Henry Avignon, the reappearance of Goya’s ghost that struck mankind with a visual protest against the violence of the Church’s ruthless torture over people deeply affected by the war of Napoleon’s invasion on Spain. Time has cast such unfair aggressions of civilization on humans over and over. We started this new century with a war on the Middle Eastern Region. A perfect mass-murder map of innocent children, women and men on the ancient ground of Babylonia. So called Super Powers of the Earth are watching the show. We all know the truth behind all of these as an open book. And we all know who is causing these, how and why. Henry is an unmarked lighthouse of our time, who consistently kept himself busy to draw the newest pathway to abstraction, to follow the truth of the unfolding of Mother Nature’s Chaos. His works resemble how deeply we are in suffering of the difficult times of our so called post-modern period, the twenty-first century. At the very start of this interview Henry mentioned himself as a sad-sad man, He said: You interview a sad man with a dark heart.
Years and years of our times of crisis on earth, Henry’s tormented soul was in extreme anxiety and his sincere nature of feeling the suffering of others kept him with poetic works on the pain he carried that he never could bury. With critical analysis of Nature, the issues that society plots against us and paradoxically cuts us and divides us with are repeatedly brought out to light in his works. He believes in the power of one’s own darkness, the power of Duende.
Henry’s works are mostly of a very eye-catching nature at a first glance. Vibrant color saturation with an Avignonian compositional sense – a perfect delight to read or enjoy the deconstructive view. Some of the works are deeply thought provoking and some appear with immense torture on viewers’ mind as they extract the truth of our true nature and the agony it carries within. His photo-sculpts are significantly sharp with the detail of the material’s texture and the Avignonian compositional formation is highly sensual for a mind to resonate to as a language. Seemingly, most of the times he likes to add his thought with an elaborate detail on his philosophical view of his art with an attached poetry or a reference quote of his inspiring idea. Henry has developed and published theories on what photo-sculpting is and what Grammaring Matrix is about. He is very precise and sincere to these theories of his.
The Interview session on photo-sculptor artist Henry Avignon is taken by Russell Chowdhury and Shafinur Shafin.
Russell: Dear Henry Avignon, first of all, Prachya Review thanks you with delight for attending our interview session. So, shall we begin then?
Henry: I have nothing. No station in life. You interview a sad man with a dark heart.
Russell: What good is art today? And how communicative do you think art has become?
Henry: The world, I believe, does not need more art, it needs more communication, deeper access systems, and if this activity has the aesthetic look of art that is not in this system, indicative of aesthetic art but rather of the elegance of the system.
Russell: You address yourself as a photo-sculptor. Who is a photo-sculpt artist? If an ordinary person asks, who lacks in knowledge of art, what will be your answer?
Henry: I see figures that suffer as inconvenience a situation of tireless seeking; nonbeings reminiscent of feelings; images suffocating from vastness remaining still and alone. Figures that recede into space, not unlike memory, in proximity with shadows perhaps, cast in cold light and voluminous nondescript textures. Figures attempting to avoid identification presented with human context, with hints of anatomical insinuation with geological indications. All shapes are of nature – emergent and inevitable, lost in the continuum of time and space. All figures are possessed by the presence in a vacuum with untitled tendencies. Figures appearing with traces of a name while suggesting namelessness. Figures attempting to compose a decomposition, to halt a procession, to be within from a distance, to be biological and anthropological and still manifest as the assemblage. Figures that are being born in the arbitrary manner of dying from certainty toward uncertainty, presenting a limited view of a limiting relationship with solitude echoing the omnipotence of death anxiety. Figures not well balanced at all, that belie their suggestiveness, that bemoan any such thing as truth and, for this reason, cannot be forgiven.
The photo-sculptor/artist is rigorously in pursuit of the charged/ecstatic physical environments that pulse sensually in time and space which possess undiscovered discursive potential. The principle goal of all process/approaches is to engage the substrate by letting go of strict subjective determination over a work’s aesthetic. This essentially shifts the paradigm of creativity from the masculine to feminine Nature. The artist as conduit and incubator of externally oriented and catalyzed life energy rather than internally rooted projections of individualized imaginary interpretations of time and place. These are the constructs demonstrated by a singular mind. The Identity project is concerned with both the feminine and masculine dynamics presented in the process of creation, utilizing both to represent a reaction against the tyranny over identity.
