Desmond Paul Henry 1921 - 2004

Curator: Elaine O'Hanrahan

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British Pioneer of Computer Art | Manchester's 1960's Precursor to Digital Art.

Memories & anecdotes relating to Henry's life.

The site welcomes any memories and anecdotes relating to Henry's personal or professional life.

If you would like to have your story posted here on our site, then please use the contact form provided in order to send it to us.


Your 'Henry Remembered' stories are listed below.




The more you study while young means less work later on

'One thing which sticks in my mind about your father is his recommendation (to you (Elaine) or your sisters or just to me?) that "each extra hour of work while you are of school age means 10 hours less work later on in your life". I admired this justification of laziness and simultaneous encouragement to revise for O/A-levels. I applied it to my own life. However, I have tried using the same formula on my own kids with absolutely no success!'

Submitted by Julian Sternberg- a lifelong neighbour of the Henry family in Whalley Range, Manchester and son of Dr. Sternberg who also taught at Manchester University as did Henry, but in the Physics department. It was through this contact that Henry was able to acquire parts of V1s and V2s to use in his machines.

Memories of Ideographs at The Reid Gallery (1962)

‘With regards to the first exhibition in 1962 I remember that I think Rita (1) and I went to that exhibition. I definitely did. It was somewhere in the centre of London and I remember thinking how posh the gallery was and could not believe my father had his pictures exhibited there. A lot of the titles referred to Tractatus?? and the gallery owner, or whoever had put on the exhibition, had a copy of the book so people could refer to it (2). They treated dad with a lot of respect. I felt quite grown up to be there. I was all of 14 years old. There were not too many people in the exhibition when I was there and cannot remember if it was a success or not. I do not believe it was that successful as the pictures were so way ahead of their time (3). I think that dad won the competition with a non-machine drawing but put a lot in the exhibition. I could be wrong (4).

(1) Henry’s second daughter born 1951

(2) Henry did indeed use references from Wittgenstein’s Tractatus as titles for his pictures, but only because he was obliged to give his pictures titles for exhibition purposes. Henry admitted to me in 2001 that there was absolutely no connection between these titles and the pictures themselves. The references certainly confounded both the British and American press, which appealed to Henry’s mischievous sense of non-conformity. (Elaine O’Hanrahan)

(3) The exhibition caused a stir in the press, but not many pictures were sold which surprised the gallery’s director, Mr. Reid, as mentioned in one of his letters to Henry following the exhibition.

(4) Anne-Marie is absolutely right on this. Henry won the Salford art competition, organised by Salford Art Gallery’s director Mr. Frape and by L.S. Lowry, with a none-machine drawing. The prize for winning this Salford show was the solo exhibition at the Reid Gallery in London. Both Lowry and Mr. Reid encouraged Henry to include his machine-generated images in this one-man show. (Elaine O’Hanrahan)

Submitted by Anne-Marie Clifton, eldest daughter of Henry, born 1948 and currently living in Australia.

Memories of Cybernetic Serendipity (1968)

With regards to Cybernetic Serendipity I remember going to the exhibition and going into a very large hall which was really crowded. There were so many spectacular exhibits and working models that I could not believe that our father could be part of this amazing spectacle with his machine made from what I thought of as spare parts. I had a catalogue and was trying to find where dad was when I came across him doing a demo of how he created a painting. There was quite a large group around him, which quite surprised me, and they were very interested in the art. Dad, as usual, had one of his cigarettes (1) in his hand. It was probably long dead but it was his trademark at that time. It made me quite proud to be his daughter and it had never really occurred to me that anyone would really be interested in his art and the machine.'

(1) Henry, until the 1980s, smoked roll-ups. I remember my poor mother being driven almost to distraction by all the butt ends she used to find deposited in odd places around the house.(Elaine O’Hanrahan)

Submitted by Ann-Marie Clifton (b. 1948), eldest daughter of Henry.

Memories of Cybernetic Serendipity (1968)

Memories of Cybernetic Serendipity (1968)

Memories of Henry’s 1960’s drawing machines

‘I was five years old when I first stood transfixed, at eye level watching Henry’s first machine in action as it whirred gently away in the front bay window of his study. In the early sixties, I often enjoyed creeping into the study to gaze at the hypnotic motions of the machine’s arm holding a pen or pens going round and round then juddering and twitching every now and again. It was a source of constant fascination to see the pictures gradually emerging over the surface of the paper. Sometimes my father (Henry) would rise from his chair at his desk and join me at the machine to add a penny to the arm of the pen or attach a peg to the drawing paper itself, in order to modify the outcome of the design. Over the years I quite often felt more than a bit sorry for my father, as he seemed to be the only person who believed in his machines and I would often feign polite interest in them in order to just be kind to him.

Submitted by: Elaine O'Hanrahan (b.1957), youngest daughter of Henry.

Memories of L.S. Lowry 1961

L.S. Lowry himself visited our house in Burford Drive, Whalley Range. I remember peeping out from behind my mother’s skirt as a tall, very stout gentleman in a heavy overcoat came through our front door. As he removed his hat before being ushered into my father’s study, I recall he had grey bushy eyebrows, small, piercing eyes and a short, grey, untidy mop of hair. Years later my father recalled how Lowry was offered a sherry –it was about 4.0pm- but all he wanted was a glass of orange juice. My father also explained how Lowry had come to make sure that as the winner of the Salford London Opportunity competition (1) Henry had a genuine artistic ‘oeuvre’ to his name and had not merely just produced a few drawings for the sake of the Salford competition. It was during this visit that Lowry first saw my father’s machine-generated work and encouraged him to include examples of this in the prospective London show.

(1) This was a competition Lowry had organised with Salford Art Gallery open to local artists from a 50 miles radius. The prize would be a ‘one-man show in London’. Lowry knew from his own experience as an artist how crucial a London show was in order to further any artistic career.

Submitted by: Elaine O'Hanrahan (b.1957), youngest daughter of Henry.