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Nelson Henricks receives 2023 Prix Louis-Comtois

Concordia instructor among four alumni shortlisted for Montreal art awards
February 6, 2024
By Sandra Evoughlian

Colorful checkered jacket on mannequin, abstract background. Nelson Henricks, Don’t You Like the Green of A?, 2022, installation view from "Nelson Henricks," 2022-23, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. | Photo: Paul Litherland.

Nelson Henricks, BFA 94, a visual artist and instructor in Concordia’s Department of Studio Arts, won the 2023 Prix Louis-Comtois, in recognition of his contributions to the Montreal contemporary art scene over the past 15 years. Created in 1991 to promote excellence in the visual arts, it is jointly awarded by the Ville de Montréal and Contemporary Art Galleries Association.

With a career spanning more than three decades, Henricks is best known for his videotapes and immersive installations combining image and sound. Often experimental, his works reference history and popular culture to explore concepts such as the passage of time, language and translation, the politics of aesthetics and synaesthesia — a phenomenon in which an experience of one sense may trigger another, such as hearing colours and seeing sounds.

Man standing for a portait wearing glasses and a colourful jacket, while holding a wine glass filled with blue liquid. Nelson Henricks, Don’t You Like the Green of A?, 2022.

Originally from Bow Island, Alta., Henricks moved to Montreal in 1991 to study film at Concordia. He is the recipient of several awards, including the 2015 Prix Giverny Capital.

“It’s great to have this recognition from the city I’ve lived in for over 30 years and feel like I’m part of it. Many of those who received the prize in the past are artists I admire and respect, and I feel privileged to be counted among them,” says Henricks.

Before moving to Montreal as a student, Henricks says that he knew he would find kinship in the city. He was already familiar with the local arts scene and interested in taking French classes alongside his cinema courses.

He recalls a moment in his early career when the late film studies professor Mario Falsetto invited him to present a class on video art, which gave Henricks the confidence to transition from student to instructor.

‘The people you meet now will be in your world for the rest of your life’

“Something that strikes me at Concordia is how creative the students are. They’re always making amazing work,” says Henricks. “Even as an undergraduate student, I was impressed by the people around me. I’m still in touch with some of them. I tell my own students today: ‘A lot of the people you meet now will be in your world for the rest of your life.’ University is also about building community, a social and critical space that you belong to.”

Henricks has more advice for students: “Never give up.” He was shortlisted for the award five times before finally winning.

Pencil video art installation across multiple screens. Nelson Henricks, Unwriting, 2010, still from four-channel video installation.

News of the prize follows another major milestone: his solo exhibition at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, which ran from November 2022 to April 2023. “One gratifying and unexpected outcome was seeing how kids responded to it,” mentions Henricks. A local school invited him to speak to students after it had organized a trip to the museum. “Suddenly, there was this whole audience of superfans who had made art inspired by the exhibition.”

Henricks indicates that despite his achievements, it was difficult for video artists to break into the museum and gallery space and have their work taken seriously as fine art, especially in the 1990s.

He cites three previous exhibitions — and the people behind them — that led to institutional recognition of his work and helped establish his reputation: a 2004 exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, one in 2009 at the artist-run centre VOX, centre de l’image contemporaine, and a 2010 mid-career retrospective at Concordia’s Leonard and Bina Ellen Gallery under former director Michèle Thériault.

Coincidentally, his relationship with VOX is at the core of his newest project. He is collaborating with the gallery’s executive and artistic director, Marie-Josée Jean, and fellow artist Claire Savoie to create a visual essay inspired by the evidence boards in detective TV shows. Instead of analyzing clues for an investigation, they will delve into the working conditions of artists and the myth of the artist as a lone genius.

‘Community is important to me’

Henricks notes that being an artist is often a solitary activity. Even then, he says, an artist’s work doesn’t exist in isolation, yet is rooted in a dialogue that goes beyond the present moment. “Community is important to me,” remarks Henricks. “You’re part of an entire ecology, something bigger than yourself, and you must keep that in mind. It’s gratifying when that ecology turns back to you and says there is value in what you’re doing.”

Historically, Concordia faculty and alumni have been well-represented at the annual Prix Louis-Comtois and Prix Pierre-Ayot, a sister award that celebrates professional artists under 35. Three other Concordians were shortlisted for the prizes this year. Dawit Petros, BFA 03, was a finalist for the Prix Louis-Comtois. Mara Eagle, MFA 20 — who held an exhibition at Concordia’s FOFA Gallery this fall — and Joyce Joumaa, BFA 22, were finalists for the Prix Pierre-Ayot.


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