Russell: But from time to time you do paint with various media and take documents of its material movement. What are you doing there?
Henry : To engage nature’s violent, transformative tendencies in a way that the path of creation is also the path to destruction. I’ve chosen to rely on real life-death cycles in the medium to establish a platform for meditating on the impact of the “basic anxiety” on materials as they are drawn through the experience. To create the work, I implement a vast array of traditional and nontraditional painting techniques. I cultivate, incubate, and manipulate aesthetically significant fields generated on a metal plate. Vital energy is amassed in accordance with a real life-death cycle for the raw material as it gives over to oxidation. All steps are time-sensitive and subject to extinction. At the pinnacle of the material’s life-death cycle, the camera is used to preserve the composition achieved. A memory of the aesthetic journey as an experience of the material-in-process is documented.
Russell: What is your concern as an artist? What are you trying to develop here with your works?
Henry: There are two things as my basic concern
- Concerning the Apparatus: In line with the historical use of the term apparatus by French philosopher Michel Foucault, the apparatus is those administrative mechanisms and knowledge structures which enhance and maintain the exercise of power within the social body. The artist here is concerned with developing interpersonal mechanisms and structures that exercise control and increase power over the destructive nature of death’s anxieties on his psyche. I create mediums that act as Ecto-Genetic Extensions-material as a metaphorical equivalent of flesh (body) and consciousness in order to meditate on critical existential questions. By engaging in the mindful exchange with the literal experience of a life-death cycle and the artistic medium, I confront the void in human conscious understanding.
Investigating the function of death energy through an interpersonal system, enables the artist to develop a language necessarily patterned after the life-death cycle. Language functions as a system built (with or in) symbolic exchanges. My apparatus develops these systems built from the exchanges between human nature and nature, presenting new forms of visual language and syntax. The outcome is a materialized visual meditative platform, equivocated aesthetically by natural compositional expressions as a photo-real abstraction.
The goal of the Interpersonal-Apparatus is to facilitate an engagement that connects socio-psychic; philosophical and metaphysical collective insights on the ideated subject matters of mankind in this time and place.
- Concerning Identity: The artist seeks to explore the interplay of identity as a direct consequence of the human condition to the life-death cycle. Through personal evolution in the development of his process, I explore the nature of the Death energy in ego as we have been conditioned through social apparatuses, striving to define ourselves into a singular identity.
Shafinur Shafin: Do you think technology is making people more dull and distant? Now people (who are gadget-lovers) only give a glance at art or literature, but do not look deep inside the art. Do you think people are becoming more isolated in this sense?
Henry: The structures of the community have shifted permanently. Even as the world has become infinitely more connected we have paradoxically become infinitely more isolated. I believe the social experience has shifted irrevocably to a far more dangerous kind of cult of the self. Where once our social lives were physically transgressive today they are more and more so a psychically isolated transgression. We exist more and more exclusively within our self, alone and distant from the touch of physical experiences. We have a greater feeling of empowerment through access to knowledge but ever lessening skills to employ what we know in the physical realm. This is frightening to me. There is a decline in physical actioning for the better good as people begin to rely on narratives to pacify their fear of the truth/death. Perhaps interconnectivity has overloaded our emotional selves because everyone is now a master of rationalizing the news of the day so they might remain okay. This too frightens me.
It is said that with greater awareness comes greater responsibility and yet where is this acceptance of responsibility any more than lip service? A survey of Art today bares little fruit in light this greater access to what humanity has become worldwide. Art today does not reflect a need for heightened responsibility. However, Literature does. I believe this is because writers if in the throes of some unjust trauma or unwarranted imprisonment will cut their finger and write in blood on toilet paper about their experience. Poets are the guardians of our deeper, metaphorical lives. Art is a market place for salable ideas. I think every art school should require students read Neruda and Celan, Lorca and Vallejo, Hernandez and Marquez, etc. Art might begin to champion the act of baring witness to time and place and perhaps abandon the cult of the clever idea. We must strive to deepen the well of compassionate understanding and this begins by us heightening our awareness, strengthening the modes of expression that enable our dealing with life as it is lived not as it is ideated. This is radical action. This is the visceral dialogue of protest that can evoke change. There is nothing conceptual about saving a life.
