Michael Hensley
Backfish Gallery 224-2634
Through Dec 1

Michael Hensley's raw, aggressive marks, childlike shapes, palette, and use of handwritten text combine to form what can be viewed as a fairly unoriginal homage to the late American painter, Jean-Michel Basquiat. But to dismiss his work as mere reproductions would be a mistake for Hensley's canvases have an undeniable, frantic energy that draws viewers into his world of thought. He exposes not only the chaos of his own psyche, but illuminates the gritty pulse of an urban environment. The group of oil and acrylic paintings attempt to offer an updated set of hieroglyphics--images to symbolize the pace of living and the struggle of the individual to stay in the race.

There are a few pieces that stand out as the most fully resolved, with the top prize going to the piece titled Birdwell. Unlike most of the work in the show, this painting relies on the exposure of raw canvas. Moreover, the composition of this piece is the most dynamic. In Birdwell, Hensley thankfully lets go of the notion that he must cover the entire canvas with visual information. In this case, less is more. The raw canvas is pigmented with an amount of grime--as if the blank canvas had been hostage to a warehouse environment for many months.

To this foundation, Hensley adds a minimal amount of brushstrokes, adding areas of gesso and hints of black and red paint. With this palette, he depicts a strange mix of characters that act in a loose narrative. Crude UFO shapes, a smattering of scribbled text and numbers, and a large, awkward blackbird add to Hensley's carnival. In the background, he includes a loosely rendered figure suffering from a gunshot wound. Hensley adds text to the scene--the phrase "Bird Man" somehow gives meaning to the neurotic composition. The piece contains an abstract sense of violence, which is one reason it successfully transcends the gallery wall; it appears more as the side of some industrial district building.

Another honorable mention within the exhibit is one of three small monochromatic panels. Blue Ridge is a punchy, cobalt blue network of scenes. The comic book composition features various enigmatic frames, such as a rifle barrel pointing at the head of a small bird, or a nocturnal scene featuring rounded hills and a brilliant moon. In two other segments of the non-linear narrative, Hensley depicts a bowl of lumpy soup and a mischievous cat peering over a table set with four servings of some unknown food. To add all this up is the challenge. What does this all mean? Interpretive muscles in the brain strain to figure out meaning. But just as we scratch our heads at the meaning of our own dreams, Hensley asks us to do the same with these dream-like narratives. Blue Ridge is an example of Hensley at his most provocative, as he fills the composition with just enough clues to provide the viewer with the opportunity to connect his child-like dots.