something that dictates a mood”

Dominic McHenry makes solid totemic sculptures that appear timeless, each one appearing imbued with its own history of associations and meaning. Yet when you talk to him about the purpose of his work, it becomes clear that he does not want to commit any act of mythologizing or self-aggrandizement. He tells me: “I don’t think of my sculpture as trying to stand for anything in particular. I don’t want to promote a specific idea with these shapes or the form of them. They need to exist as their own entity. The viewer is an open interpreter on what it might mean - I don’t want to do something that dictates a mood.”

Ambiguity is of course a well-trodden path taken by artists and creators in all wakes of life, but McHenry speaks to something more nuanced and perhaps simpler when he discusses his work. He directs the conversation to geometrical imaginations and their then sculpted solidity, talking of the repeating patterns in his works as ‘describing their own shape and justifying their own existence’.

In effect, the entire notion of Dominic McHenry as an artist behind the work is almost an anathema to his artistic process. He instead priorities the innateness of the end-objects themselves.

Dominic McHenry
Speedol Star, 2018
India Dickinson

“I won’t want the work to be known as coming from Dominic McHenry”

The removal of the artist from the work is naturalistic and self-effacing, not particularly shaped by grandiose art world forces of self-annihilation or playful symbolism. The meaning – if there is any - lies solely in the work itself, in its very ‘object-ness’. He tells me: “I don’t want to be associated with the work so much – I don’t want the work to be known as coming from Dominic McHenry. I want the viewer to look at it with their own focus rather than interpreting what it means to me – it should be all on the sculpture.”

He relates his work to relics you might find in the British Museum, objects that are simply there without any overt artistic ambition or mission behind them. Any symbolism is to be inferred solely by the viewer, whether that be a viewer in a 2018 gallery or one looking at it in a history museum in millennia’s time. McHenry idealises works like the Mesopotamian bricks and coins that have survived the ages.  

Dominic McHenry
16, 2018
India Dickinson

“The idea of having something that can exist indefinitely is an amazing idea”

Central to McHenry’s art is its sculpted and manmade resoluteness. He idolises the capacity for an object to stand the test of time, work that results from particular and lasting craft. As much as he tries to abstract himself as an artist from the art, its purpose lies very much in the respect that it’s been sculpted with the intention of timelessness.

He tells me: “That’s the ultimate fantasy. The idea of having something that can exist indefinitely is an amazing idea. I’ve got some marble that is millions of years old, but it’s my editing of it now and my imagining that it can go on for millions of more years that is key. It’s totally unrealistic – it’s almost sci-fi territory – but it’s something you aim for when you’re making something, the idea of it living on.”

And for all the bareness and intended abstraction of self from the objects he makes, the apparent timelessness has an undeniable associative lexicon to it. It’s hard to look at his work and not hear and feel echoes and resonances of cultures past and future. He agrees that his art has a definite ‘religious’ feel to it in that it attempts to transcend time; he admits also to its resemblance to totems. At the same time, its vitality comes from the human craft behind, even if he downplays the importance of any individual and specific meaning.

He tells me: “People are drawn to sites like Stonehenge despite the fact we don’t know what it is or why it’s there. However, the precision of its form and magnitude in scale confirm to us its importance. We are compelled by it but don’t understand it. This is how I want my work to be viewed. It is like looking at a sentence written in an alphabet you can’t read. It’s impossible to decipher the story but there’s clear evidence of its existence.”

And even when I posit that despite his desire for self-abstraction there is something immediately phallic about his work, he responds like an amused sculptor rather than a psychoanalyst, telling me: “People have said they looks big phallic penises but it’s hard to make something stand upright without it being phallic!”

Dominic McHenry in his studio, 2018.

The shapes he chooses and the edits he decides to make upon his materials do have to come from somewhere though. His work has often been made with predetermined exhibition spaces and concepts in mind, showing that his own sculpture is itself moulded by the contexts and cultural situation he finds himself placed within.

Interestingly with his collaborative work as part of Bask he has often created objects that deliberately contrast against their environments, showing a playfulness that slightly belies his focus on the artwork as an object solely in and of itself, as opposed to a creative force imposing meaning onto it. Bask’s ‘Sangar’ series, for instance, deliberately juxtaposed cast concrete sculpted blocks with the luscious garden setting of Contemporary Sculpture Fulmer. They did the opposite with the ‘Saltspace’ series, which used reclaimed oaks and dark pigments to place something organic and natural into an abandoned WWII bunker on the Isle of Wight.

BASK, 'Saltscape' at The Defenceless Container, Isle of Wight, 2016.

START Art Fair - September 13-16th 2018

At the START Art Fair at the Saatchi Gallery, he will be exhibiting in a white-walled, manmade space for the first time. It’s an environment that may allow him to truly abstract himself a little further from the situation of his work.

He is uncertain at this stage how it will play out, with his plan being to centre his booth around etchings rather than the actual sculpted objects themselves. The etchings could act as ‘the key or trigger’ to the sculptures that then emanate from them, keying the viewer to the timelessness of the geometry.

Indeed, it is perhaps the point between this timeless geometry and the resolute craftsmanship of the sculptures that is where the kernel of McHenry’s work lies. Just make sure to focus on this and not the artist.

By William Barns-Graham


India Dickinson Gallery, First Floor Booth 6.3

Start Art Fair, The Saatchi Gallery, London. Thursday 13th - Sunday 16th of September 2018.

India Dickinson