Russell: Photo-sclupting is totally a new kind of art from, a whole new language that you say – is it progressively functional for deeper communication? Would you please like to explain a little about that?
Henry: As with spoken language visual language must also develop as a functioning conceptual system over time through the accumulation of visual references, the establishing of a visual syntax to bridge a path to our qualitative senses. In this way even the purest visual abstractions from nature can develop out of a stream of seemingly random compositional elements to become features and segments, visually constituted phonemes and morphemes, capable of structuring meaning even out of the extreme natural phenomena of chaos. Because the interpersonal-apparatus is engaging nature, natural phenomena, transformative forces beholden of a life-death cycle the aspect of memory as a function of the literal development of artistic statement necessitates use of the camera apparatus to bring the functional developments of the interpersonal-apparatus into the public space.
It is because Mind is not disembodied, not separate from nature, not distinct from experienced environments, and because thought is mostly abstract that the development of the interpersonal-apparatus is effectively the creation of an interface between the sensitivity of Mind, through the qualitative senses by way of accumulating mnemonic platforms which expand our apprehension of organic abstraction, and the hyper-informational fields of the natural world teeming with transformative energies. It is precise because thought functions primarily as a complex system of abstractions negotiated by the metaphorical thought that such an engagement with nature through the interpersonal-apparatus focuses exclusively on the cultivation, capture/transfer and interpretation of organic abstraction. The interpersonal-apparatus seeks to develop a platform for constituting a platform for the indefinite development of image/glyphs that by accumulation through the employment of artistic process-approaches formulate a developmentally significant system of sign / language that interacts directly and immediately with the unconscious faculties of the disembodied mind. Furthermore, the interpersonal-apparatus hereby establishes a mechanism for further investigation of nature’s transformative forces as they pertain to all other human functions of mind including the psychological, emotional, and spiritual experience of said forces in any and all physical environments.
Russell: There are theories which you have applied to develop in your own works, eg: “Radical Actioning in Art” and “The Grammaring Matrix”. Tell us about those.
Henry: The field of radicalized potential has become a function of isolations. No work is salvageable now even if I sketch with a pencil on paper. The thingness is a lie and the lie is destroyed. Every work is ripe with isolated fields of radicalized potential. Now these fields can be reduced to indecipherable moments of communication… links that will not hold.
Where I have evolved out of necessity so to chase unknowable narratives is I believe more now that the Grammaring Matrix is capable of becoming the interior of intellectual pursuits of more clearly articulated works.
Shafinur Shafin: Do you really think art is the reflection of the artist’s own thought? Sometimes there is no relation between the artist’s own ideology and his art. Maybe they are a full time devotee of God, but their art shows something else, maybe a denial of God.
Henry: I don’t think I know what art is or isn’t. People who read what I have wrote project onto me the statements as art theory while I see my thoughts as a philosophical inquiry into modes of communication. Art is a mode of communication first and foremost that’s about all I can be sure of what art is and herein lies the primary relation of my personal project to the state of the art in the world today.
To communicate is to project outward from within. I believe the “within” is not an isolated fortress of identity in a self-serving vacuum but rather a conduit portal for the passing through of collective experience. What cannot be escaped by makers is the need to establish a vigorous platform for dialogue. I think our highest purpose as beings are to grow constantly, to evolve constantly from birth unto death. What I came to understand is the INDIVIDUAL cannot succeed as a SPECIES. Interpersonal successes are rendered meaningless by the larger contexts of humanity’s decay into madness. Therefore, I feel a gripping obligation to creating platforms for dialogue around what I experience as the sources of humanities decaying.
