ADRIAN HENRI (1932 - 2000)

Nocturne Spring (1975)

© the artist's estate. Photo credit: The Atkinson Art Gallery

Painter, poet and performance artist Adrian Henri played a central role in the cultural life of Liverpool from the 1960s up until his death in 2000.


He was born in Birkenhead and and raised during WWII in Rhyl, North Wales. After experiencing a passion for art whilst growing up, Henri went on to study Fine Art at King’s College, Newcastle, where his tutors included Victor Pasmore and Richard Hamilton.


In 1957, during a summer fairground job in Rhyl, a girl reading Louis MacNeice poems captured Henri’s attention. She led him to a community of like-minded individuals, who persuaded him to return with them to Liverpool, to which Henri experienced a strong connection and where he found his home. At this time artists, musicians and poets populated the streets around the city's art college, an area that would subsequently become renowned for its artistic milieu.


He later recalled: “… I came and discovered this wonderful bohemia that was like all things I’d ever read about - Paris in the Twenties and London in the Nineties - and I just thought this is wonderful, the place is full of artists, everybody goes to the pub, everybody knows one another and I want to go there. So I did.”


Henri acquired a basement bedsit at 24 Falkner Square with his wife Joyce, a home that became a stopping-off point for many other artists and creatives such as George Melly and poets Roger McGough and Henry Graham. Sam Walsh also joined Henri at the building in a flat upstairs, and soon they became a singing duo and co-exhibitors in Liverpool and London.


The influence of New York American art and post war European Modernism is evident in his early 1960s work, albeit inflected with a personal preference for politics, local geography and popular culture references from his immediate surroundings.


From his immediate post-student days onwards, and like all of our artists, Henri worked and taught in order to function as an artist - be it at Rhyl Fairground, as a scene designer at Liverpool Playhouse, and at schools and colleges including Liverpool College of Art and Manchester School of Art.


In his homage to James Ensor, 1964's The Entry Of Christ Into Liverpool, him aside, he includes many of his heroes and friends, including Walsh, Don McKinlay and McKinlay’s daughter, Sheena, in the foreground.


Henri was instrumental in devising various “happenings”, which, as well as being extensions to his painting, also developed his performance-driven poetry alongside Roger McGough and Brian Patten and a variety of musicians from the city’s Merseybeat bands. Beyond The Mersey Sound poetry compilation of 1967, Henri was also a founding member of a favourite group of John Peel's, The Liverpool Scene.


Meanwhile, among a number of reoccuring motifs in his painting, such as the Death Of A Bird series and Alfred Jarry's Pere Ubu, his mid-1960s Meat and Salad paintings became more hard edged and photorealistic, culminating in the winning of a major prize at the 1972 John Moores 8 with Painting One.

Following the loss of his parents and maternal grandparents in mid-1970, and a subsequent heart attack, he appears to have adopted a more relaxed lifestyle and an increasingly lyrical painting approach in his painting.


Henri assumed the presidency of the Liverpool Academy in 1972 and rural landscapes and hedgerows together with local urban landscapes begin to dominate his work from there on. New themes, such as the nocturne or the revisiting/reinterpretation of Old Masters, are also evident in the work of our other painters.

Henri was made a Freeman of Liverpool shortly before his death in 2000. Retrospectives of his career were held in Berkshire and Liverpool in the mid-1980s and at the Walker Art Gallery in 1999, where The Day Of The Dead, set in Liverpool's Hope Street, based on Mexican ritual, featured, among others, Allen Ginsberg, Willam S. Burroughs, his former wife, Joyce, his partner Catherine Marcangeli and younger and older images of Sam Walsh.