Henry Epstein is a painter and poet. He has worked as a limousine driver, a carpenter, a typist in the 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. (This may or may not be how he makes decisions as a judge).

Henry has exhibited paintings in San Francisco at the U.C. Berkeley Third Street Gallery, the Garage Gallery, and S.F. Open Studios; and in the East Bay at the Montclair Gallery, the Piedmont Lane Gallery, and the Piedmont Center for the Arts.

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.

His stories have been translated into French and Russian. In 2014, “Abonnement Saisonnier” (Season Ticket) appeared in a special edition of the French magazine Télérama devoted to Edward Hopper.

Henry studied painting in New York at the Parsons School of Design and the Art Students League, and in the Bay Area at the Larry Robinson Studio in San Francisco, and UC Berkeley.

He has taught art theory at Parsons School of Design; 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 or feelings that go through stages of incoherence and mutation to become, if I am fortunate, intelligible works of art. .

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 designed. They have been created through natural variation, mutation, and the struggle for existence.

Before Darwin’s time painters often made preliminary drawings or smaller “rehearsal” paintings which they then executed on larger canvases. Many artists since Darwin no longer work from preliminary designs, or pre-ordained ideas. This has been liberating, but also disorienting. In my own work I often experience a period of “lostness,” or free fall, when an early vision fades or mutates, sometimes from errors of hand or eye, or artistic confusion or bewilderment. But 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.