Mary Henderson
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Bathers (2009-2011)
"Bathers” is a new group of sociological paintings, derived from found web images, focusing on a particular cultural experience – in this case, the summer retreat. The paintings are based on vacation photos, snapshots of Americans engaged in the long-standing, class-specific summer ritual of departing the city and suburbs for shore and lake houses during the summer season. The images explore the contradictory nature of these escapes – both their sensory pleasures and their accompanying feelings of isolation, dislocation and wistfulness.

As the title suggests, this series is in part an homage to the late-19th-century Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist painting theme of bathers, particularly as explored in the works of Manet, Seurat and Monet. Those paintings reflected a complex and contradictory attitude toward urban society and fashionable resort life, keenly depicting the social changes that made the sea-bathing fad possible, while, at the same time, reaching longingly back to classical themes of the nude in an idyllic landscape. I am drawn to their uneasy balance of modernity and nostalgia.

In their depiction of a contemporary version of the seaside retreat, my own paintings also reflect a deep ambivalence toward their subject. I feel a strong sense of affection and nostalgia for the pleasures of these rituals, for their moments of beauty and physical pleasure. At the same time, I want to convey some of the sense of malaise and anxiety that come with routinized periods of leisure – the sense of always chasing after an experience that never quite lives up to expectations.
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