Archives, Artists, Interviews

Challenging the Icon: Riley Henderson

When I first encountered the work of Riley Henderson he had one foot out the door of the BFA Photography program at Columbia College Chicago.  After investigating the contents of his thesis portfolio I was immediately drawn to the scenes he created and the themes he explored through a playful, yet serious, lens.  His work asks the viewer to think about their own relationship to things found at the roots of American culture, but does so by first drawing them in with the use of familiar, seemingly satirical, cues.  To learn more about his background and his work, we asked him a few questions.

Tempestt Hazel:  Tell us a little about your self and your artwork.

Riley Henderson: Trained primarily in the photographic arts, I utilize many different mediums as a means to question issues of identity in an American context.

TH: How does living/working or being from Chicago influence your creative practice?

RH: Chicago’s such a diverse city, and yet it’s one of the most segregated cities in the country. This exposure and living contradiction truly helps to inform my work and thought process.

TH: Describe the moment that you realized that you wanted to make art a career.

RH: I’m not entirely sure if I consider art a career choice in my case. I feel that working outside the art world helps to keep me in touch with what it is exactly I wish to convey through my work. The moment I realized that I wanted to make art and better myself through art, was when I saw my work speak louder than I ever had with my own words. This new voice was saying things that I felt needed to be said and art helps to support that voice.

TH: Can you remember your first memorable encounter with a piece of artwork?

RH: My parents are both artists and from a young age I was surrounded by it. My mothers paintings specifically had a strong influence on me that was subconscious for most of my life.

TH: How have people responded to your work until this moment?  Are you ever shocked by this response? How do you handle these responses?

RH: I’m always shocked by peoples responses to my work. Although I feel like I get my point across, people tend to be very unpredictable in regards to their reactions. I guess I feel that the stronger the response the better, I like to provoke strong feelings. As an artist, you need to be willing to let the viewer create their own narrative with the work, and this leads to many different reactions.

TH:  Where would you like to see yourself and your work in the next 5 years?

RH: I’d like to see myself with a better work practice and more time to work on my own artwork in general.

TH:  Do you remember the first piece of work you ever created in your career?  How does it compare to the most recent?

RH: The earliest piece of work I remember making was when I was about 3 or 4 and it was a collage that had a lot to do with the inner workings of my body and mind. I’m still trying to get back to that blind awareness and expression.

TH: Shameless plug: What are you doing right now?  What shows are you in or preparing for?  What series of work are you investigating, starting or thinking about starting?

RH: Currently my work is revolving around ideas of patriotism, cultural currency and race. Utilizing the American flag as my symbolic focus, trying to embody it with new meaning and break down the walls and ideas that it has fortified itself with. Thanks to the ACRE Artist Residency, I will be having a solo show at some point in the next year. Preferably later than sooner, because I have a lot of work to do still.

Learn more about Riley Henderson’s work at his official site: