There’s no dearth of imagery documenting the rise of punk in the ’70s and its commercial peak in the ’80s. Look in any Hot Topic and you’ll be reminded of just how abundant but thoroughly vacated the aesthetic has become, and how the very “man” it critiqued ended up turning politicized DIY into an overpriced instant-identity that pairs best with Dippin’ Dots. Yet Kelsey Henderson’s paintings (spotted on Booooooom) depicting punk’s aesthetics — head-shaving, spikily bejewling, a rejection of formalism and virtuosity — seem wholly fresh. They draw attention to the paradoxes of painting the punk scene, noting both a painting “problem” and a punk “problem” — and paying tender homage to both through the illogic of it.
Painting — especially, of course, photorealistic portraiture — is known as the paragon of art world formalism. Yet Henderson’s paintings are not posed-looking — they appear, like a Polaroid photo, to have spontaneously captured a moment: neither a pretty moment, a planned moment, nor a particularly pivotal one, but just a moment. Rather than a full figure, we may just see a bleeding nose, or an awkwardly turned neck. But it’s inevitable for painting to be a highly planned affair — especially painting that goes the extra mile to look unplanned. Here, we see the strange, formal gesture of memorialization coupled with the purposefully — if not always fully — uncontrolled and unstudied nature of punk. It’s a bittersweet thing: these paintings remind us of the difficulties of recapturing something whose whole basis was to never be captured, to resist containment.