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Portfolio: David Henningham

I am an artist, author and bookbinder from London. I was awarded a BA (Hons) in Sculpture by Chelsea College of Art (London), and an MA in Fine Art at The Slade School of Fine Art. For 16 years I have worked as an interdisciplinary artist. My sculpture usually takes the form of artists’ books, which contextualise my drawing, painting, printmaking and poetry. I write long form poetry for multiple voices, often to be performed with movement and singing.

This portfolio presents five key projects with images and descriptions:

  1. An Unknown Soldier (screenprinting and performance poetry)
  2. The Maximum Wage with Ping Henningham (Performance Publishing)
  3. Foulness by David Henningham (writing, drawing and book design)
  4. The Blackbird by Claire Allen (artists’ book, life drawing and publishing)
  5. Dedalus by Chris McCabe (Ulysses Centenary artists’ book)

An Unknown Soldier (screenprinting and performance poetry)

An Unknown Soldier was inspired by the use of DNA testing to identify soldier’s remains. I wrote a poem in three parts about the legacy of the First World War, which draws upon my family’s experiences. The central poem is a literal body of text; I screenprinted 13 panels each describe a location in no-man’s-land that also represents an organ in the Unknown Soldier’s body.

An Unknown Soldier (detail)

Brings a much-needed sense of indignation and disgust to present-day rituals of commemoration and gives a voice to the anonymous war dead of all nations without tapping into simple patriotic sentimentality.

David Collard, The Times Literary Supplement

The text features an isometric typeface I designed called Trench, which is inspired by Modernist art movements from the 1910s and dazzle camouflage. This collection of posters and books questions the role of language and print in assembling a vast modern army.

Royal Poster (left aligned) 2012, screenprint
in collection of Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Grand Eagle (capitals and columns)

The project was exhibited and performed in 2014 at The National Poetry Library in London to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. The poem is the first in a series written to be performed by multiple voices with singing and movement.

An Unknown Soldier (for three voices)
The National Poetry Library, Royal Festival Hall 2014

Also exhibited were four editions of screenprints I was commissioned to create for SGM Lifewords. These illustrated their commemorative “Active Service Gospel” replica. 120,000 copies were planned, but due to popular demand a million copies were distributed.

It is interesting to note that Väinö Linna’s novel Tuntematon sotilas (in English: Unknown Soldier) records the experiences of men defending their homeland from imperial aggression. This An Unknown Soldier instead remembers men who were conscripted to maintain a colonial state and reveals many important differences.

The Maximum Wage (Performance Publishing)

In collaboration with Ping Henningham, I created a process called Performance Publishing in which the process of creating, printing and distributing a publication is compressed into a single Live Art event.

The Maximum Wage was awarded an Arts Council England grant in 2016. For three months we led nine artists to create a relational aesthetics type event for over 300 visitors exploring the theme of income inequality.

The room followed an hourly cycle of production and consumption. The centrepiece was a screenprint production line with a gameshow aesthetic, coordinated by us as gameshow host and assistant: The Invisible Hand. We trained teams briefly at different levels and awarded a proportion of what they produced within a limited time. The range was determined by the spin of a wheel. Would it be 10:1 or 100s:1? Stripping away the partitions and costumes that characterise employment stimulated a vibrant discussion in the room, recorded in further live art activities.

Participants were making a currency that was accepted by arrangement at local shops and businesses.

East London has become a prime example of the divide between the UK’s richest and poorest. It’s also where a group of artists are teaching people about income inequality.

Helen Amass, The Times Educational Supplement

Foulness (writing, drawing and book design)

My novel, Foulness, traces trajectories from Victorian Imperialism to the Cold War. It is published in paperback by British publisher Unbound, and I will make a handmade edition in our studio. I have typeset and illustrated the book with paintings, drawings and concrete poetry. It also includes landscape photographs by Harpreet Kalsi.

Black-tailed Godwit, 2022
Common Eider, 2022
Little Egret, 2022

The cannons of the British Empire, and the bombs of nuclear colonialism, were refined on Foulness Island. From this Essex shore convicts, and later Atom bombs, were Transported to Australia; devastating Aborigine lands. Rockets tested over Thames sandbanks were turned on an Abyssinian mountain fortress, deposing Emperor Tewodros II and his son Prince Alemayehu.

Typesetting with mammoth tooth illustration, charcoal

James arrives from Military Intelligence with orders to camouflage this secret installation. But a cache of artefacts, including a Victorian printing press, will soon divert James’ attention away from 1957’s tripwire fears to Foulness’ colonial past. James witnesses how difficult it is to recount the crimes of the past without re-enacting them. 

Foulness marks the arrival of an exciting new English novelist.


The Blackbird by Claire Allen (artists’ book, life drawing and publishing)

Nominated for a Gmund Design Award 2021

The Blackbird by Claire Allen (2020, Henningham Family Press) is a Split Edition I designed and illustrated. Henningham Family Press is the independent press I established with Ping Henningham in 2006. We split the same offset-litho printing for a paperback edition, distributed globally to bookshops by our partners Ingram, and our handmade artists’ books.

It is 1941. Hope’s father, Jenner, builds Liverpool Cathedral while the Luftwaffe’s bombs fall. It is 2014, and Hope cares for her husband Robert as Alzheimer’s destroys his personality.

Inside the Artists’ Book

Like the story, the artists’ book blends old and new; the 19th century laced cover and Japanese case has a modern exposed spine. The grey paper is made from recycled concrete.

Each copy includes an original life drawing I did on vintage architects’ paper from the 1970s, exploring movement and repetition in observational drawing. This was inspired by the game of hide-and-seek; drawings were done from life during a short countdown. This well-known technique encourages draughtspersons to seek out essential forms.

Life drawing is central to my practice as an artist. I work from models and I trained in the anatomy room at University College London. My chief concerns are the uncovering of forms in the subject and preserving interesting graphic lines.

Dedalus by Chris McCabe (artists’ book and publishing)

To celebrate the centenary of Ulysses by James Joyce we created a handmade version of Chris McCabe’s sequel, Dedalus (2018, Henningham Family Press; Republic of Consciousness Prize Shortlist)

Dedalux, 2022
Artists’ Book

Artists’ Book Showreel

If you don’t know about the glorious, cool, quirky, life-enhancing joy of Henningham Family Press you ought to.

John Mitchinson, publisher at Unbound & co-host of Backlisted podcast