Art@Site John Henry Arris

John Henry



Cermak Rd., Indiana Ave
John Henry (born 1943) is a Kentucky native and son of a construction contractor.
His facility with construction materials and metalworking techniques is apparent in Arris, a group of high-strength, hollow aluminum beams painted bright yellow and joined together in a dynamic composition that animates the environment. Consciously referencing the construction industry, the title Arris is a term used to indicate the angle formed when two surfaces of a building meet.
Known for works that are monumental in both size and scale, Henry’s contribution to the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park at Governors State University (outside of Chicago), entitled Illinois Landscape #5, is one of the largest pieces of outdoor sculpture in the country, measuring 134 feet long, 24 feet wide and 36 feet high.
Commissioned by the Amalgamated Trust and Savings Bank, Arris measures more than 47 feet in length and originally was located on a tiny strip of land, owned by the bank, between Dearborn Street and Plymouth Court. It was relocated to its present location in 1998 as part of the Chicago Gateway Green project, which has supported landscape design and the re-location of art works in order to create attractive 'gateways' into the Loop.
The second Henry sculpture in downtown Chicago is Arris (1975), an aluminum piece painted bright yellow that’s 12 ft high by 50 ft long by 15 ft wide. Arris, which is located at the corner of Cermak Road, Calumet Avenue and King Drive at the entrance of the McCormick Center, looks like some fantastic crawling insect. Finn’s four full-sized and nine detail shots of Arris suggest the many ways that Henry works with positive and negative space in this piece. Illinois Landscape #5(1976), a cousin to Arris, is located at the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park thirty miles south of the Chicago Loop.
John Henry was the son of a construction contractor and learned very young how to run a bulldozer, operate a crane, and weld metal. Originally a painter, he started to make sculpture while he was a student at the University of Kentucky. He graduated from Kentucky in 1965 and moved to Chicago a year later where he had a scholarship to the School of the Art Institute.
Soon after he finished school, Henry found teaching at the University of Iowa and the University of Wisconsin Green Bay. Though he was often out of town, he kept in touch with Chicago. In 1970, he and Richard Hunt purchased an abandoned high-ceilinged Chicago Transit Authority substation building on Lill Street, which they turned into a studio. Hunt still works there.
During those years, Henry sold large-scale sculptures to the City of Rockford, the Illinois State Museum, the Dallas Museum of Art, Central Florida University, and other buyers. He coordinated Chicago’s Art in the Park exhibition, showing his work and that of others in Grant Park. He also participated in Sculpture Off the Pedestal, an important group exhibition of monumental works at the Grand Rapids Museum of Art—and in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan.