The Living Mural: Britt Henze On How Sobriety Connected Her To The Art Scene

When walking into Britt Henze’s Mission District studio—you immediately notice the racks of unpainted canvas, works in progress lining the painted designated wall, and a peek inside her scintillating mind. Read: a lot of color and a lot of mixed mediums.

Spray cans line the wall, paint stretches on all four corners of the floor, and little bits of other artist’s pieces stay close to her person. Commonly known as Lady Henze in the mural community, Henze found art in a dark time in her life, art gave her reason to continue, and now Henze is working more than she ever has. “My art has only one requirement: color,” she tells us as we prepare to photograph her for the story, “I work in two distinct styles, abstract and geometric-and color is what unites them. I believe these two different processes allow me to be the dichotomous person that I am- on one hand someone who is loose, mellow, meditative and spiritual. And on the other someone who is a control freak, meticulous, rigid and anxious. I work through this duality and explore the particular subsets of each trait in my series and murals.”

And San Franciscans in the corporate sector and the public sector have taken a liking to Henze’s work, you may have come across their path wandering around San Francisco. “I have mural art all over San Francisco—a few pieces that are open to the public include The Salesforce Transit Center and on Jane on Larkin off Cedar Alley in the Tenderloin. I have private pieces scattered throughout the Bay Area, Colorado, Minnesota and North Carolina.” Wherever you go, Lady Henze follows.

But Henze’s story isn’t all color as her work showcases, battling years of addiction—she thought her life was not going to be this colorful as she’d imagine. “Behind all my work is my personal struggle with addiction,” she tells us as she shows us piece after piece—you can feel her handwork in every brush stroke, her energy laid to rest on the canvas. “I paint because I got a second chance at life, because it is the thing that brings me the most joy, and so others know there’s hope.” By now we’re 45 minutes into the photoshoot, she’s working on a piece that she says is constantly never finished. “This painting was living with me for quite a while and one day I told myself, ‘it’s not done, I need to bring it back to the studio.’” When we watch her pour her concentration into the piece, it’s as if she’s putting second meaning and life back onto the existing paint—much is a reflection of her own life experiences.

After the photoshoot, we chatted with Henze about other key components of her life and how art is still the gleaming hope in a new world that’s been laid to waste. In our conversation below, we talk more in-depth about her origins, addiction, and how creating pulled her out of that incredibly dark place.

Q

Give us your background, who are you? Where are you from? And how has art been a factor in your life?

A

I’m a midwesterner! I was born in Madison, Wisconsin. I moved all over but lived in Colorado for 17 years before I landed in what I consider home-San Francisco. I was born creative and dramatic (as either of my parents will attest to.) I was always drawing and staging plays in which I cast my unwitting little sister and neighborhood friends. I made art constantly up through early college. I had a 13 year gap or so where I made nothing at all, because I was pretty deep into drugs and alcohol.

Q

When did you become more serious about art and art as a career? What were those key moments of realization?

A

About three years into sobriety ( 2018)  I decided it was time to create again. I was surrounded by art in the city and I wanted desperately to be a part of the creative scene. I was scared shitless. I was afraid that without chemicals, I wouldn’t be able to create, wouldn’t have anything to say, etc. I had started making a few paintings here and there at home in my kitchen, and was feeling like I had some new ideas. I was working at Jane on Larkin, and Jane always has a pop up at Fog Fair Art + Design, with a temporary mural, and I asked the owner if she would let me paint it that year. That’s where my current style was kind of ‘born.’ I used spray paint, and the wall was the biggest thing I’d worked on yet. And I was completely hooked. After that it was ON. I dedicated all of my extra time to painting and seeking out walls. I’ve been a full time artist for just a bit over a year.


Photographing Henze in her studio wearing the new Bob Cut Edit 3 collection. Britt wears the Quick Sketch Embroidered Knit and the Painters Denim.Photographing Henze in her studio wearing the new Bob Cut Edit 3 collection. Britt wears the Quick Sketch Embroidered Knit and the Painters Denim.

Photographing Henze in her studio wearing the new Bob Cut Edit 3 collection. Britt wears the Quick Sketch Embroidered Knit and the Painters Denim.

 


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Q

How would you describe your work in an elevator pitch?

A

I’m really into being alive. I got a second chance at the very last moment and  I want to bring others happiness and joy and color. My art has a lot more than that behind it- but the initial takeaway is joie de vivre. My work is for people stoked to be on Planet Earth. 

