“Henry Saxe was featured in a major exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada in 1973. His space appeared to be a work in progress: a precarious stepladder, a coil of rope and pieces of steel were scattered about the room. This was one of the first examples of “installation art” in North America. Entering the piece, the viewer became engaged in a creative act: constructing relationships between varied components. The process was akin to the artist in his studio, drawing disparate objects together; and, like an alchemist, making them change their nature in a mysterious dance of odds meeting ends as the whole became greater than the sum of its parts. What makes art intriguing is not what is easily revealed, but the question marks that remain. So it is with our world: from our senses, we attempt to construct, to build meaning, from our surroundings”
Henry Saxe’s drawings and paintings in the 1960’s represented a clash between constructivism and abstract expressionism, combining angular geometries with organic forms. These contradictory interests created a conflict in how he handled space. Conflicting components were at times awkward, imbalanced. These two-dimensional works were very sculptural as they dealt with concepts of balance, juxtaposition and distribution. Light emphasizes the worked surfaces of aluminum: burnished, scratched, cut, wielded, the material alternately reflects and absorbs light. Differing viewing angles vary the effects. Recently the added play of colour emphasizes the push/pull of surfaces. He has also created assemblage constructions incorporating sticks that had been chewed by beavers. The drawing on these pieces was done with charcoal on very thick paper, which is also etched. The carved, incised, lines hint at a suspicion of an underlying dimension. There has always been a very direct correlation between Henry’s paintings, drawings, and sculptures. His recent works on very thick paper explore the composition of the Bormann Rings, another topological phenomenon, like the Möbius Strip and Klein Bottle. Usually, an artist’s drawings precede a sculpture. In this case, the works on paper evolved from the Sphere sculptures.
A little before his installation works, Saxe produced some more self-referential works, such as his Tractor Series, and, from 1978 to 1980 he developed his Instrument Series. Evolving from his photographic Triangle Series, these large steel plate pieces consisted of stacked plates and structural beams exploring triangular relationships and the intersections of one plane with another, revealing the realm of Topology, the study of surfaces.
A series of drawings from 1980 entitled the Klein Bottles illustrated topological properties. The Klein bottle is a three-dimensional extension of the Möbius Strip. They are both essentially one-sided surfaces, turning in upon themselves. These concepts extend perceptions of space and suggest ideas of time and space as being cyclical, bending physically, and twisting imaginatively.
Within Henry Saxes’s sphere sculptures there is a tension between the enclosure of the whole structure and the relative liberty of the individual components. Akin to the Möbius Strip and the Klein Bottle, there is a flux, a process of mental disconnections and reconnections between the interior and exterior surfaces. The inside negative spaces are simultaneously delineated and displaced by the vortex of eccentrically shaped rings. Saxe invites the participant to engage in a somewhat perverse act of hurling his spheres so that, in landing, they assume an entirely new configuration. The work is destroyed and recreated. Randomness and chance are brought into play.
Henry Saxe’s work continues to raise question marks. Like trying to unravel a magician’s layered puzzle, one can never totally comprehend a solution to the trick, but in the search, we continue to discover meaning.
Essay and text credited to Christopher Youngs from essay for exhibition catalogue titled Henry Saxe, The Anarchy of Space, The Freedman Gallery at Albright College, Reading, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Major Exhibitions and Awards:
1963 The Biennale of Paris, France
1968 The Biennale of Paris, France
1973 Solo Exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada
1978 Represented Canada at the Venice Biennale(1978)
1989 The Order of Canada
1994 Musee d’Art Contemporain de Montreal(Solo Exhibition)
1995 Paul-Emile Borduas prize
2007 The Anarchy of Space, the Freedman Gallery at Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania(Solo Exhibition)
2017 Henry Saxe, Sculptures and Drawings, Solo Exhibition: The University of Sherbrook in Quebec
Henry Saxe’s work is well represented in major public art gallery collections in Canada.