A Collection of CollectionsA Collection of Collections

Nigel Henderson, Screen, 1949

Written by Jillie Moss

In creating Screen, the collage he began in 1949, Nigel Henderson (1917-1985) was following the foremost influences in his art. In the 1930s, whilst visiting Paris in his late teens, he had been introduced to key members of the avant-garde, Max Ernst, Yves Tanguy and Marcel Duchamp by Peggy Guggenheim, the wealthy American art collector.

The Surrealists believed that unrelated elements could be placed together to create a sense of reality outside the everyday world. In the same way, the 'found' imagery, or objet trouvé, which make up the surface of Screen allowed Henderson to create witty juxtapositions. For example, Canova's Three Graces are a classical contrast with pornographic Victorian nudes; Charles Atlas flexes his muscles near a man with a bionic arm lighting a cigarette; a hand holding a pen is placed so that it looks as though it is finishing a drawing of a partly-clothed pin-up girl.

Henderson had been collecting ephemera and 'found' materials for some years before Screen was begun. As well as printed matter and photographs there are labels from beer bottles and tinned tomatoes incorporated into the collage. Henderson wrote that he 'wanted to release an energy of image from trivial data'. For him, collage was 'perpetually tentative, evasive and ephemeral', 'You can strip bits away, reallocate them, glaze them down, overthrow them'.