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Contemporary painter Henry Asencio is one of the most original young painters working today. He skillfully combines traditional figure painting with abstract art in a congruous manner. In 1996, Asencio was sponsored by the art supply company Thayer and Chandler, which enabled him to exhibit his work in galleries in the United States, Germany and Paris. His painting has won several awards and is exhibited in dozens of galleries throughout the world.

Henry Asencio, though so fresh and modern in style, clearly hasn’t forgotten the importance of tradition. In his technique, we find the influences of some of his favorite artists: the honest naturalism of Lucien Freud; the vigor of Willem de Kooning’s energetic brushstrokes; the decorative appeal of Gustav Klimt’s dazzling paintings.

Just consider the paintings themselves. In “Ascending,” the composition, texture and color of the painting express its central theme. We move from the fervent red of the bottom of the canvas to the woman that seems to float on the cloudy whiteness of the bed. These colors—bright reds touched by dark shadows; soft whites enshrouding the shape of the reposing woman; the luminosity of shades of orange-yellow above—all suggest the elevation of mood, thoughts and feelings evoked by the title. The female figure seems immersed in a world of dreams that carry her—and us—to a different vision of what counts as reality.

“Afternoon Light” is as much about the wistful tranquility of the young girl in the painting—beautiful, nude yet, paradoxically, partly hidden from view by her own contemplative pose—as about the bold patches of white light that illuminate her breast and shoulder. Nevertheless, when Asencio draws our eyes to the paint—to the medium of expression itself—we do not return to the formalism celebrated by the New York critic Clement Greenberg in Jackson Pollock’s art. For Asencio, art is clearly not primarily about the expressivity of the medium itself. Through his emphasis upon the artistic medium, Asencio brings us closer to the naturalism of Renoir, where the flesh comes alive, glowing from the inside. Just as the body conveys mood, so the expression of psychology offers a better, fuller way of understanding bodily movement and form.

Asencio congruously combines the age-old tradition of representational art with the twentieth-century tradition of conceptual art to create a style that is truly young, expressive and beautiful. His painting challenges viewers with its plausible combination of new and old techniques. To invoke Picasso’s famous words of advice to Françoise Gilot, to subvert older traditions one must first show that one can master them. 

Claudia Moscovici, postromanticism.com

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