INSIDE THE WONDERFUL WORK OF HENRY COOMBES
Henry Coombes is one of the most exciting experimental artists working in Scotland today. He creates paintings, drawings, sculptures, and films. Identifying himself first and foremost as a painter, he approaches film as though it were a huge canvas, with the finished work comparable to a finished painting.
The human condition fascinates Henry. In his work he explores memory, addiction, and hierarchical pressures. Wanting to understand human behaviour better, he studied psychotherapy and hypnotherapy. Both disciplines influence his work, and he often creates layered characters who he builds relationships with to explore on screen and on paper.
Occasionally the characters Henry depicts are based on real people. Larger-than-life Glaswegian Marcella Macintosh has appeared in many films including Seat in Shadow (2016), an award-winning feature-length film written and directed by Henry, and Love and Lithium (2018). The latter is an evocative experimental film which looks at Marcella’s life, from her chaotic youth to a misdiagnosed mental health condition, blurring the real and the surreal to capture her fascinating journey.
Renowned Victorian painter Edwin Landseer has also been a subject of Henry’s work. Famous for his romantic depictions of the Scottish Highlands, he is also known for his scandalous affair with the Duchess of Bedford. In The Bedfords (2009), Henry reimagines this affair and the subsequent mental health issues that Landseer suffered from in later life. Delving into historical events and psychological imaginings, the film is character-focused while also staging scenes that if paused could look like paintings; the Scottish landscape as vivid and haunting as it is in Landseer’s paintings.
A lot of Henry’s paintings are made in conjunction with his films, and often act as preparatory sketches for characters, scenes, or costumes. He approaches paintings and drawings with an impulsiveness that allows him to explore his ideas and take risks. Most paintings are made with acrylic paint, ink, and watercolour which he pours or drips onto the page, allowing the material to dictate shapes and forms. In this way Henry relinquishes control to the paint, allowing the painting itself to emerge. While some of these end up in the bin, others become intriguing paintings and drawings independent of his film work.
A group of paintings available on From the Studio are part of an exclusive series Henry created following his work with prisoners. The prison didn’t allow access to the internet, so Henry found himself essentially becoming Google as he compiled hundreds of images onto CDs at the request of the inmates. Finding his hard drive full of pop culture pictures ranging from Tom Hardy to Peppa Pig, it became a really strange bank of dissociated images. Printing the images, he began to create bizarre collages which served as inspiration for the paintings. The resulting paintings echo film stills framed by thick black bands of ink which act as backdrops to the compositions. Much like the paintings themselves, the titles are collaged together from what feels like a string of disparate Google searches.
Henry continues to develop film work and is experimenting with telling stories through painting and text. His paintings are exceptional, intriguing, oddly beautiful and above all, interesting. Whatever medium he works in, he continues to question and probe the human psyche to create work which opens up the strange scenes and landscapes of our minds.
Susan Mc Ateer, March 2019