For Cj Hendry, Art Is Not a Spectator Sport

The New Yorker by way of Brisbane has made a name for herself by staging solo shows in which the production design becomes an extension of her artwork. She now creates a vast indoor playground that brings her hyperrealistic drawings to life.

“Plaid” by Cj Hendry. Image courtesy of the artist

Cj Hendry doesn’t do the white cube. After abandoning her studies in architecture and finance, her big break came from a series of lifelike black-and-white drawings of Chanel bags from her time working at one of the label’s boutiques. The drawings were a hit on Instagram, helping launch her debut exhibition of them in 2014 and ultimately kicking off her now-established tradition of creating experiential art shows that captivate the imagination.

A few years later, Hendry presented drawings of Rorschach-like paint smears in the psychological tests’ splotchy style. To see the show, viewers traversed a white-padded-wall bouncy castle that served as an eerie expression of the inspiration Hendry took from childhood “squish paintings” and the darker implications of Hermann Rorschach’s studies of the unconscious mind. Then, in 2021, she created a floor-to-ceiling pink beauty parlor, complete with Ultrafragola mirrors and a chocolate bar that explored the transformative power of wigs. “I enjoy creating conceptual exhibitions that take elements of the series and blow them up on a massive scale,” Hendry says. “I’m bored by traditional galleries hanging artworks on white walls.”

“Plaid” by Cj Hendry. Images courtesy of the artist

For Hendry, who has no gallery representation and does not show at museums, art doesn’t end with each individual drawing. “I would love for each original artwork to only be able to be viewed as the entire experience,” she says. “It brings such a greater depth to the genre of hyperrealism.” 

Plaid” pushes the envelope by going bigger and more conceptual than Hendry’s previous shows. Here, she takes inspiration from the linguistic similarities between the show title and the word “play,” encouraging visitors to tap into their inner child. To navigate the setup, they meander through a two-story, warehouse-sized playground equipped with swings, a foam pit, slides, and a merry-go-round—elements that mirror Hendry’s drawings. 

In working outside of the art world’s prescribed conventions, Hendry seems to have charted a path to commercial success on her own terms. This gives her license to do things like design paintbrush spoons for the JELL-O cocktails served to guests on opening night, which she says probably took more time than designing the show. 

“Plaid” by Cj Hendry. Image courtesy of the artist
“Plaid” by Cj Hendry. Image courtesy of the artist

“Plaid” will be on view at 220 Newel Street, Brooklyn, until April 23. 

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