Davidson Contemporary presents Dear Henry, a solo exhibition by Torkwase Dyson. Dear Henry consists of new paintings stemming from Dyson’s Water Table series, and is conceived as a letter to Henry “Box” Brown, an American slave who escaped to freedom by mailing himself in a crate. 


Like much of Dyson’s practice, the paintings in Dear Henry examine historic spatial narratives such as colonization, chattel slavery, and the industrial revolution. Dyson deconstructs these histories through an architectural lens, examining the trans-spatial strategies used to defy the state. While Brown was born into a complex geographic and authoritative system, his subversive ability to escape represented a successful negation of the limited systems into which he was born.


Part of Dyson practice includes diving in the Atlantic Ocean, personally surveying natural environments riddled with histories of extraction, and familiarizing herself with coral reefs, kelp farms, oil rigs, tankers, and pumps. Dyson includes the culture of extraction – meaning humans from the continent, minerals from the underground reservoir, and liquid from the core of ancient waters – when theorizing on what is being called the Anthropocene Age. She is interested in mining this discourse between humanism and spatiality in order to fully comprehend the legacy of environmental justice.    


Dyson calibrates atmospheric light, surface texture, and composition so that elements of these issues are considered in relationship to materiality in painting. Each work is an amalgamation of layered washes, atmospheric color, opaque brushwork and indexical scoring that suggests an architectural presence and infrastructural design space. The combination of expressive marks and diagrammatic lines suggest that technology and sociality are both needed as we create new systems for more livable futures.  


In February 2018, Dyson was the first artist to participate in the Winter Term initiative at The Drawing Center in New York. Her work will also be included in Between the Waters at the Whitney Museum of American Art, opening March 9, 2018, and, in April 2018, her work will be featured in The Last Place They Thought Of, at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia.


Dyson’s work has been exhibited at the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Corcoran College of Art and Design, the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. Dyson is the recipient of Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters & Sculptors award, Nancy Graves Grant for Visual Artists, Visiting Artist grant to the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, the Culture Push Fellowship for Utopian Practices, Eyebeam Art and Technology Center Fellowship, and the FSP/Jerome Fellowship. Dyson’s work has also been supported by The Drawing Center, Lower Manhattan Cultural Center, The Laundromat Projects, the Green Festival of New York, Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, the Mural Arts Program of Philadelphia, The Kitchen, and the Rebuild Foundation. In 2016, Dyson was elected to the board of the Architecture League of New York as Vice President of Visual Arts. Torkwase is now based in Jersey City, NJ, and is a visiting critic at Yale School of Art.