John Henson’s artwork is both spare and rich at the same time. The negative space, elegantly delineated, seems to be as important as the line and contour laid down with single nail heads. The Joshua Tree Voice sat down with John to find out more about his process and his involvement in the art community of the desert.
JTV: Tell us about your latest works and how you started working in this medium?
JH: My art is created by the simple primal act of putting nails into wood, originally done with a hammer (the first ten years), and now mostly applied with a nail gun. Each piece ranges from 5,000 to 50,000 nails. My art – like much art and music – is often about the empty space as much as the lines and contours. My greatest challenge in creating nail art is the dark spaces, as they require hundreds of nails densely packed. For example, on the Obama portrait, the dark eyebrows were the greatest challenge (over 1,000 hand-pounded nails per presidential eyebrow), but looking at the piece, the viewers eyes tend to move to the individual nails in the sparse areas.
It was my exposure to the thriving creative community of this hi-desert that inspired me to start making art. How I came to specifically creating nail art is too long a story for this article, but if you (or anyone) buy me a drink, I’ll tell you the whole rambling story. Lately I have been creating some “data-driven” pieces, where the number of nails has significance to the subject matter. My “BLM” piece was made with 26,400 nails, representing the number of Black homeless people in Los Angeles. And my latest piece, a tribute portrait of Jerry Garcia, was made with 37,320 nails representing the number of songs he performed live with the Grateful Dead. It is, for sure, difficult to finish on a pre-determined target number of nails, but I like how it adds an extra layer of meaning to the artwork, and how it challenges my dominant left brain.
JTV: You have been active in the arts here in the Morongo Valley, including serving on the Board of Directors for the MBCAC – Morongo Basin Cultural Arts Council. What are your hopes for the future of the art community here?