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The artist at the marker for the highest point in Vestfold, Norway, 1966

Unveiling the Crucifixion - a retrospective of visual responses

by Joe Camilleri

In 1917, the American artist Lyonel Feininger wrote that “each individual work serves as an
expression of our most personal state of mind at that particular moment and of the
inescapable, imperative need for release by means of an appropriate act of creation: the
rhythm, form, colour and mood of a picture.” On the other hand, Herwarth Walden wrote that
“art is the gift of something new, not the reproduction of something already in existence”.

Lionel Feininger: wood block print
The above quotations from totally different sources came promptly to mind when recently I
viewed some preparatory sketches, drawings, and paintings by Dr. Paul Henrickson at his
residence in Xaghra. For the second time I a span of 21 months, we are again hosting a
personal exhibition of visual art by this American artist. Actually, the works currently on
display area retrospective of visual responses reflecting the various experiences gained by
Dr. Henrickson through his long cultural contacts as a teacher and lecturer and through his
travels and interactions with different ethnic groups in various countries. In fact, some of
these works date as far back as 1949.

This time, the exhibition has been collectively entitled Unveiling the Crucifixion – a striking
and captivating title especially in a highly religious community such as ours. Our religious
upbringing and artistic heritage has provided us with a certain prototype vision of the
crucifixion. We are accustomed to a tradition of devotional pictures where the suffering of
Our Saviour is presented in a calm organized order. Artistic compositions where symmetry
and a contemplative, dignified style display a profoundly touching grief in a restrained way. Or
else, artists tend to visualize the drama of the crucifixion in a Rubenesque baroque idiom of
vigorous, violent movement and powerful bursting energy.

Paul Henrickson unveils a totally different vision of the crucifixion. His concept of the tragedy
of the Golgota is interpreted differently. Perhaps it may be even disturbing or shocking to
some viewers, as this is not “the reproduction of something already in existence.” The
traditional gentle pathos and restrained melancholy are replaced by a brutal realism. The
calm dignified figure of Christ by an aggressive, “ugly” caricature of horror. The faces are
abnormal Fauvist masks which leave a psychological impact. The entire composition of the
large painting is enveloped in a haze of bluish and grey tints, which, together with the
rhythmic movement and awkward position of the main figure create and optical sensation and
emotional turbulence.

Even the preparatory drawings and studies for this triptych with their multidimensional
hatching are imbued with a certain exciting, dynamic and explosive force. The foreshortened
figure of Christ on the cross seems to be viewed from different simultaneously impossible
points. Its squatting position creates a sense of discomfort and constraint.

All this visual experience of suffering is like the horrible reality of a nightmare. Is Paul
Henrickson concerned and pre-occupied with the suffering of the Son of God made Man and
who endured all humiliation to become the victim for the salvation of mankind? Or does the
crucifixion epitomize the harsh suffering of all humanity? Is Paul Henrickson unveiling the
reality of a particular drama or is his crucifixion the universal metaphor for the suffering that
innocent people have to endure? Is the Crucified Christ, like Lovis Corinth’s famous Red
Christ, an expression of the experience of personal suffering? Is the theme restricted solely
to the triptych and drawings inspired by the tragedy of the Golgota? Or could one discern
recurrent references in the forms, the dramatic colour, rhythmic variations, and overall
presentation of some other compositions?

Lovis Corinth: “The Red Christ”

These questions are hypothetical and rhetorical and as such, I have no answer. However, at
this stage, as a side thought, I would like to hint that for Dr. Henrickson, the word aesthetic
has various semantic connotations. It does not necessarily mean something pleasant,
attractive, and desirable. And I take the liberty to quote Dr. Henrickson: “I must now be willing
to include the ugly, the smelly, the dirty, crude and vulgar…in short, the expressive.”

For basically, Paul Henrickson is an expressive artist and his creations the outward signs, the
visual expression of inner feelings. His watercolours seem to be the result of an impulsive
urge to create. His drawings, executed with the minimum of detail contain a certain
expressive spontaneity.

At first glance his collages seem simply a combination of geometric elements and a
conglomeration of colours. But they are laboriously composed bit by bit much as an architect
constructs his buildings or a composer orchestrates his sounds. And once again, the
aesthetic relationships of shapes and colour assume a deeper significance. The same could
be said of his enamels so rich and their bright semi-transparent colours.

Paul would object to anyone labeling his non-figurative compositions as abstract art. He has
got his own philosophy about the significance evoked in the development and interpretation
of art by the coinage of this term. In fact, he emphasizes the fact – and I quote – “that the
work is not abstract but rather real, and the responses aesthetic responses.”

From this point of view thee compositions are a synthesis of the artist’ s various experiences
of a lifetime. They are the vehicles that externalize his inner self, that bridge his inner soul
and the external world.

Dr. Henrickson ha also tried his hand at applied art. As you may have already noticed, he is
exhibiting samples of silk velvet that he has dyed in such a way as to create an attractive
shimmering effect.

He has also devised and developed interesting and unconventional puzzles with non-
objective images and dye cutting intended as an effective tool in problem solving. Dr.
Henrickson is more suited and in a better position to explain the raison d’etre of these
creations and perhaps he will later refer to them himself.

Joe Camilleri 26/04/03
“Ugolino”: Collection, Gozo Ministry, Malta
“The Crucifixion”, 2003
Drawing: Brush and Ink, 1949

Lithograph: “Sleeping Breneiser:” 1952 Collection: Haniel Long
“Pacific Reef”, 1964 Collection: Sverre Iversen, Drammen, Norway

“Jungle Figure”,1967 Collection: P.J. Hoff, Merizo, Guam
“Port of Self Portrait:, 1989 Collection: Dr.Joseph Xuereb, Xaghra, Gozo. Malta

“Rape of Europa” 1963: Collection: Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico
“The Fallen One”

“Welsh Landscape”
Drawing: “To The East of 428” Santa Fe, New Mexico

“The Holy Spirit” in the collection of Rev. Bejamin Larzelier III, Santa Fe.

“The Planet”
“Going to Seed”
“Blue Facets”
“Spaces” Collection of Province Gozo
Drawing: “Walter”, c.1985
“DORIS CROSS” c.1976
Drawing: “A Sullen German”


‘COUNT ROGER’ bronze 23” high
Count Roger Nurtures Malta
“The Red Painting”
“TOWERS”, 1987
Collage, 2004

“SKULL”, c.1976

Drawing: Young Adventurous Turk
Drawing: Young Conflicted Turk
Drawing: Young American Turk
“Holy Spirit” collection: Reverend Benjamin Larzelier III , Santa Fe, NM, USA

Drawing crayon

Alejandro Barquero Marine