Vital Fragments: Nigel Henderson and the Art of Collage

Collage for Patio and Pavilion (the growth of plant forms) by Nigel Henderson
1956. Tate. Presented by the Estate of Nigel Henderson 2010


Vital Fragments: Nigel Henderson and the Art of Collage

at Tate Britain in London, United Kingdom
2 December 2019-5 April 2020

Nigel Henderson’s experimental collages combine printed matter, paint and photography. In his collage work, he assembles fragments of image and text in order to activate them in new ways.

He wrote: “I want to release an energy of image from trivial data. I feel happiest among discarded things…fragments cast casually from life, with the fizz of vitality still about them.”

The collages on display were created between the late 1940s and the end of the 1970s, bringing visual scraps of modern British life into dialogue with imagery from other places and periods. His intricately layered collages reflect on the passing of time. They dwell on natural decay, the ruins of war, and the crumbling of empires. They also engage with the visual culture of their own time and cast a critical eye across contemporary images intended to stimulate aspiration, consumption and desire.

Untitled No. 8 (Shattered Glass) by Nigel Henderson
(1959). Courtesy of Tate. Purchased 2007.

Henderson was aware of the historical legacies of collage. His work references the Victorian hobby of “découpage”, decorating objects with paper cut-outs. The subversive collages of dada and surrealist artists in the early 20th century provided him with other important precedents. At the same time, his work engages with more recent artistic developments, including the rough textures of brutalism and the bold graphics of pop art.

Henderson’s creative practice spanned fine art, photography, exhibition-making and interior design. Collage was always at the center of his thinking. As one critic observed, “Whether the medium is man, nature, time, weather, or even words, the underlying idea of this artist’s vision is that of collage.”

The Tate Britain Spotlight display can be found branching off from the “Walk Through British Art” around the outer perimeter of the galleries

(text adapted from curator’s press materials)


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