Art is truly a universal concept, a semblance of a constellation that unites different spheres of activity and even ways of thinking. Does true art have past, present and future or it remains beyond the limits of time and space? Who is an artist and how does one become a person of art? Art as a form of rebellion, a way to make a statement, a try to escape from reality or to remind everyone of what could be real – there are immense points of discussion when it comes to creativity. In most religions that are known, our world was created by divine entity; the process of creation has always been seen as a sacred act. Therefore, through centuries in many cultures, masters of art were, if not equated with God, but certainly were highly esteemed by others. The not so direct yet still poetic link between divine and earthly through art (God – creation – man) attracts us, makes us wander, stumble over same questions again and again and sometimes gives us surprising answers. The story probably has no end, and this makes it even more charming to us.
Henrik Uldalen is an artist from Norway. He is young, but his works have already made a deep impression on the public: they were displayed at various exhibitions from Oslo to Los Angeles and sold into private collections. He is the creator of his own art; he breathes life into canvas and paints. Will his works shine as bright stars in the constellation of art through ages? Time will show. But he has all the chances.
So here we are, in one of London’s galleries. Henrik is smiling modestly, his eyes full of interest and participation. He leans on the back of the sofa and starts talking. By looking at him one can assume it’s going to be a fascinating conversation.
A: Henrik, could you tell us how it all started: when did you realize that you wanted to connect your life with art?
H: I think I always knew I was interested in art… But I had never thought of it as of a profession or anything serious until I discovered oil painting and realized that this is my medium and this is actually what I want to do in my life. Oil painting seems to me as the most natural thing that I could ever do!
A: But does it come from your upbringing? Is your family somehow related to artistic world?
H: Absolutely not! (Laughs) They are all engineers and my siblings are studying economics, so I’m actually the only creative one in my family… Art has always been the part I’m good at, and it was a pretty [good] decision for me to dedicate myself to it.
A: That’s nice to hear! But you don’t have any artistic education, do you?
H: No, I don’t have any formal education, but I do have a degree in teaching art, but it’s just for elementary school, so it’s basically all about handcrafting, making decorative pieces and other things.
A: Talking about art in general… For some people their creative activity serves as a form of self-expression and for others it’s a way to interact with masses and deliver their message – and what does art mean to you? Why do you paint?
H: To be honest, it’s solely about self-expression. I know it sounds very egocentric now, but it is only for me. It’s the way I can get something out of my system; it’s always there, it’s always lingering… thus, every painting I do is a self-portrait. And if it happens that a painting gets well received by others, that’s great! But it’s still about me.
A: See, it’s always interesting to find out more about people of art whose works truly inspire and influence spectators; this question will surely appear trivial, but I’ll ask you: what inspires you?
H: The whole inspiration topic is a bit complicated for me, because I feel like it’s not only a matter of finding something that I really admire… it just has to appear somehow. And talking about sources of inspiration… And I don’t connect it with other visual artists, especially other painters or people doing fine arts. So, I usually get attracted by music or films, because I don’t know much about these spheres, and it makes me curious and gives food for thought. On the other hand, if I saw a beautiful painting, I most probably would go into its specific sorts of technique and other details that would distract me from its subject. But nevertheless, there are film directors whose works inspire me the most – David Lynch and Hayao Miyazaki.
A: Oh you definitely stand out of the crowd in this subject, because usually painters talk about other influential masters of their sphere, but you have a truly fascinating correlation between visual arts and music. I’ve noticed that your paintings are quite dynamic; even cinematic. But how would you describe your style?
H: Oh, that’s tough! But… Apparently people say it’s surrealistic, pensive and strange… But now I’m not much concerned with opinion of others, and, as I’ve already mentioned, my works are mainly self-portraits, they initially represent my own feelings. They may seem a bit dark and gloomy, but that is a real projection of emotions inside me.
A: Well, assuming that you clearly have a rather poetic and melancholic soul, I wonder if you’ve ever faced a creative crisis.
H: I have that feeling of a creative crisis almost every day and I have to cope with that; from time to time I don’t feel like painting at all. However, I understand that if I don’t paint, I will let melancholy germinate into my daily life and I will simply become a horribly miserable person! (Laughs) For me, to sit in my studio and paint for eight or ten hours a day is vitally important.
A: So, art is a kind of a universal remedy for you?
H: Yes, indeed it is. I can’t live without art.
A: Coming back to the ‘daily bread’… What do you think of contemporary art? Is it becoming too abstract or primitive due to its shift from permanent works to temporary performances? Do you feel that painting is in its decline nowadays and that galleries and art connoisseurs are more interested in… photography, for example?
H: I think that since modernism or even postmodernism painting is definitely not the main point of focus in the field of art… And for the last seventy years painting is not what it used to be, say, in the ancient times in terms of its importance. I feel that it’s a shift to slightly an opposite way – contemporary conceptual art doesn’t really say much and many people might believe that they are constantly being scammed. People want to see masterful handcraft and aesthetics. But I also think that nowadays we still experience the new revival of representational art, drawing and printing… You know, viewers want to see some solid work, not just face some ready-made stuff at all these numerous galleries and constantly ask themselves whether it’s art or not. If one’s art is based on an idea, it has to be a damn good idea! An idea behind the artwork, aesthetical base and real craftsmanship – all these components are very important.