Q

You use an artist name, how did you come up with it and what is the meaning behind it?

A

My longtime friend MC used to call me Lady BH and it was very tongue in cheek. When I was playing around with names I remembered that and thought it apropos. I would not consider myself a ‘lady’ in the traditional sense- something I consider to be synonymous with ‘proper & well-behaved.”  I am not that. I’m outspoken and opinionated, tattooed and pierced. I don’t stand on tradition. And so I get a major kick out of calling myself “Lady.”

Q

Now that you’re in San Francisco creating art, murals, and a whole variety of pieces, what are some of the highlights of your career and what have you learned along the way?

A

This past year I had an opportunity to paint in a mural festival, and that was a major bucket list check for me. I have also begun to be shown in galleries and that’s been such a great experience, both in the trust from the curators but also the chance to hang with SF artists- often mostly women- whose careers and work I admire deeply. My work was printed on a beer can which I loved and also found ironic but gratifying:) Things I’ve learned as a muralist: something will go wrong. Everytime. I don’t know what it will be, but it could be a type of paint that’s on backorder, or the rain won’t stop, or my initial measurement was incorrect. And I’ve learned to roll with those punches and expect a little hiccup or two. And I’m not afraid to swing for the fences. I don’t have years and years of experience but I’ve learned to trust myself and put myself out there on bigger and different projects. 

Q

How would you describe the evolving nature of your art from start to now?

A

This is an exciting question because when I get a chance to explain my work I take advantage of it. I have two styles that I paint in- geometric abstract and abstract. Geometric abstract is very finicky and requires precision and a penchant for perfectionism. My abstract work is loose and very intuitive, and can take weeks or months to finish as I reflect on the work and what the next mark or gesture should be. I am a dichotomous person, whose personality reflects both of these styles. I am really interested in how both progress, and I have plans for each of the styles in this new year. I haven’t been able to paint one of my abstracts as a mural yet, and I think this is the year. I am also trying to incorporate an everyday drawing practice in my routine. I used to draw all the time and I’m rusty. But the goal is to incorporate some representational art with my abstract at some point. I also might take a departure from color for some new work.I don’t want to be scared to take chances just because something I’m interested in pursuing is far different than what I’ve done previously.

 


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Q

What’s a tidbit or an anecdote from the mural scene in San Francisco that you can share?

A

I was thinking that having Max (@outt_n_abouttt) stop by with his dog pack is one of those special SF muralist perks.  Max shoots street art, and he also takes his dog friends with him all over the city. Truly they go everywhere—and they document art on their journeys and they often show up as you’re painting. He’ll get the pups to line up for their glamour shots in front of the mural—if you are lucky they will be wearing their nifty goggles that day. It’s pretty awesome. 

Q

In 2021, what’s something about the art scene of San Francisco you wish would change, get better, evolve from?

A

I’m looking forward to some more DIY stuff popping up. This could be a really great year for artists to create space for artists. It’s already happening. 

Q

Are you the type that looks for inspiration, does it come naturally? How is the process for you?

A

I find it happens when I meet others, or see others, on a high frequency (I’m not talking about any positive vibes only bullshit here). It’s contagious. I really love watching people succeed, and love their life. I seek out people who seem in tune with my ideals and it’s a shared energy. And I always joke that the candy isle is a major inspiration for me but I’m actually dead serious. I have also recently started creating playlists for commissioned pieces and around gallery work. Music plays a big role in my creativity. 

Q

Is there anything you want to add to this interview that readers can check out, look forward to, etc?

A

I am in a group show opening February 6 at Analog gallery. I am releasing a limited edition print with Mothbelly Gallery—which I am very excited about- it’s brand new work. I am also working on a collaboration with a quilter/ maker in LA for some pouches and totes. I’ll also be spending some quality time in the TL the next few weeks doing a mural and parklet, so if you see someone with unnaturally blonde hair painting, say hi! But really, if you see me in the wild, stop, ask me questions, shoot the shit. I’ve stopped wearing headphones while painting street-side so I can have those interactions!

// Check out Lady Henze’s work and shop her art: ladyhenzeart.com. Photography by Anthony Rogers. Shop Edit 3: Mural, the newest Bob Cut collection today.


Shop Edit 3: Mural -
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Shop Edit 3: Mural


The Living Mural: Britt Henze On How Sobriety Connected Her To The Art Scene
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