I cannot see my project as art. I consider it a visceral mode of philosophical engagement with existential crises. At best it is a method for poeticizing a journalistic practice. It is an aggressively poetic stance on the nature of and necessity of memory to our well-being as a species. Lest we never forget. Forgetting is a path to denial and in every case denial is destructive. And perhaps more importantly memory is the lynchpin to learning from our mistakes. Often it is the case we must remember again with the perspective of the whole experience having transpired to gain understanding. In this way, my practice is about the importance of remembering again and again. In this way, my work is about the nature of baring witness. Perhaps it is a critique of the activity of bearing witness. But it is not about the thingness of objects and ideas to become iconic. Is trauma and tragedy, injustice and death iconic? Absolutely not! Can these realities be poeticized in an effort to shed a brighter light on them? Absolutely. Needing to deny that my practice is art is a radical actioning. Ideally the work would print in the New York Times not be hung in a museum because the contents are vital engagements with daily human experience aimed at transforming silence into dialogues that are critical to our survival.
To your point about ideologies and artists, I say again this project is not art because it is about baring witness in real time to experiential crises. In a moment of crises, as one is in the grips of experiencing it as such, ideology is useless and often destroyed or rendered obsolete. My entire process is aimed at destabilizing the notion we can mediate understanding from a comfortable distance. Not if we are bearing witness, not if we are wholly engaged, it is then we are forced to change, we are changed, we are aware. The confidence of ideologies is useless.
Russell: I have been following your works since 2008. Your recent works are far different from those of your early works. These are more manipulated photo-sculpts than of your past works. Why?
Henry: The newer works are not allowed wholeness by the process of their making. Their wholeness is illusory. They are built in many separate layers of metal, paper, clear plastic and the wholeness of the memory document is enabled by collapsing the multiple fields with the camera. The interconnectedness of the memory document is exemplifying an awareness as the thought process. But the impossible failure of the layers to become whole as matter render them chaotically organic in the sense they are reduced to the same lifecycle issues as their maker.
Russell: But surely your earlier works were also amazing and communicative. I believe those directions should be practiced again. Do you agree?
Henry: To have a life’s work that is in the end relegated to memory. The works belie their visual nature as they are only thought projections as modes of communication. They are not art beyond their ability to communicate aesthetically in artful ways. But Russell photo-sculpting is a conversation one has while they are alive. The conversation dies with us.
Henry: Exactly. None of my collectors own work they are all in possession of; quotes from the text of my living project. Every photo-sculpt is a parenthetical aside. When I die there will be nothing left. All unsold photo-sculpts will be destroyed. In the end I believe memory will be judged insufficient.
Russell: But what about the feelings we share? What about what we got from the impressionists? The energy they radiated in their work?
Henry: It is not to play god but to manage an adaptation on the forces of nature to create with life-death cycle a fleeting impression of totalities. The impressionists still believed in the permanency of matter. They only changed the approach to articulating form with light rather than light with form.
Russell: What about your art then?
Henry: I don’t believe in art, Russell. I believe in death. I want my life’s work to amount to the unflinching truth of death. In this way, all of the memory documents are building up to death. This is the exotic underpinning of death energy, this is the power of Duende.
Russell: But inside the DNA it preserves memory for a longer period of time!
Henry: Of course and this preservation remains as chaos. Chaos is after all a profound mode of inspiration for every aspect of our emotional life. Chaos roots in death energy. Death is a creative energy. But someone must say what I am saying.
Russell: I remember your “Chaos Unfolding” series.
Henry: Yes, the early works were about discovering the field itself, I needed to find them so that I could believe in their nature. I needed to see what physics what telling me. Once you find them you must then walk with them for life.
I realized quickly that the fields are everywhere at all times in all experience of nature as reality. In my works the fields are like Higgs boson particles attaching the mass to massless awarenesses. But Russell, mass decays, and fields shift by way of transfer through death and this death is not stagnant but electrifying and constant.
The preservation of my project through memory is that moving across the threshold of death, the collective preservation would be an act of the constancy of transfer from that which emanates to a conduit. But in the end the original life as matter must pass into nothingness. All of this being said every work must past into nothingness.
