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Contemporary artist CJ Hendry’s 'Plaid' turns a playground into an art sculpture

Inspired by the limited sophistication in the design of public parks and playgrounds, the solo exhibition at Greenpoint Avenue, Brooklyn, experiments with the built environment.

by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : May 10, 2023

With the dawn of digital artworks, the viewer's experience of art has been limited to 'seeing' rather than engaging. Breaking this incessant monotony of screen time, Brooklyn-based, Brisbane-raised contemporary artist CJ Hendry presented her 10th solo exhibition, Plaid, at Greenpoint Avenue in Brooklyn, New York. The exhibition consists of large-scale, hyper-realistic drawings that foreground the literal and conceptual bent of the artist’s mind. The figurative form of Plaid highlights two-dimensional drawings that consist of perpendicular lines drawn in dry brush strokes and stands in contrast to her long practice that is inclined towards a more glossy, three-dimensional appearance. Known to metamorphose her penchant for contemporary material culture to experiential large-scale and hyper-photorealistic drawings, Hendry cajoles viewers to actively participate instead of being mute spectators to the art being displayed. 

Blizzard, 2023, Drawing | Plaid |CJ Hendry | STIRworld
Blizzard, 2023, Drawing Image: Courtesy of CJ Hendry Studio

In the past, Hendry with her team erected a complete home with multiple rooms inside a warehouse for her exhibition Monochrome at Greenpoint Avenue. Each of the rooms were coloured in a monochrome palette from floor to ceiling. In another exhibition titled Rorschach at Brooklyn's Dumbo neighbourhood, the viewers hopped in a maze, built in-house, to reach the series on display. The idea to experiment with the architecture of the built environment was also visible in her last exhibition Epilogue, which had Hendry revamp the dilapidated London church with 10 tonnes of petals in the shape of confetti dropped from the ceiling. Perpetuating an experiment with the built environment for a wide spectrum of the audience is the current exhibition Plaid

Blow, 2023, Drawing | Plaid | CJ Hendry |  STIRworld
Blow, 2023, Drawing Image: Courtesy of CJ Hendry Studio

The conceptual artwork is dovetailed with a literal sense of child-like innocence to play and perform. The hyperrealism of the work is channelised through the manipulation of scale, especially the installation that allows viewers to take a trip down the memory lane of an impressionist age, punctuated with nostalgia and amusement. But how did Hendry start with this playful installation? It was the “limited sophistication in the design of the public parks and playgrounds” that encouraged Hendry to take on the challenge of giving a spin to public venues of activity, which are otherwise difficult to perform in if aligned with government officials. 

Coke, 2023, Hyper-realistic drawing | Plaid | CJ Hendry | STIRworld
Coke, 2023, Hyper-realistic drawing Image: Courtesy of CJ Hendry Studio

Talking about the ideation process of the exhibition Plaid, Hendry in an interview with STIR confesses, “I was spending a lot of time at playgrounds with my kids and noticed how basic the designs were. I started thinking about how this could be much cooler, and even how a playground could be an art sculpture. I thought I would design my own playground in an exhibition for my upcoming show, and Plaidground was born.” She designed the playground to mimic the plaid pattern of her work and wanted her audience to reconnect with their inner child, forget about adulting for a moment and just have fun again.

Plaidground, 2023, Installation | Plaid | CJ Hendry | STIRworld
Plaidground, 2023, Installation Image: Courtesy of CJ Hendry Studio

Since the exhibition showcases her drawings and installation as well, one is curious to know if the two mediums inform each other. “For all of my shows, I want my audience to interact, and engage with my work, and not just look at it. It is an entire experience; it is fully immersive and it raises the depth of hyperrealism. For Plaid, my team and I built a 5,000 sq ft labyrinth, and it is designed to echo the lines and patterns of my drawings. We also got socks made too to play in, and keep from this show.” The installation showcases translation of the paintings in an effort to let the adults bring forth their inner child. 

A glimpse into CJ Hendry's work Plaid Video: Courtesy of CJ Hendry Studio

Given the scale and dimension of the installation Plaidground, it had the possibility of posing a set of challenges. Hendry mentions, “We created an art sculpture playground, complete with a maze, swings, ball pits, slides, rollers, ramps, and more. Oh, and a lot of zip ties! A lot of work too; thank god I have such an amazing team, and everyone was committed to bringing this concept to reality. One run-in we had was with the flooring and the foam mats. I did not like the white of what we initially bought, and it needed to be replaced. Spent more money than I wanted to, though no two whites are created equal, and I liked one more than the other, so.” 

CJ Hendry’s Portrait, 2023, Photograph | Plaid | CJ Hendry | STIRworld
CJ Hendry’s portrait, 2023, Photograph Image: Courtesy of CJ Hendry Studio

The artist hopes that the final takeaway from watching the exhibition is the emotions of fun and immersion. “Do not think anymore. Enjoy the moment, laugh, play—be a kid again—pause your adult life for a second, and reconnect with your inner child. Go back to those times before you had to grow up, and feel the burdens of adulthood, the pressures, and stress. There is a lot of happening in the world, so take a break, and take a dive into this show,” shares Hendry. 

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