30 days to live: New art show highlights visionary painter who beat cancer

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"Blessings" by Ralph E. Henry  -- image courtesy of the artist
“Blessings” by Ralph E. Henry — image courtesy of the artist

Cancer surviver Ralph E. Henry’s art show of new work that opens at Taag Gallery (1060 William St.) on Saturday, Jan. 24 at 5 p.m. is a testament to life. His two dozen oil paintings depict dream-like scenes in vibrant color. Mostly landscapes with churches and abandoned buildings, some paintings depict Native American rituals, religious scenes or animals in the wild.

The vivid artwork of Henry came about after he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In 2008, he was given 30 days to live and underwent the most aggressive cancer treatment available. To start, he was hooked up to chemotherapy treatment for seven days straight. He continued aggressive chemo sessions for nine months, and eventually the cancer was driven from his body.

During his cancer treatments, he and his wife lost their home and had to move in with their son. He also lost 200 pounds, more than half his body weight, and later when he saw one of his doctors at the store, the doctor broke down crying in disbelief that Henry had survived the cancer, the chemo treatment and the staggering weight loss.

Also while battling cancer, he became stressed and depressed, and his doctors recommended taking up a hobby at home to aid in recovering. Henry started oil painting.

He’d been an accomplished painter as a student at Audubon High School, in Audubon, Iowa, but had abandoned oil paints for nearly 40 years.

Essentially self-taught, Henry says that his work flows from the depths of his mind to the tip of his brush as he goes into a trance-like state of creative expression. He sometimes works from photographs but usually conjures imagery as he works, creating new worlds and scenes.

One of his teachers from high school, multimedia artist Dave Moreland, immediately saw the innate talent Henry had at Audubon.

“He was a natural artist,” Moreland said.

He compared Henry’s current work, emotionally charged landscapes, expressively colorful religious and American Indian canvases, to the Spanish Renaissance painter El Greco.

“I would describe him as a visionary…Ralph has found his stylistic voice,“ Moreland said.

"Stormy Lake" by Ralph E. Henry  -- image courtesy of the artist
“Stormy Lake” by Ralph E. Henry — image courtesy of the artist

Now 62, Henry’s cancer is in remission. He speaks humbly about his art but already has several buyers interested in works from the show. He will exhibit more paintings in Florida and Chicago later this year.

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Henry’s show runs from Saturday, Jan. 24 until Feb. 7 at Taag Art Gallery. The opening is Saturday from 5-8 p.m. Gallery hours are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4-8 p.m. and Saturdays from 1-5 p.m. Viewings can be set up by calling 31-621-8223.

Taag stands for Towncrest Area Artists Group and, in addition to the gallery at 1060 William St., includes a cluster of studios located at 1041 Arthur Ave.

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