Battered landscapes and fragile, wispy youths

A new collection of previously unseen important photographs feature in this stunning suite of works on show now at the Tolarno Galleries in Melbourne. A mix of landscape and portraiture, imbued with Henson’s distinct, atmospheric and enigmatic narrative, this exhibition is gently curated, layered in meaning and extraordinary through its poetic placement of linked yet seemingly disparate themes. The work reflects Henson’s multi-sensory approach to art making.

Bill Henson is one of Australia’s leading contemporary artists. Born in Melbourne in 1955, he had his first solo exhibition, at the age of 19, at the National Gallery of Victoria with the NGV as of now having acquired over 100 of his works, the most significant of any public institution. Henson has exhibited extensively in Australia and overseas, including New York, London, Paris, Beijing, Tokyo, Montreal, Barcelona, Vienna and Amsterdam. In 1995 Henson represented Australia at the Venice Biennale, with his celebrated series of cut-screen photographs. We fondly remember his retrospective ‘Three Decades of Photography’ at the AGNSW in 2005. It attracted record visitors at the time and the series capturing the loneliness of the busy city street crowds burned fast to our mind’s eye. Never forgotten.

Bill Henson : XLVI esposizione internazionale d’arte la biennale di Venezia 1995

Bill Henson : XLVI esposizione internazionale d’arte la biennale di Venezia 1995

Luminous – Bill Henson ACO

From the Luminous collaboration – Bill Henson and the ACO


In 2019 the Australian Chamber Orchestra reprised their 2005 Luminous collaboration with Bill Henson in performances across Australia and the UK – a continuation of his earlier (and ongoing) musical experimentations through his 1990 commission from the Paris Opera House. He was asked to produce a series of photographs inspired by either the music or environment of the opera. His response was to photograph the audience.

Bill Henson Untitled 5/59, 1990-91; from the series Paris Opera


Initially Henson produced photographs on location at the Paris Opera House, but these were too ‘documentary’ in style, so he subsequently photographed in his Melbourne studio. The NGV commented, the finished works ‘possess an intangible quality – a sense of self-absorbed attentiveness that conveys the experience of watching a performance or listening to music’.


‘Bill Henson is a visionary explorer of twilight zones, between nature and civilization, youth and adulthood, male and female.  His photographs are painterly expressions that continue the traditions of romantic literature and painting.’ – NGV


You can view this collection of mostly untitled works online although it’s not easy to appreciate their true dignity in this way. These works will move you. From modest, intimate stories of teenage sexuality to captures of majestic, iridescent waterways, waterfalls and cloud formations, Henson is a true conjurer and storyteller and the connection between the young people and the dark country-scapes is poetically incrusted. An artist like no other, Henson captures the scents, textures, even the weather of the moment, sublimely and tenderly.

BILL HENSON 'Untitled' 2016-17 CL SH816 N9

BILL HENSON 'Untitled' 2016-17

BILL HENSON 'Untitled' 1992-2021 CL SH19 N10

 BILL HENSON 'Untitled' 1992-2021

BILL HENSON 'Untitled' 2010-20 RC SH47 N32C

BILL HENSON 'Untitled' 2010-20 


‘Hensons elegant, formal photographs – of battered landscapes and fragile, wispy youths – resemble nothing so much as Flemish still-lifes; rarely has colour photography captured so profoundly the furry texture of night time’.
The New Yorker


We absolutely recommend the dive into this recent show and if you want to search out more Henson, his solo exhibitions have included: The light fades but the gods remain, Monash Gallery of Art (2019); Bill Henson, National Gallery of Victoria and Art Gallery of Western Australia (2017); Oneiroi, Hellenic Museum, Melbourne (2016); Cloud Landscapes, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (2013).

A number of major monographs on the artist’s work have also appeared over the years, including Lux et Nox (2002) and Mnemosyne (2005); both published by Scalo (Switzerland). Monash Gallery of Art and Thames & Hudson published The light fades but the gods remain the same (2019). Recent monographs include Sic Transit (2020), Kindertotenlieder (2017), Particle Mist (2015), 1985 (2014), all published by Stanley Barker, London, UK.

See more of Bill Henson’s work at Tolarno Galleries
Visit Stanley Barker, London, UK.

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