THE WORLD IN THE VEIN OF A LEAF: The botanicals of Jan Hendrix
To see the world in the blade of grass
And heaven in a wild flower
To hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour
Nothing but the words of a poet, in this case Robert Blake, better captures the art work of Jan Hendrix, currently exhibited at Citibanamex, at Casa de la Canal in San Miguel de Allende.
Jan Hendrix is Dutch by birth, but has become one of Mexico’s most prominent artists after living in Mexico since 1978.After his initial studies at the Royal Academy of Arts in the Netherlands, he continued at the Atelier 63 in Haarlem where he acquired a multidisciplinary vision of art. He continued his master-degree studies focusing on film, photography, and graphic arts, eventually settling on paper and ink as his primary media. He has had numerous international exhibits, and his innovative, monumental metal sculptures are widely recognized, as well as his unique botanical creations. On August 18, 2023 I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Hendrix, and get his insights on his works and his creative process.
The grand structure inside the courtyard—“Mirror Pavilion IV”—is an immediate attention grabber. Its spiral shape stands some ten feet high, and one is immediately drawn into its interior. Unlike other labyrinth-like structures where one would feel trapped within, inside Hendrix’s composition there is no feeling of entrapment; the filigree pattered walls allow light and air through, giving you a sense of always being in touch with the exterior. The sculpture is the artist’s rendition of 18th century pavilions, common throughout gardens in Europe. It is made up of glistening stainless steel circles, one nestled inside another, acting as mirrors reflecting the viewer.
That, however, is the macro view of the sculpture. Closer inspection of the perforations reveals that the pattern is not random, it is based on the veins and tissues of a single leaf, in this case the leaf of a Banyan tree. That is the micro level of the sculpture. Each circle encases such a leaf, with the midrib at the center, and the veins radiating away from it. The full effect is one of zooming in and out of nature, from what you would see with the naked eye, to the minutest leaf tissue seen through a microscope.
Hendrix explained that his early work with photography has allowed him to look at nature, and his representation of it in his works, as a cinematographer who can zoom in and out at will. He uses this approach in both his sculptures and his tapestries, serigraphs, and drawings.
I asked Mr. Hendrix how he goes about creating his works. Does he have a complete image in his mind, or does he simply begin a project and let it develop? The answer is that he has a clear vision of what he intends to make, a full conception of what the final work will look like. Sometimes, he said, the end result is better than he imagined. Still, the artwork goes through different stages, beginning with the first “draft” where he has a fully developed concept. Next comes the second stage, where “all is confusion,” because it is here where you need to battle the “negations” and questions of what is to stay and what is to go. Finally, in the third stage, he says he deals with the pressure of time—either the date of an exhibit, or his own constraints.
On the greater question of the significance of “the artist” in society, his answer was that “we are the most useless factor creating the most useful stuff.” Which is certainly quite true since, on the surface, there may not seem to be any use for a pavilion that does not act as a pavilion, nor a large piece of tapestry hanging on a wall that does not even provide insulation. However, the importance of art is unquestionable for humanity and for civilization, Pablo Picasso provides one of the best reasons: “Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
On the third floor is the other part of Hendrix’s exhibit, where several walls are covered by giant tapestries, most of them in black and white, or with a touch of metallic thread. They are depictions of forests, in the aftermath of devastation by fire. It is undeniably a statement about the current problems induced by global warming, where so many parts of the world are experiencing raging blazes. The tapestries are fascinating in their terrible beauty.
Another section has the collection called “Drawing the distance,” in which mirror-image panels face each other within a single frame. On one side is a black and white image of a forest, and opposite is a drawing of a single plant.
In some of these plants he has added subtle touches of color with paint—a divergence from his monochromatic works. Hendrix explained that these came about on many walks through forested areas, where he highlighted a particular plant he found growing in a given spot. It is once again a way of “zooming in and out” of nature.
Hendrix’s interest is botany goes back a long time, to his early study of photography. He says that he approaches the work by looking for the “inner architecture” of a leaf, to achieve the effect of “being inside the leaf.” Through this perspective he can appreciate the strength and the fragility of a leaf, and by extension, that of nature itself. Although Hendrix does not consider himself a social or political artist, his depictions of plant life clearly bring to mind the damage that human beings are causing to nature.
The exhibit at Casa de la Canal will continue for several months, giving the residents and visitors of our city the opportunity to see these amazing works.