Bridget Heny’s printmaking metaphysics
Madonnas and hangmen, lilies and hunters, drowning maidens and con artists—such archetypal imagery saturates the woodcut prints made by Bridget Henry. Her themes seem channeled from dreams. Or inspired by the coastal setting of her studio. A loose collection of vintage buildings, Campo Verde lies between artichoke fields and the ocean. Romantically ramshackle yet carefully painted, polished and restored, it is not only the sweet remains of a wild coast hippie zeitgeist, but also the setting where Henry, one among several artist residents, makes her work. A specialist in reduction woodcuts, Henry’s richly inked prints are loaded with inspiration from Jungian archetypes, folkloric archaeology, and the odd Tom Waits song.
“I was always attracted to old woodcuts,” Henry says.”I quickly realized that this was my language.”
In a converted washroom of former migrant-worker housing Henry draws, sands, carves, and prints the wooden blocks that form the foundation of her work. In the center of the space is the etching press, the key to all of her results. “I saved up for it,” she says proudly. Holding up a work in progress—a fisherman in a tree casting his net for a giant fish waiting below—Henry explains her process. Once satisfied with an initial drawing, she transfers it to the surface of the wood. Carefully registering printing paper with wooden surface she rolls on the first color. “The background comes first.” Then she carves again into the wood, leaving uncut the surface she wants printed in the next color. Pulled through the press, the paper now has two colors of the design on its surface. Henry carves the next phase. Mixing inks on a slab of glass, she will apply the third color to the woodcut surface using hard rubber rollers, re-register the original sheets of paper, and roll the prints through the press again. And over and over, carving, inking, and pressing until the image has emerged in its full, multi-colored glory.
Henry came to Santa Cruz in 1985 from her native Southern California. “It was so beautiful that I decided not to go directly back to school,” she recalls. “I wanted time to travel and be free.” After a few years at Cabrillo, where courses with Howard Ikemoto inspired her printmaking metaphysics, she transferred to UCSC, studying with Paul Rangell, Bob Chiarito and Don Fritz. She ultimately scored a Staff Research Assistant position in printmaking at UC Santa Cruz, a dream day job that gives her freedom to make art.
“I don’t have a car payment, I’m not putting children through college. I have a great life,” she says, beaming. “I can travel, eat well—living out in Davenport has been a big part of that.”
Thanks to Open Studios exposure, Henry’s sensitive graphic eye has been on recent public display, on an Oakland museum exterior wall and in a wraparound installation on the downtown Santa Cruz public library. The project, she says, opened up her visual vocabulary and resulted in an installation of 17-foot-long paper panels upon which the word “Home” had been computer-printed from Henry’s original woodcuts.
“We had an audience watching us paste up the panels the whole time,” she recalls. Henry never waits for inspiration. “It took me a long time to get to this point of readiness.” Currently she is exploring a set of prints with fairy-tale images. “I have done “Little Red Riding Hood” at different ages. I’m interested in stories as a way to see how people move through different characters in their lives.” An obsessive reader, Henry reveals that she might have liked to be a detective. “I’m curious—I want to uncover things.” It shows in her work.