Bill Henson: The Liquid Night

Tolarno Bill Henson The Liquid NightOn display until 16 December 2023, Tolarno Galleries presents The Liquid Night, Bill Henson’s new exhibition of mural-size photographs.

Henson’s 10th show with the Gallery, this hypnotic new body of work encompasses 16 digital pigment prints derived from images shot by Henson on 35mm colour negative film in and around New York’s Times Square in 1989.

These analogue images lay mostly untouched for decades. Studying the colour negatives again recently, Henson began to wonder if these after-dark moments could be resolved using digital technologies and processes.

“He came to love the detail, the iconoclasm of these images and the way they converged on each other,” writes Peter Craven.

“At first, nothing came into his head. But it gradually became clear that he had to show the negatives for the imprint of the life that once was.

“He moved around images, sometimes in extreme closeup and discovered, one more time, that it was the unbelievable beauty of film that he set out to reproduce.”

The location is instantly recognisable. We see the red taillights of Big Yellow Taxis, a rainbow’s palette of neon signs, and long views down wide avenues.

As clothing, hairstyles, cars, buses and cinema hoardings indicate, this is late-’80s New York – a grittier, more bohemian time, before Zero Tolerance and gentrification.

Tolarno-Galleries-Bill-Henson-The-Liquid-Night-2Steam rises from the ground, lending the environs a theatrical, even clandestine, edge and transforming passersby into characters from some larger drama.

Experiencing these large-scale photographs in the gallery space, the viewer may feel as though they are literally stepping into the city as it was then, just as Henson took the original images while walking its streets and avenues.

The Liquid Night is a colour-saturated realm of reflection and shadow. The grain of the film is evident in these works, giving them a spacious, painterly quality. Viewed up close, they become textured, almost abstract.

Carefully manipulating depth of field, focal length and exposure time, Henson has created a beguiling series that invites us to consider the role of photographic imagery in making – and retrieving –  memories.

Born in Melbourne in 1955, Bill Henson held his first solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1975 at the age of 19.

Henson has exhibited extensively in Australia and overseas – including in New York, London, Paris, Beijing, Tokyo, Montreal, Barcelona, Vienna and Amsterdam – and he represented Australia at the 1995 Venice Biennale.

Recent solo exhibitions include The light fades but the gods remain, Newcastle Art Gallery (2021) and Monash Gallery of Art (2019); and Bill Henson, National Gallery of Victoria and Art Gallery of Western Australia (both 2017).

All major public collections in Australia have holdings by Henson, as well as many overseas collections. Bill Henson has been represented by Tolarno Galleries since 2000

Each photograph is available in an edition of 5. The exhibition is accompanied by a cinematic 120-page book, The Liquid Night, published by Stanley Barker, London, UK.

Bill Henson: The Liquid Night
Tolarno Galleries, Level 5 – 104 Exhibition Street, Melbourne
Exhibition continues to 16 December 2023

For more information, visit: for details.

Images: Bill Henson, The Liquid Night, 1989 (SH23 N9), Photograph, 190 x 130 cm, Edition of 5 |  Bill Henson, The Liquid Night, 1989 2 (SH4 N6C), Photograph, 190 x 130 cm, Edition of 5