Conceptually inspired by the plein air landscapes of Van Gogh and Rembrandt, Henry Dean’s series Sluice contemplates the intersection of art and nature. “Van Gogh loved the cycles of nature, his work was more about art as a way of living and manifesting a desire to be outdoors than just the observable world,” Dean said. “I grew up on farms, in the woods, my father was a beekeeper: so working outdoors seemed only natural for me. In the 90’s I focused on several sustained responsive drawings, observing a landscape for a long period of time (hours, days, weeks) and would draw the feeling, rather than the specific geography.” In his most recent set of works, Dean went in a new direction: subversive paintings. “I came to Savannah to teach and saw an opportunity to remake my practice and do something completely different with no expectations. Traditional painting doesn’t reflect the experience of a place or, typically, the process of creating the work; I thought, ‘how do I represent the true meaning of the landscape as I see it?’.” Dean focused his energy on finding out what it meant to be in nature under the guise of a recognizable painting: how could he, almost completely, remove himself from the process and let the art be the experience of nature itself? He’s happy with the outcome, he says, “They have this experimental quality, but at the same time I felt like I had to stay on top of the process. It’s great to have Lori add the work to her collection. I’m grateful for that.” Dean’s process is, in a word, the way he describes the lowcountry: tidal. “There’s this amazing quality to Savannah where everything seems to wash in and out. I liked that aspect of the work as well; I left the canvases in the water and there’s a stillness about the works, in the way they’re being prepared, but then nature takes over,” he said. Leaving the canvases in the marsh for weeks at a time, allowing nature to fully engulf them, Dean achieved his balance: an ethereal, honest depiction of what life in the lowcountry feels like. Dean said his process is less about painting with nature and more about allowing nature to create a visual representation of the experience. “We have this odd relationship with the force of nature. We talk about how it’s this beautiful thing, but we rarely fully observe it.” To see Henry Dean’s piece Tangent (South Carolina) and the rest of the Judge Realty Permanent Collection (founded in 2014, focused around the ideals of environment, economy, and energy) stop in to Judge Realty at 347 Abercorn Street.
Photographs: Provided by Henry Dean