A visit with Henderson

Curator of Contemporary Art Grace Kook-Anderson discusses her recent visit with artist Mike Henderson.

After the Southern California heat waves, it was a relief to head up to the Bay Area a couple of weeks ago to be greeted with thick San Francisco fog. I couldn’t have been happier in my boots and new fall coat. I traveled north to visit with the artist Mike Henderson as we prepare for his exhibition coming up in two years. Having just retired after forty-two years of teaching at the University of California, Davis, Mike has been spending a great deal of time in his studio creating new work. Getting to visit with Mike is always a real joy.
Mike was born in Marshall, Missouri in 1944. He talks about growing up so poor that they couldn’t even afford the “r” in “poor.” From an early age, Mike wanted to be an artist. While Mike was working at a local hotel as bell hop, janitor, and shoe shine boy, the manager of the hotel Lucille Freeman encouraged Mike to continue his education. With a couple of friends, Lucille signed a loan for Mike to go to college and pursue his passion in art. This led Mike to venture out to San Francisco to the first racially integrated art school in the U.S., the San Francisco Art Institute, where he earned his BFA in 1969 and MFA in 1970.
This education of learning and working with other artists like Jay DeFeo, William Wiley, Roy De Forest, Richard Shaw, Robert Arneson, and Joan Brown opened Mike up to many artful experiences. In addition to painting, Mike created experimental films and performances and has cultivated his passion as a blues musician touring the U.S. and Europe, sitting in with some of the legends.
The reason for my visit on this occasion was to catch-up with Mike and go through some photos in preparation for his publication. Here is a glimpse of some of his photos, which reveal a bit about his rich life as an artist and musician:

c. 1962. Mike at age 18. Photo courtesy of Mike Henderson
c. 1980. Mike visiting Roy De Forest and his family at their summer home in Medford, Oregon. Photo courtesy of Mike Henderson.
c. 1986. Going away party for museum director Henry Hopkins (in the photo on the wall) at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art with a performance by Mike and William Wiley (on right). Photo courtesy of Mike Henderson.
1989. Left to right: Santana, John Lee Hooker, and Mike. John Lee Hooker gave a rare solo performance at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. Mike opened up for Hooker. Photo courtesy of Mike Henderson.
2007. Mike in one of his painting classes at UC Davis. Photo courtesy of Mike Henderson.
The Fog is Lifting on 37, 2009; oil on canvas; 30 x 24 inches. Image courtesy of Haines Gallery.
Broken Core, 2009; oil on cavas; 62 x 51 inches. Image courtesy of Haines Gallery.