A: Do you think art as a whole concept of beauty and profound meaning is accessible to everyone or one has to be taught how to understand art at early age?
H: Well, because people often think in such a way and say ‘Oh ok this is not for me as I didn’t grow up with art and I probably won’t get what’s the point behind it’, it makes art an elitist sphere. But in my opinion, this is a part of all the scam of conceptual art: they literally want you to feel stupid and awkward, they want to convince you that one piece is art and another is considered as rubbish… That’s why visitors in museums and galleries feel alienated. From my perspective, this is completely wrong, because there are other examples; even me – I didn’t grow up in artistic surrounding, but I can appreciate and love art. However, I believe that nowadays more people are beginning to realize that they are capable of comprehending art and its various forms. We don’t need a higher degree in literature, music or painting in order to enjoy something that finds a response in our hearts. Most of my followers on social media and those who like my works have no artistic education, but they still know much about it. I can’t say that I know much about art, honestly… But it’s not an obstacle on the way to enjoy my work! That’s how I feel about it; emotional connection to art is my trigger. And it’s good.
A: And I guess, it’s good enough for other people to appreciate your artworks! And talking about public recognition – in past centuries many artists remained undiscovered and misunderstood until they died (most commonly, in poverty)… Today we have all the social media, which can be a perfect promotion tool… So, what’s your attitude to fame? Is it a true indicator of a fine master?
H: No, it’s not. I think to become famous you have to be good in certain things that have nothing to do with art – it’s about how you develop your social relations, what image you have, how you use social media… I’m pretty much sure that we live in a beautiful time period; for example, I come from Asker in Norway, a small town with the population of 50 000 people, and I still can interact with the whole world, galleries and artists across the globe. And I can easily do it sitting on a tree in tundra! It’s a proof of democratization of art, which is wonderful, but at the same time we all understand that the sphere has become more competitive as much more artists want to be noticed and need to draw attention to them. Everyone has the same possibilities. And since we have such a broad audience ready to comprehend art, we are in huge need of curators, art magazines and galleries. Obviously, it’s all very opinion-based, but we do need this kind of selective structure in order to stratify art.
A: Indeed, art is an extremely subjective concept; it can be simply drawn to a matter of taste…
H: Yes. But with the rise of social media we’ve slightly moved away from elitist views on art and established art historians, critics and other professionals who used to dictate what’s good and what’s bad in art. Now we have the same power as they had back in the days. And that’s brilliant – artistic dictatorship is nearly over.
A: Hence we had so many troubles with art critics who used to tell us what can be seen as pure art and what cannot, the definition of art has become a principal question. How would you define art? How to distinguish art from craft?
H: That’s what art theorists have been discussing for ages and ages… The things I can observe inside of a gallery seem to be art for me; that’s fine, I may not find them the most attractive and appealing, but it’s still art because the whole concept of this term is so broad. But… Several years ago I determined four components that turn one’s work into a piece of fine art. These are aesthetics, craftsmanship, idea and the way it pushes art forward as a concept. If you manage to combine all four in a piece, then you’ve successfully created a work of art. I certainly don’t have all these (laughs), but I think… No, it’s just my humble opinion!
A: And if you could leave a message to the whole humanity and your opinion would certainly be heard, what would you say?
H: I would say ‘don’t think about money, heritage or people around you… Just find your happiness!’ I know, that’s a cliché… But it’s true!
A: If only every artist could be happy!.. Could you give some professional advice to beginner painters, who are only entering the artistic sphere?
H: First of all, you need to pinpoint what you’re trying to express. Then, perhaps, find a visual hook, find out what you want your art to look like, call it your personal style. Look at other artists to find inspiration, but do develop your own ideas. And of course, don’t forget about improving your technique!
A: Here another question came to my mind: have you ever tried yourself in other artistic disciplines apart from painting? Would you like to try, say, creating a sculpture?
H: Yes, absolutely! I’ve actually been thinking a lot about sculpture. I’m becoming more curious about other mediums, but it’s difficult to make a shift because I know that oil painting is my strength, so it’s going to take me some time before I start doing something about sculpture. I have some ideas…
A: Regarding the future – what do you see on the horizon?
H: Well, I definitely want to engage myself more with sculpturing… I’m going to continue with displaying my art in galleries… Honestly, I don’t have many plans or ambitions now; my life has always been a fight with any kind of ambitions or attempts to prove anything to myself. I don’t need to prove that I can produce the best, the most stunning work – this feeling is now gone. I just enjoy myself and love what I do. I can’t say that I’m a completely happy person as there are always some dark passages in the book of my life, but I feel as great as ever!
A: Then I wish you good luck on your artistic way, and looking forward to seeing your new works!
Words by: Anastasia Tomarova