Mike Henderson: Chicken Fingers, 1976-1980

Presented By

Haines Gallery

Through Apr 1st

Haines Gallery presents Chicken Fingers, 1976-1980, a solo exhibition of work by Mike Henderson at Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture (FMCAC). Chicken Fingers offers unprecedented opportunities for viewers to experience the rarely seen, early-career works of acclaimed artist, filmmaker, and blues musician Mike Henderson.

Chicken Fingers is on view at the Haines Gallery in Building C from January 14, 2023 through April 1, 2023, Tuesday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Two exhibitions in the San Francisco Bay Area highlight different aspects of the artist’s groundbreaking practice: Chicken Fingers, 1976–1980, Henderson’s 15th solo show at Haines Gallery, focuses on the mixed media, Afrofuturist canvases that redefined the artist’s practice as he left behind the figurative paintings of his early career. Before the Fire, 1965–1985, organized by the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, presents the seminal, politically charged paintings and films created in the years immediately following Henderson’s move to San Francisco, considered within 20 years of Henderson’s creative development.

These exhibitions are complemented by a screening of Henderson’s 16mm films at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, Los Angeles; the launch of the artist’s first major monograph from the University Of California (UC) Press; and the artist’s presentation at FOG Design+Art in San Francisco. Together, these exhibitions and events illuminate the work of an artist with a singular creative vision, whose creative output from this time provides vital insight about pivotal moments in American history.

In the aftermath of the 1960s, Henderson began experimenting with new materials and approaches to painting. The result was a creative epiphany that redefined the artist’s practice and produced some of the most accomplished works in Henderson’s 50-year career.

Leaving behind the explicitly political, figurative style that had defined the previous decade, by the mid-1970s, the artist was conjuring ethereal, otherworldly spaces filled with promise, mystery, and hope. Chicken Fingers highlights this important moment in Henderson’s creative evolution, with a suite of mixed-media works on canvas. Named for a key work from this period, the exhibition’s title suggests a slippery world just within our grasp: Shaped, painted, and burnt pieces of canvas, fabric from vintage clothes, and even an old wallet are incorporated into fully resolved constellations in which lunar spheres often float above a distant horizon. A group of corresponding works on paper use architectural forms to evoke interstitial spaces — arched doorways and balustrades opening onto multicolored skies.

Bringing together these works for the first time since their creation, Chicken Fingers offers a revelatory look at an artist at the height of his creative powers, reflecting both Henderson’s personal journey and his place in the culture at large.

Mike Henderson: Before the Fire, 1965–1985

Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art
, UC Davis
January 30 to June 25, 2023

Public Opening Celebration: Sunday, January 29
, 2023, 2:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Mike Henderson: Before the Fire, 1965–1985, Henderson’s first US solo museum exhibition in 20 years and first museum retrospective fittingly opens at the Manetti Shrem Museum at UC Davis, where the artist taught for more than 40 years before his retirement in 2012.

The paintings and films in Before the Fire examine and offer new ideas about Black life in the visual languages of protest, Afrofuturism, and surrealism. These works depict scenes of anti-Black violence, hetero-masculinity and abject social conditions as well as utopian visions and questions of self-making. Challenging the protocols and propriety of art-making in the 20th century, the works shown are a crucial, if rarely seen, contribution to the history of painting and filmmaking, radical Black politics, and the story of California art.

Before the Fire is curated by Sampada Aranke and Dan Nadel.

Accompanying Before the Fire, 1965–1985 is a fully-illustrated catalog of the same title, published by UC Press in association with the Manetti Shrem Museum. This first-ever monographic study of Henderson’s work includes texts by exhibition curators Aranke and Nadel, as well as scholars Bridget R. Cooks, Erin Gray, Carlos Francisco Jackson, and Justin Leroy; artists Ayanah Moor and Kambui Olujimi; and filmmaker and preservationist Mark Toscano.

Mike Henderson: The Blues and the Abstract Truth

Ted Mann Theatre
Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, Los Angeles
Thursday, January 19, 2023, 7:30 p.m
Presented in gloriously restored 16mm, Henderson’s short
films, spanning the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, approach the unique qualities of the medium in an unexpected way. From his talking blues shorts and queries into Black history and identity, to his bewitching, semi-abstract works of the 1980s, his films often grapple with the very essence of artistic creation itself, as if to ask (quoting his dear friend William Wiley), “What’s it all mean?”

The Academy Film Archive has been conserving and restoring Henderson’s films since 2008.
The Blues and the Abstract Truth represents the first time these works are being seen in Los Angeles. The event is programmed by Academy Film Archive Senior Film Preservationist Mark Toscano.


FOG Design+Art 2023
, FMCAC Festival Pavilion
Saturday, January 21, 2023, 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
At FOG Design+Art 2023’s “Artists Can’t Have Chicken Fingers,” Henderson is in conversation with Andy Battaglia (Executive Editor, ARTnews, Art in America).

This special programming includes a preview of
Mike Henderson: Here I Stand, a new documentary about the artist, and a performance by his band, Cabin Fever.


Mike Henderson (b. 1944, Marshall, MO; lives and works in the San
Francisco Bay Area) has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship (1973), two National Endowment for the Arts Artist Grants (1989, 1978), an Artadia Award (2019), and Margrit Mondavi Arts Medallion (2022). Henderson’s paintings and films have been exhibited in such distinguished institutions as Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento; de Young Museum, San Francisco,  and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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