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Australian art

Contemporary art


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Untitled 1983/84, from the series Untitled 1983/84



Bill Henson


1955 -


Henson produces above all a photography of expressive content. The dominant motifs in Untitled are in fact few in number: architectural details of baroque palaces, old master paintings hanging in European galleries, the female face in repose, and, most centrally, naked junkie waifs who are lost to their own degradation and suffering. Yet the sense of scope Henson brings to his subjects gives them a dramatic resonance, an existence on paper which reverberates with a kind of numinous inevitability. It has been remarked that these photographs approach the condition of film but they do so only in the way that film itself can sometimes approach the condition of painting – by imitating its textural qualities and the distortions of form it allows in the interests of integrated composition. This question is further complicated by Henson's delicate use of colour, which works by implication and suggestion, almost in fact as an illusion until we realise that those hints of blue and red and gold are heightening tonal contrasts apparently attained at first glance in black-and-white.
What ultimately registers in Untitled 1983/84 is a tone of unassuaged sadness, an operatic vision of the stuff of tragedy, made bearable only by the intricacies of the art that has fixed these shadows on paper forever. It is not an easy or a fashionable truth that suffering so absolute that its victim has lost comprehension of self can provide for an art of consummate beauty.

extract from Michael Heyward, first published Bill Henson: photographs, Picador, Sydney 1988, republished Bill Henson: Mnemosyne, Scalo, Zurich/AGNSW, Sydney 2005 p 240




Media category


Materials used

triptych: 3 type C photographs




a - left panel, 84 x 74.7 cm, image

a - left panel, 100 x 74.7 cm, sheet

a - left panel, 101 x 87 x 4 cm, frame

b - centre panel, 84 x 74 cm, image

b - centre panel, 100.8 x 74 cm, sheet

b - centre panel, 101 x 87 cm, frame

c - right panel, 84 x 74 cm, image

c - right panel, 100.8 x 74 cm, sheet

c - right panel, 101 x 87 x 4 cm, frame

Signature & date

Signed l.r. verso of each panel, ink "Bill Henson". Dated l.c. verso of each panel, ink "...1983/84".


Purchased 1986


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Bill Henson

Works in the collection


Shown in 2 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 5 publications


Judy Annear, Look, 'The elusive Bill Henson', pg.28-31, Sydney, Dec 2004-Jan 2005, 31.

Judy Annear, What is this thing called photography?, Sydney, 1999. no catalogue numbers

Art Gallery of New South Wales, Five years on: a selection of acquisitions 1981-1986, Sydney, 1986. 121

Michael Heyward, Mnemosyne, 'Untitled 1983/84', pg. 240, Sydney, 2005, 240, 246-7 (illus.).

Ewen McDonald (Editor), Biennale of Sydney 2000, Sydney, 2000, 21 (colour illus.). illustration of centre panel, this work is not in the exhibition but is illustrated in the catalogue.