Jackson M. Hensley
Hensley Gallery Located in Historic Taos, NM Specializing in Traditional Fine Art


Secret Doorways

In his paintings, Taos artist Jackson Hensley seeks a passage to the inner world.

By Sarah Deats

Hensley Gallery Southwest, at 311 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, is a short walk north from the main plaza in Taos. The front of the gallery is filled with works in a variety of media and styles; the large back room serves as both studio and exhibition area for the paintings of Jackson Hensley himself. This arrangement gives visitors the opportunity to see Hensley's works at every stage in the process of their creation. On the easel is the piece he is working on at the moment; on the walls are finished paintings as well as ones that will receive further work at a later time.

The subjects of Hensley's images vary widely, but there is one element that appears in almost all of them. If you look closely and long enough, you will see something in the painting that suggests a kind of doorway, a secret passage to another world, the inner world of the soul. Hensley himself notes that while his paintings are outwardly about landscapes or people, they are really about his own thoughts and perceptions, his own view of the world.

Hensley is not interested in reproducing a particular scene with photographic accuracy for that, he says you might as well just take a photograph and be done with it. Rather he is interested in interpreting the scene he paints through the lens of his own point of view, his own philosophy. For him this is the true artist's life, which requires a large dose of solitude to allow the soul its time and space to surface, as well as a good deal of hard work to bring the soul's content to form on the canvas.

The solitude includes forays into the countryside on foot, on horseback, or in the car to find places that can provide the basis for a painting. The hard work involves many of the traditional methods of he serious painter: making sketches and studies, starting with as many ideas as possible and gradually refining or "editing" the scene to reflect the particular view he is interested in depicting. Some paintings may grow quickly and reach maturity in only a few hours; others take months or even years to attain their final form.

The element that almost always finds a place in the ultimate composition of Henley's paintings is the suggestion of a passageway or doorway. In his gallery/studio, visitors can see a lovely study for "The Prayer," a large oil painting now in the collection of the Leanin' Tree Museum in Colorado. The light in the smaller study is concentrated on a white church that occupies a large part of the foreground. Toward the right side of the canvas is an area that is darker and a bit mysterious, suggesting a secret entryway to the building. In "Fall," a view through a stand of trees reveals an open space and sweep of sky. The placement of the trees invites the viewer to step between them and see what is to be found in the open area beyond. These distant secrets are not revealed in the painting; rather the subject is the process of discovery itself.

Sometimes the doorway is more overt, as in Hensley's portrait of a beautiful wall and gate in "Shadows," the deepest shadows fall onto the gate itself, suggesting the presence of the unknown. Thick foliage rising behind the wall reinforces this feeling of a world waiting to be explored.

His larger canvases, such as "Spring," often include a diagonal trail or waterway or cleft that leads the viewer's eye upward and back into the deeper recesses of the landscape. Always there is the sense of being led into new territory.

The doorway is expressed in a more directly mystical way in "The Song," large oil on panel that depicts several people looking up toward a large rose suspended in mid-air. The rose and its contents (a child's face and a tiny, radiant fairy-like creature) clearly belong to another realm, one that suggests spiritual revelation. Revelation is perhaps the most compelling passageway of all, a direct path to a new perception or a brief glimpse into eternity.

Traditional Art

Hensley Gallery, Traditional FIne Art featuring the work of Jackson Hensley

"It is Finished"
by Jackson Hensley