Mike Henderson Biography

Mike Henderson




Mike Henderson was born on June 15, 1944 in the small farming town of Marshall, Missouri and he was supposed to work in the local factory with his father. At age sixteen, he dropped out of school and worked as a shoe shine boy. Henderson noted: “If you were an African American living in Marshall back then you had two options or three: join the army, work at the shoe factory or at the chicken factory. That seemed to be what everyone was telling me my destiny was going to be.” With the encouragment of friends he returned to school five years later at age twenty-one when he realized that he would be unable to attend an art institute without a high school diploma.

His passion for art led him across the country to one of the first integrated art schools in the United States, the San Francisco Art Institute. He earned a B.F.A. in 1969 and an M.F.A. in 1970. A heated time to be an artist in San Francisco, the 1960s politically activated Henderson—he was profoundly affected by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.—and the city exposed him to a wide spectrum of artists, musicians and filmmakers. Mike Henderson joined the faculty at University of California-Davis in 1970 as a professor of art, teaching painting, drawing and filmmaking until his retirement in 2012. Other artists on the faculty during his tenure were Robert Arneson, Manuel Neri, Wayne Thiebaud and William T. Wiley.

At the San Francisco Art Institute he had fortuitously met teacher and filmmaker Robert Nelson, who taught Henderson how to shoot and edit 16mm film. Film archivist Mark Toscano, who is responsible for preserving all of Henderson’s films to date, explains: He learned the bare minimum he needed to know to actually make films, and then he proceeded to create a singular body of independent film work that intertwines complexly with his painting and music, having perhaps more in common with those two disciplines than other films.”

In addition to the visual arts, Henderson is also an accomplished blues guitarist who has performed at music venues and festivals internationally, playing gigs with such music greats as Albert Collins, John Lee Hooker, Carlos Santana, Mike Bloomfield, Sunnyland Slim, John Sinclair and others, as well as performing with The Mike Henderson Band.