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The Missing

Artists keep us guessing at Reference Gallery.



The subtlety of absence is at times the hardest element to define in art. The creation of space comes through only with great thought and reserved practice. In a show currently at Reference Gallery, “Mute,” artists John Henderson and Justin Swinburne achieve new levels of altered presence through their use of what isn't there. 

In the sparse gallery, open with white walls against a battleship gray floor, a collection of work created by the two artists dots the landscape. Sculptural paintings hang  as three televisions sit isolated directly on the floor. On the televisions Swinburne has produced three pieces which show black-and-white images. One is the image of a person standing among giant, swaying bushes; his only refuge from the blowing wind storm surrounding the scene. The noise from the wind fills the gallery creating a visual and aural symphony within a room saturated by fluorescent lights.

On the walls are three sheets of metal that emit hues of blackness. The dark matter is stirred by swirling patterns. These pieces by Swinburne, entitled “Screens,” are photographs shot of the artist's iPhone screen after it has been turned off. The blank images are enlarged and transposed on aluminum sheets. The resulting piece is a concept in development, showcasing paths with vague images that are almost absent in appearance but still reveal subtle movement within.

Opposite Swinburne's work, three aluminum impressions of paintings hang together.  John Henderson's “Casts” is a body of work produced when the artist molds an original painting in metal, which ultimately destroys the original in the process.

“I actually don't talk about the original paintings in terms of the cast,” Henderson says. “ I like the idea that the only access that the viewer has is through the cast. … You have to come to it with your own preconceived notion as to what painting is and then it is kind of guesswork. Is the original painting colorful? What was the original painting actually like? And all the while trying to access that through fully monochromatic cast.”

This kind of personal relationship with the work is inherent in much of the show. By removing elements away from the audience and out of the gallery, Henderson and Swinburne end up adding more in terms of the overall effect. In “Mute,” there is no going back, only a now and whatever comes next.

“Mute” by John Henderson and Justin Swinburne is on display at Reference Gallery, 216 E. Main St., until Sept. 24. For information, call 225-9007 or go to


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