It’s easy to feel like you’re falling into Central Coast artist Belynda Henry’s rolling landscapes; their dream-like colours and subtle layers draw the eye ever further like a horizon. Henry has been painting the hills and valley of her home, the lush Dooralong Valley, for more than a decade. It’s a deep and consistent engagement that drifts in and out of reality – sometimes drawing directly on her environment and sometimes relying on memory, dream and imagination to render a more emotional picture.
In spite of this abstract and associative take on her surrounds, Henry’s abiding focus on this specific place imbues her work with the kind of understanding of place that only develops through a sustained relationship. It’s this sense of place that makes the acrylic paintings so potent and alluring. Henry’s knowledge of - and sensory response to – the particularities of the shape of the hills, the way the light shifts across the landscape, and the subtle differences in atmosphere as the seasons pass brings an intimacy and sense of wonder to her work.
There is an ease to Henry’s landscapes, a looseness of brushstroke and expression that welcomes the viewer into her world. Looking into one of her paintings feels like being let in on a secret or turning a corner to discover a spectacular and surprising view unfolding before you. Henry’s inspirations are broad: “colour, shapes, form, atmosphere, pattern, nature, landscape compositions, emotional responses, memory and imagination” are all important, she says, as well as time alone in her studio. “Isolation in the studio and not having any distractions in my studio that is surrounded by nature and national park are always key factors that inspire what I do.”
Situated in the bushland valley that so dominates her work, Henry’s home studio is a space of both intense productivity and great calm, providing a dedicated creative work environment away from a busy family life. “I go into my little world and don’t come out until I remember it’s time to get to the bus stop,” she confesses. This idyllic work-life balance, played out in the beautiful surrounds of the Dooralong Valley, affords Henry the perfect environment in which to create her meditative landscapes.
“I rarely stop painting” she says. “It is very easy for me to just walk into the studio at any time and slot straight back into my last thoughts without even thinking about it”. This easy relationship to her craft carries onto the canvases: large, airy images that inspire a sort of dreamlike reverie. Whether lingering on some specific vista, hill, valley, colour, tone or gesture or allowing the mind to wander to other places and times, Henry’s paintings seem to offer infinite paths of reverie for the astute viewer.
Viewing a series of these images is akin to floating out of time; watching seasons pass, light shift, and new perspectives unfold like origami. Each glance reveals a new detail, a new appreciation of Henry’s subtle palette, smooth and confident brush strokes and sense of space. There is as much to be gleaned from what is not seen in the works; perhaps this is what has kept Henry so inspired through the years – the lure of what might be just around the next corner. If Henry’s life and work to date is anything to go by, it’s likely to be a beautiful picture.
Essay by Kate Britton 2016