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Sedona artist C.J. Henderson finds solace in art By Carol Kahn -January 17, 2023



C.J. Henderson's office is filled with his artwork that reveals his deep seeded emotions. He is holding a painting that has a meaningful significance and is his favorite. David Jolkovski/Larson Newspapers


“The goal when I started painting was to capture how I felt at that moment and how I felt alone, afraid and wishing for the cold kiss of death so I wouldn’t have to face the feeling of rejection. Rejection from my friends, colleagues and, most of all, my family.”


Artist C.J. Henderson explained that the lowest point of his life was the time from when he graduated high school until he was 28, when he began questioning his sexuality. He was severely depressed and felt alone. Henderson admitted that he attempted suicide on multiple occasions.


“I had already survived six suicide attempts ,” Henderson said. “Nobody knew about them. [I] mostly tried to overdose and once slept with a cord around my neck. Contrary to what most people say, you can feel alone even when surrounded by people that love you. If you don’t love them back, you feel alone.” Henderson grew up in Santa Barbara, Calif., before his family migrated to the bedroom community of Lompoc near Vandenberg Air Force Base, a small farming town of about 30,000 people.


“I was raised Catholic, had anti-gay sentiments my whole life, and didn’t want to stray from that path, but was unhappy,” he stated.


Henderson said that during high school, he wasn’t gay. He didn’t have gay friends and didn’t know anyone that was.


“I wasn’t dating. That wasn’t a thing,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking about my sexuality. I was thinking about how I was going to get through high school. And what I’m going to have to do afterward.”


However, when he did begin dating, he felt isolated, unhappy and confused. He explained that he went through the motions during his relationships, and after many failed attempts, he blamed himself.


“Until this part of my life, I had only ever tried relationships with girls,” Henderson said. “I tried to live a hetero-normative life with girls, and that just left me with a feeling of being alone.”


“I feel for my ex-girlfriends, who have fully forgiven me, and now they understand what I was going through at the time,” Henderson reflected. “I feel [as though] I held them back, and I have to live with that forever. I have to learn to forgive myself. [Perhaps] they could have been with someone else to love. Instead, I was not working through my issues and not dealing with who I was, which meant they were in a relationship with somebody who could never love them, and I feel bad about that.”


“Until this part of my life, I had only ever tried relationships with girls,” Henderson said. “I tried to live a hetero-normative life with girls, and that just left me with a feeling of being alone.”


“I feel for my ex-girlfriends, who have fully forgiven me, and now they understand what I was going through at the time,” Henderson reflected. “I feel [as though] I held them back, and I have to live with that forever. I have to learn to forgive myself. [Perhaps] they could have been with someone else to love. Instead, I was not working through my issues and not dealing with who I was, which meant they were in a relationship with somebody who could never love them, and I feel bad about that.”


During times of despair, Henderson turned to art to find solace. On one canvas, he painted a silhouetted nude body facing away from the viewer, looking down in shame. The painting was void of color, a black and white charcoal and acrylic mixed media abstract. A self- portrait — that portrayed the depth of his emotions.


“It was shortly after painting that piece that I tested my sexuality,” he said. The woman I was dating at the time had her heart broken, and I am truly sorry. However, I had to come to terms with the fact that I’m gay. I would have chosen to make her happy if it were a choice. She was very good to me. However, my relationship with happiness has changed considerably after coming out.”


Henderson revealed that he finally came out at the age of 28.


“I was terrified to come out to my family,” he said. “My family was the last to know when I came out of the closet, and they were okay with it. I was shocked. When I was telling my mother, I started crying, and she was like, ‘So what, I still love you,’ and I will forever remember that about my mother. And then my grandparents embraced and accepted me ... it’s that the whole journey twists and turns in my mind’s eye. I always think about what I could have done differently. What would happen if ... but I wouldn’t be where I am now if I did it any other way. I am with who I believe, with all my soul, to be the love of my life, and we love it here in Sedona.”


Henderson and his husband of two years, J.D. Jensen, moved to Sedona in 2022. Jensen is operations coordinator at the Sedona Arts Center and was the one who encouraged his partner to enter his black and white painting, “Alone,” into the Big Gay Art Show exhibition in December.


“I was never ready to share that. I almost didn’t submit it to the show,” Henderson said. “My husband’s the one who pushed me to do it. Before the show, he was the only person that knew the story behind that piece — the only person. He loves that piece so much. It’s the screensaver on his phone ... He’s 100% supportive of me creating art.”


Henderson confessed that he was filled with mixed emotions at having his work displayed for the world to view.


“I was terrified because this is the first time I’ve ever put my [art out there] for anyone to judge,” he explained. “I felt very vulnerable. Because the piece did have such a dark meaning and history in my life. But I was also proud because I felt like telling this story. Even if I don’t meet the person who viewed it and read the story, it might help someone else come to terms with themselves, whether they’re LGBTQ+ or going through a hard time. It might help them and give them some hope.”


That painting, as he describes it, was the catalyst of his “coming to terms with my sexuality.”


“I didn’t have any other people in the LGBTQ+ community around me, and I felt very alone,” he said. “That’s why the piece is titled ‘Alone.’ I was using art to help with my severe depression, which helped me pull through some dark places. But to get through it, I had to put those dark images onto the canvas.”


Henderson says that he is no longer in the place he was when he painted the piece, having found the love of his life and been accepted by everyone who matters to him.


“This piece symbolizes the darkness that one can feel and the light you can find after that darkness,” he said. “I hope anyone who views this painting realizes they are not alone.”


When he’s not painting, Henderson is the general manager of a local office supply store in town. His office is filled with colorful abstract artwork representing moments in time when he needed the canvas to pour out raw emotions. He uses color to illustrate his moods — red if he’s angry, warmer colors of blue and green when he is at peace and vibrant yellow when he’s happy and excited.


Surveying the room, he describes his work in terms of its emotional connections instead of in terms of time or place. He will ask visitors about their interpretations of the work on view and if they have a favorite.


One particular piece hanging above the doorway is a painting representing a close friend and coworker of his who was murdered in Las Vegas. Feeling a great sense of loss at her death, Henderson painted a tree using her favorite colors.


“The red and blue in the background represent the struggle over the good and bad times,” Henderson explained. “Then the faint horizon of the hills represents where in Las Vegas she was murdered, and the time of day was at 5:30 a.m., and the sun was coming up.


“I was very close with her. This was something that I used to cope with my emotions. And it tells the story of our relationship and the life that she was.”


As Henderson channels his emotions through his artwork, he is constantly reminded that feelings of darkness and depression can be overcome.


“The biggest takeaway is that I know I’m not alone anymore,” he said. “There are other people out there that have the struggles — similar struggles that I’ve had and we’re now all here to celebrate that we’re through it, and we’re in a better place and moving on with our life.


“So, the biggest takeaway is that I’m not alone. And that other people have stories like mine — different but similar.”

Sedona artist C.J. Henderson finds solace in art - Sedona Red Rock News
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