Henry Epstein has worked as a limousine driver, a store carpenter, a typist in the total disability unit of an insurance company, an administrative law judge, and an asphalt layer. When he made a mistake laying asphalt he said “it’s not my fault, it’s the asphalt.” When he makes a mistake as a poet or painter, he incorporates it into his work. The final version is a product of both aleatory and deliberative processes neither of which he understands very well. This may or may not be how he makes decisions as a judge.
He has read his poems at the Worcester Gallery, New York; the Cornelia Street Cafe, New York; and the Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco. He has exhibited paintings in San Francisco at the U.C. Berkeley Third Street Gallery, the Garage Gallery, and S.F. Open Studios, as well as at the Montclair Gallery and the Piedmont Lane Gallery in Oakland. His poetry has appeared alongside his paintings at A Different Day Gallery in Albany, California.
His story “Abonnement Saisonnier” (Season Ticket) appeared in the a special edition of the French magazine Télérama, devoted to Edward Hopper. Henry is currently working on a collection of short stories.
Henry has taught art theory at Parsons School of Design in New York; environmental ethics at the University of California at Santa Cruz; and social ethics at the University of San Francisco.
Painting Since Darwin
Many of my paintings are emergent beings, creatures. They emerge from inchoate visions that become specific on the canvas, or specific images that go through a period of incoherence and mutation only to become, if I am fortunate, coherent again.
Since the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species over 150 years ago, we have known that the creatures of our world, including ourselves, are not “intentional.” They are not designed. They are created by natural variation, mutation, and the struggle for existence.
Before Darwin’s time painters usually made a preliminary drawing or a smaller “rehearsal” painting which they then executed on the larger canvas. Many artists since Darwin’s time no longer work from preliminary designs, or anything pre-ordained.
My paintings begin with a feeling – or rather, an undefined vision or rudimentary image. But the image mutates, sometimes from a failure of intention, an error of hand or eye, or artistic confusion or bewilderment.
In painting there is always a moment of “lostness,” of disorientation and free fall. If I am lucky, through patience, will, or tenderness toward the beings that emerge, I am able to find the painting I have lost, a favored off-spring, or a member of a completely new species.
Just as the struggle for survival in nature yields creatures of terrible ferocity and stark ugliness, but also miraculous beauty, my hope is that some of my paintings emerge from mutated intentions, despair and inability, and become something real and full of grace.