30 August – 21 September 2019
Josh Lilley is pleased to present Hardstep, Finnish sculptor Henna Vainio’s first exhibition at the gallery.
Vainio’s primary medium is pigmented plaster, from which she builds lean freestanding statues cast from moulds of corrugated cardboard sheeting, and smaller wall-hanging slabs cast from squashed towels and other pliant textiles. Along with a minimal, carefully choreographed array of these plaster works, Hardstep also includes the artist's first work on painted and abraded mirror.
In the standing works, with a few judicious pinches, rolls and crumples along with eyeballed DIY physics for stability, Vainio conjures the body. A cocked butt, either saucy or fatigued. A belly pushed out and leading the charge, a mutinous centre of gravity. Limbs crossed over in nervous knots, weakly holding each other up like suspect scaffolding. Spines curving, at the edge or beyond the comfortable limits of contrapposto. Vainio performs the fewest gestures necessary to give the sculptures clear identity as human figures. It's notable, considering their anthropomorphic authority, that these familiar people have no gender, race, place or time. Their domain is the space they occupy nowhere else. At the artist's cue, the viewer cannot help but seek answers about age, eroticism, history, the attitude of the figure or the essential question of where they’re going. Such questions are both inevitable and unanswerable, but they are a pleasure to negotiate. The works are sites of discovery and communion. The soft, resolutely material pigmentation of powder on plaster, in hues both warm and washed, lead the invitation.
Vainio isolates the precise point at which we feel movement and, as a result, inevitably, empathy. The artist treats this creative exercise as a game, a dance performed as slowly and minimally as possible until it carries feeling. The wall works read as portraiture, with the subjects squashed against the surface by nature of how they’re cast. Expression fights its way out of their fierce compressions. In Vainio’s works we are, always, almost there. When we truly wish to assess who we are and what we do, blank space — physical or mental — can be a blessing.
Henna Vainio (b. 1981, Finland) lives and works in San Francisco. Educated in London, she earned her MFA from the Slade School of Fine Art and her BFA from Chelsea College of Arts. She has been the subject of solo exhibitions at Outpost, Norwich; Capital and Ratio 3, San Francisco; and Pracownia Potretu, Lodz. Vainio has received grants and awards including the Finnish Cultural Foundation, Frame Visual Art, and the University College London Boise Travel Scholarship. Following multiple offsite group presentations with Josh Lilley in Los Angeles and New York since 2017, Hardstep is her first solo exhibition with the gallery.