Exhibitions & Public Events

Mike Henderson: Honest to Goodness
Friday, Sep 13, 2019 - Sunday, Nov 17, 2019
Walter and McBean Galleries

Mike Henderson: Honest to Goodness

On view September 13–November 17
Walter and McBean Galleries, SFAI—Chestnut Street Campus

Opening Reception: Friday, September 20 | 6–8pm

Mike Henderson: Honest to Goodness celebrates the work of pioneering African American artist Mike Henderson (b.1944, Marshall, Mis­souri; lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area), bringing together a selection of key works from a dynamic practice that spans more than fifty years.

In 1965, Henderson left behind a rural farming community in the Midwest to attend the San Francisco Art Institute, where he found a vibrant community of artists and friends that would nourish his creativity for decades to come. Galvanized by a new atmosphere of protest and possibility, the young artist set to work producing a breakthrough series of large-scale, figurative paintings. Some of these works are overtly political—a rallying cry against systemic racism and brutality; others depict the artist’s San Francisco scene, or the social conditions of his Midwestern past. As Henderson was completing his education, works from this series were included in two important group exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, bringing his practice into dialogue with other artists concerned with social justice.

Henderson received his MFA degree from the SFAI in 1970, a year that marked a dramatic change in the form and content of his work. Like many artists searching for new modes of expression following the tumult of the previous decade, Henderson abandoned figuration and turned his artistic vision increasingly towards abstraction. From the ethereal dreamscapes created in the 1970s to the lushly built-up surfaces and striking palettes of his more recent paintings, Henderson’s colorful abstractions included in Honest to Goodnessoffer an opportunity to view the artist’s progression as he explores the tension between gestural and geometric abstraction.

In addition to being a painter, Henderson is an accomplished filmmaker and blues guitarist. From the mid-1960s to the 1980s, he produced a remarkable body of experimental and performance-driven short films. Politically charged and often wickedly funny, they have been screened at museums and festivals around the world. A selection of Henderson’s experimental films are on view in Honest to Goodness; this one-hour screening program repeats throughout the day.

Henderson’s paintings and films are presented alongside a large installation of the artist’s works on paper. Ranging from quick sketches to fully realized artworks, these works offer a fascinating window into the evolution of Henderson’s creative vision.

Mike Henderson has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship (1973) and two National Endowment for the Arts Artist Grants (1978, 1989), and has exhibited his work consistently throughout his career. In addition to the Whitney Museum, his paintings and films have been presented at institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Berkeley Art Museum, CA; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; de Young Museum, San Francisco, CA; and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, IL. 


Mike Henderson: Honest to Goodness is held in tandem with At the Edge of Paradise, a solo exhibition of new work at Haines Gallery featuringa suite of newly created, large-scale abstract paintings. Radiant with possibility, Henderson’s latest works reflect an artist who has arrived at his prime.

Henderson’s work is included in the San Francisco presentation of the Tate Modern’s groundbreaking traveling exhibition Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983. Powerful, provocative, and timely, Soul of a Nationbrings together works by African American artists created during the Civil Rights Movement and the decades that followed. At the de Young Museum, Soul of a Nationwill feature an important early work of Henderson’s created while he was a student at SFAI. In conjunction with Soul of a Nation, Henderson and his band will perform at the de Young on November 16, as part of the Museum’s Free Saturdays programming.

Both exhibitions open in November 2019.


SFAI’s Exhibitions and Public Programs are made possible by the generosity of donors and sponsors, including the Harker Fund of The San Francisco Foundation, Institute of Museums and Library Services, Grants for the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, Creative Work Fund, Koret Foundation, Pirkle Jones Fund, Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation, and Fort Point Beer Company. Ongoing support is provided by the McBean Distinguished Lecture and Residency Fund, The Buck Fund, and the Visiting Artist Fund of the SFAI Endowment.


Image: Mike Henderson, Me and the Band, c. 1968, oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Haines Gallery.

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