Fragments of experience can be brought together by colour and shape, form and canvas, but also by craft and an intense awareness of the visual arts as one of the foundations upon which humans build their understanding of the environments they inhabit. Paintings of landscapes bring the richness of the physical world into contact with human vision and the imagination.
Henry Inlander understood this eruption of the real world onto the canvas and this is best exemplified by his early drawings which explore everything from the textures of trees to the shape of a mountain against the sky. As an artist he was obsessed by the transformative power of art and by an inner impulse that made it impossible to live without creating, imagining and recreating the world that he loved. The fact that so many of his paintings portrayed the landscapes in and around Anticoli Corrado attested to his attachment to the hillsides, mountains, sky, people and all of the elements that make up this beautiful place.
His works are about an inner space of reflection and thought. He never painted or drew ‘in situ’ but instead worked from memory and his own imagination. Crucially, many of his paintings are related to each other, as if they were part of a series or a longer narrative. All of his work seems to foreground new ways of seeing objects and people. In fact, although elements of nature remain in his paintings, it would be more accurate to say that the transformative nature of his art recasts not only what he paints but also the manner in which spectators look and see.
He was driven by many profound and conflicted emotions derived in large measure from a family history that was marked by diaspora, and characterized by displacement and loss, including the death of some members of his family in Auschwitz during the Second World War. This intersection of history, personal experience and World War II and this combination of death, destruction and hope infuses all of his paintings with an urgency born of the desire to give substance and form to memory. At the same time, Inlander’s work rejoices in the beauty and simplicity of nature and in the many ways in which nature shapes not only human vision, but also human creativity.
Some artists have a deep sense of the physical world we inhabit and a rare few are able to depict that world as if it is alive and in constant transition. His paintings are always moving as if a cloud is about to pass overhead or as if a storm is just on the horizon. His was not an art of stillness; it was an art of motion and an art of the natural environment undergoing change and transformation. At the same time, there was a special kind of romanticism to his belief in nature, a romanticism founded on the naïve feeling that colour and shape can bring a transcendent quality to a natural environment that has to varying degrees been overwhelmed by human beings.
Inlander’s work is at the boundary of the figurative and the expressionist. In some of his paintings the landscape disappears into abstraction dominated by texture and colour, always in the service of the concrete and of his vision. Windows appear in many of his paintings, as do images of his wife. The inside view of a house is framed by an exterior landscape. It always seems as if the outside and the inside are going to merge, as if the paintings are layered by time-present and time-past, by what he has seen and what he has imagined. The prevalence of windows in many of his paintings is also a framing device, a modernist play on self-reflexivity and the search for meaning. Amidst his paintings one often notices details like blades of grass or the shape of a dog, and this tension between the real, the seen and the imagined plays itself out continuously throughout his entire oeuvre.
Some of his earliest drawings suggest a tension between reality, imagination and landscape. These drawings from the 1950’s hint at his love for Marc Chagall; they have a surreal quality that is unified by the figures in many of them, including a figure that is clearly a representation of the artist. In fact, throughout his career, the anxiety between figuration and fantasy makes its way into all of his art. This pressure transforms a night sky, for example, into a green canvas with white dots suggesting the connections between the earth and the heavens. “The ambiguity of shapes is a constant source of excitement to me. Landscape is only a pretext for the idea of an ideal world disrupted by visual elements, just as our world is disrupted by death, cruelty, Vietnam, Biafra.” For Henry Inlander, nature is more of a jumping off point for speculation, for poetry, for visualization than it is for duplication or copying.