Q & A with Henry Fey
First Amendment Gallery
Opening Reception - June 8th 7-10pm
Showing Through - June 28th
With a contemporary approach to technical analog methods of printing, Henry Fey’s work weaves the colorful highs and lows of sentimental iconography through an authentic and personal voice and meticulous processes. In anticipation of Fey’s latest installation-based work, “Potholes,” we asked the Los Angeles-based artist for a glimpse into his process, his thoughts on the value of nostalgia in a scroll-happy digital era, and how he has reconciled his own overconsumption of imagery.
Interview by L. Herrada-Rios
What you do is a really unique process that I don’t see many artists work in. As an introduction to that process, can you walk us through how you gather inspiration and then apply it to your practice? Can you give us a bit of background on how that came about?
It all stems from having a printing background. Wanting to work on a bigger scale and feeling restricted by printing got me into the image transfer process as it has a little bit more range of applications: I can do them very small or print them out larger. There’s a lot more freedom than screenprinting offered. I don’t have a printing studio so just using that low-tech process to get the screenprinted result… the half tone… was really important. The process kind of came out of necessity.
I had just seen Robert Rauschenberg’s installation at the LACMA. While I was familiar with his work, I had just seen “The ¼ Mile” piece that is up at LACMA and thought, “I want to do THAT,” or at least try to do it. So I took that experience back to the studio and figured out how to do the acrylic polymer image transfers and then I wanted to use this show as an opportunity to work on a smaller scale; to do something that was a project for a project space. I never worked that small before. I always kinda wanted to but never got the chance to. That’s why the works are a bit on the small side.
It works great for the space!
Besides the Rauschenberg show, how else did you draw inspiration for “Potholes”? Did being from a commuter city like Los Angeles inspire any of the ideas for this show?
I had been thinking about how one takes photos now. I take a lot of photos. I’ll be driving around and see something and think, “oh I really like that!” You know, you’ll be on your cell phone, driving by, and take a photo and it won’t really be a “great” photo.. I wondered, “what happens to all of those not-great photos”? In the moment, you needed to take that photo...I had been thinking a bit about that. I had been thinking about concepts of a photo diary of a trip and different aesthetic elements of how a city is so different block by block. Like, even Oakland is the same way [as LA], parts of San Francisco, the colors just change for each block or each building. The Victorians- everyone is different color, so one block will look different. I wanted to make something that was almost autobiographical in some way. It felt like it was a good way to use the image transfer medium. It just started from there and it started from concepts of a day-to-day cruise.
I like that idea of utilizing those “forgotten” photos. I’m a photographer, too, and I’m constantly taking photos of things that I don’t even know what I’m going to do with them. I was thinking of maybe compiling those photos into a zine of just iPhone photos.
I’m all for that, and I like the format. They’re always weird, they have a different quality to them that I feel is contemporary in a way. Taking a photo on the iPhone might be weird but then I take that image into Photoshop and edited it in the half-toned processed so the image looks older. They don’t print photos that way anymore. I feel like [my works] have this nostalgic feeling which I think is inherent. Every moment you have is nostalgic, in a way; even if it happened last week, it could easily feel like last year.
I wanted these works to kind of have a sun-faded element to them. I even used buff colors, too. I try to draw from the urban landscape a little bit.
I feel like when people think of cityscapes, people often think of grey, and concrete, or really sterile, safe colors but, in your show, everything is so vibrant. It really shows that you are looking beyond what you initially see when you go past something. You are looking at what’s imbedded or rather in the spirit of what’s on the street.
Definitely. There’s a lot of vibrant stuff that’s nestled in the grey. I think those are the best moments when you’re driving through a new place and you’re like, “wow!” That kind of surprise; I wanted [my] work to feel like that with a playful element. Like a playful, nostalgic feel.
Creatives integrating analog and digital mediums to create a sort of hybrid practice has been more common in galleries and museums, your work in particular seems to be very interdependent of both formats. Do you prefer one or the other in practice or in theory?
I wouldn’t say I prefer one practice over the other, that’s always changing in the studio. I think of all processes (digital + analog) as tools and like that you build different images with different tools. Whatever feels right at the moment.
Images evolve and devolve at a rapid pace in this digital age. Artists and meme-makers alike utilize images to quickly detach them from their intended context, frivolously or with intention, whereas classical painters derived form and meaning from their subjects to frame them as transcendent beings- things or moments worth idolizing for times to come. With that in mind, what do you consider is the importance of repurposed imagery in contemporary art and what does it say about art consumption in current society? Where does your work fit within this paradigm?
I’m trying to make something that’s reminiscent of this moment. As a thing that happened in 2019. I feel like I forget about a lot of stuff so I just wanted to make this show (as selfish as this sounds) for myself. I wanted to make these diaries entries… they all kind of felt like snapshots from these moments.
I feel like the world is over saturated with images and you digest all of them so quickly, that it felt important for me to isolate certain memories in these works. Hopefully whoever sees these works stops and looks for a couple seconds.
Big thanks to Henry for talking with us ahead of his new exhibition. First Amendment Gallery invites you to join us for the opening reception of “Potholes” on Saturday June 8th from 7-10pm at 1000 Howard St. San Francisco. For further inquiries on the artist or available works, please contact email@example.com.