Review of Henry Hussey’s Reliquaries at Gallery 8, Duke Street, London

A reliquary is meant for sacred things and, as individuals, what we hold sacred often has the power to leave us scarred. Realised predominantly through textiles, Henry Hussey’s deeply personal work draws its power from a willingness to engage with such poignant, sacramental things as family, love, politics, death, and memory without shying away from the scars they can leave. The reliquaries presented at Gallery 8, all of which are for sale, capture what may prove a formative moment in the artist’s career.

Consisting of two bodies of work – Locking Horns (2015) and The Last Breath (2016) – the show marks a pivotal moment for Hussey. Where his work has hitherto focused on a troubled relationship with his father, he is now forging pathways into new subjects, moulding the relics of meaning and memory into all new reliquaries. Much of Hussey’s art – new and old – is remarkable for its use of slow and complex processes to capture what are often fleeting emotional moments. The earlier work successfully weaves the rage directed at an absent and deceptive father figure into a medium that by no means lends itself to spontaneity.

In contrast, his more recent works are concerned with death and memory and as such the distilled moment is not so much one of action, but of reflection. Using geometrically arranged lines of text, fabric, or simply blank space to fragment images of human faces, the artist hints at a structuralist conception of the self, pieced together from the memories of others. Almost all of the work exhibited at the gallery deals in some way with transience – be it of the self, a relationship with another, or a political moment – and yet with enduring results. Many of the images are taken from sketches, and the sections of texts that Hussey often employs are borne out of an especially scrupulous method: in collaboration with actors – among them the renowned Maxine Peake – Hussey extracts raw scraps of dramatic text that he stitches unedited into the work.

Some of these texts, particularly those dealing with the artist’s nascent political interest, can read as desultory, even naive; however, in the iterative process of stitching, the working and reworking of the textile surface, they gain authority and force us to ask why, in a democracy, does the more eloquent voice by necessity hold the greater value? In any case the work speaks in many registers, both thematic and aesthetic.

Drawing from a wide base of visual influences, Hussey has ecclesiastical imagery sit alongside appropriated flags, skulls resembling Mexican calaveras, body parts and more, all rendered through a multitude of techniques. Consequently, his tapestry-like pieces would be equally at home in a gallery, house, or protest march. Some of the works have a distinctly painterly quality, where thick masses of embroidery mimic brushstrokes in various degrees of impasto, whilst The Passing (2016), with its muted colours and subtle lines, creates the effect of a watercolour.

With a collection of three hand-blown glass works – Manipulated (2016), Foetus (2016)and Sacrifice (2016) – we also see Hussey, who resists definition as a purely textile artist, move into new media where he experiments with more directly aligning content, form and process. Textile work could not support the violence with which he treats molten glass to realise these pieces, and his exploration of new methods is exciting. Ultimately a lack of directness is not something Hussey lacks; in his imagery as in his texts there is rarely room for interpretation, however, the work is intuitive, diverse, and laudably willing to engage with both the sacred and the profane, scars and all.

Ned Carter Miles

Reliquaries is presented by Coates and Scarry until 30 July at Gallery 8, 8 Duke Street St James, London. For more information about the show:

To find out more about the artist visit his website:

1. Henry Hussey, Voices, (2016). 135 x 135 cm, 53 x 53 inches. Dyed linen, dyed cotton, digitally printed cotton, embroidered linen, embroidered cotton, Swarovski crystals and bead-work. Courtesy of the artist and Coates and Scarry.