Henry: And all of this philosophically amounts to the process as interpersonal apparatus for managing my experience of death anxiety.
Shafinur Shafin: How do you differ your poetry and art?
Henry: How do I differentiate the various components of flavour experienced by the tongue! I don’t. Just as salt and sweetness, acidity and bitterness are made as one experience by the tongue so does the tongue of radical actioning speak all the components of an expression (written and visual) as one metaphorically cohesive text. What is most important is that we write in blood on toilet paper if we are imprisoned.
And in the blood drawn poems of our compassionate investment in mankind’s destiny let us never cease asking hard questions:
What color is murder?
What color is cancer?
What color is anxiety over becoming homeless?
What color is the burden of hunger?
What color is the tension between estranged lovers?
What color is the hope we will survive another day?
What color is the black man’s plight?
What color is poverty?
What color is the suicidal tendency?
What color is fear for another man’s life?
What color is disgust at the execution of innocents for not converting?
What color is a woman’s anger who must face a forced marriage?
What color is a man who hurts children?
What color is a hand that steals from the poor?
What color is the doubt that god exists?
What color is the loss of a child to a passing car?
What color is finding your lover with another man?
What color is the addiction?
What color is a loss of dignity?
What color is the rage at the system that oppresses you?
What color is the word of the man who abuses you?
What color is the sun that rises over massacres?
What color is the moon that bathes the dead on the fields of war?
What color is the animal you struck down in the road?
What color is your father on the day he passes?
What color is our inability to get ahead?
What color is the dream deferred?
What color is unrequited love? What color is the hate crime?
What color is a lie that ruins you?
What color is the decision to leave?
What color is the decision to stay?
What color is the indecision?
Russell: Can we hope that mankind – the mass people on earth will try to comprehend your effort in time and even value what is manifested through your works?
Henry: You must remember that I began this project as a reaction to surviving suicide. I was not trained as an artist. I am not an artist… I am a survivor of grotesque life experiences that sought a path of stability in instability so that I might raise my children. I work obsessively to survive Russell and every day is a hell awakening that I must fight back the gates from swinging wide and I don’t know how long I will fight brother so I don’t know if humanity as you call them will ever care let alone understand. I have mostly given up writing about the process as so few care.
Russell: Since I started following your sadness through your works, photo-sculpts, I noticed you focused on the mass killing around the world. This is true for every place on Earth, death is a bitter reality everywhere. It has worked as a ringing bell to keep us awake to see. Maybe few of us have looked at your art in the way it actually is.
Henry: Mostly I think people believe I am sick. That my practice is delusional and somehow not real. Perhaps it isn’t and perhaps I am crazy but for now the project is keeping alive for my children. That is why I am engaged. Not for any other reason. When it’s over, it’s over.
1972 – Born in Tampa, Florida U.S.A. 1972.
1992 – Associates Degree in Photo Journalism SUNY Morrisville New York
2000 – Baccalaureate degree in Literature / Minor in Psychology SUNY Brockport New York
2007 – Masters of Art, Creative Writing, Poetry SUNY Brockport New York
*Father of two children
Visual Works featured in Literary & Art magazines and reviews
2009 USA April: Ygdrasil Literature & Arts (Chapbook)
2009 USA June: Full Of Crow Literature & Arts (20 images)
2009 USA July: Red Bicycle Literature & Arts (20 images)
2009 India December: The Stark Electric Space Literature & Arts (3 images)
2010 USA July: Naugatuck River Review Literature & Arts (Cover) 2010 USA October: Metropolitan Magazine of Art’s & Culture (Cover + 5 images): Featured Artist: “Henry Avignon: A New Voice”
2010 USA November: Experiment-o (International e-zine) Literature & Arts (6 Images)
2010 USA December: Synchronized Chaos (International e-zine) Arts, Science, Culture (5 images)
Select Group Shows
2009 Rochester – USA Boulder Cafe & Gallery
2010 Philadelphia – USA James Oliver Gallery
2010 Rochester – USA Memorial Art Gallery
Spring 2011 (TBA) Chartres – France