The Sea Casts Its Spell: Interview with Oslo, Norway Figurative Painter, Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen
“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”
~ Jacques Yves Cousteau
“That old black magic has me in its spell, That old black magic that you weave so well; Icy fingers up and down my spine, The same old witchcraft when your eyes meet mine. “
~ Johnny Mercer
You can feel it in the air: The changing. Not simply the colors of the leaves morphing from green to red to orange to yellow… The very quality of the light is refining itself as well, even the density of the atmosphere we move about in, a bit more silently now… We are aware that something as yet unknown to us is creeping in, carrying in its maw the scent of uncertainty, even the hint of danger. A spell being cast…
INTERVIEW WITH CONTEMPORARY OIL PAINTER, HENRIK AARRESTAD ULDALEN
Oslo, Norway ~
Deanna Phoenix Selene: I am intrigued by this dreamlike state you paint. There is an overwhelming sense of vulnerability, fragility…as if your subjects are defenseless to break this spell in which they have found themselves. Is this a metaphor for giving over responsibility for the shape and path our lives have taken, even as we may wish we might have pursued other options? Have you ever felt this way yourself at times? In some aspects do you even feel this way now?
Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen: I agree with the feeling of vulnerability and fragility when I look at my paintings today. Many are very stripped down and direct. But when I first started to work with them I wanted to express a sense of being disconnected from your feelings, which actually could be more like the opposite of being vulnerable and fragile. Floating in a sterile and empty environment, as if encased in an empty shell. And to strengthen that experience, I sought to separate my subjects from the viewer by closing my subjects’ eyes. And yes, I often feel this way myself at times.
Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen: I try to say a lot of things with my paintings nowadays, and I don’t always know why I do some things. So if someone has a totally different take on my different works, I won’t say they’re wrong.
It’s interesting what you are saying, because sometimes I want to express a feeling of hopelessness. Giving up your responsibilities, as you say. And sometimes I want to say with my paintings: Take responsibility for your life, quit your day job. Self-actualization and so on. I understand why people might have very different takes on the paintings I make.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: What can be done to awaken us from our slumbering state? Or do we not wish to be awakened?
Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen: It’s funny you’re asking me this question, because I am seeking the same answer. So even if I want to urge people to shake things up in their lives, I myself feel dissatisfied and disconnected most of the time. Perhaps what I need is a steady 9-5 job?
I think most people long for something else. And it’s scary to make the changes. One can say it this way: If you as a child would approve of how you live your life, then you’re doing it right. Right?
Deanna Phoenix Selene: I love how complicated this living the honest life is. This is the dilemma we all face, isn’t it? I like what you said about how we all want our lives to be different, so there we are pacing back and forth, frustrated–even as all-the-while we may know in our gut we have taken the best path, still there is that nagging…
Certainly most of our industries, our advertisers count on this restlessness and dissatisfaction, don’t they?
Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen: Yes, life is complicated. Even for the ones who are privileged enough to sit on their ass and paint for a living. And yes, you’re exactly right: “Buy this, do that and then your miserable life will be so much better.”
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Can you tell me about the images that appear to be more violent? The man on top of the woman and he appears to be choking her… The man and woman floating upside-down in water… And then what looks like a woman either after giving birth or perhaps being raped?
Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen: These are pretty old paintings. I can’t recall what I thought at the time. It was more likely just an experimental time, without too much deep thoughts. But I do like them still, visually. Even though I don’t remember why I did some paintings, I do know why I did others. And many of the new paintings are built on top of others. I have found new and perhaps better ways to describe the same thing.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Do you ever feel protective of your subjects? Do you ever feel the impulse to try to save them?–Either while you’re painting them or afterwards? Or is it more like they are suffering for you–so maybe you don’t have to hold that feeling of listlessness yourself quite so much?
Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen: I don’t feel too overly protective of my subjects. I haven’t thought about it before, but it’s almost always me in the painting in some way. I guess I come off as a pretty egocentric guy right now, but it’s the truth.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: No, I hear this from nearly all the artists, poets, musicians, dancers, etc… I interview. They create first and foremost for themselves, and their subjects are nearly always versions of themselves. I think in learning more about ourselves, making peace with ourselves, finding forgiveness, etc…this is how we develop empathy and understanding for others.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: I recall reading that you are self-taught. Did you grow up in a household that was very nurturing of your talent and of creative expression in general? Are your parents artistic also?
Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen: I’m self-taught, yes. My parents and teachers were very nurturing of my art–it was probably the only thing I was even slightly good at–and they have been supportive all the way. But no, my family is not artistic at all. I was educated to be an elementary school teacher but school is not where I learned to paint. I formed two important friendships while earning my degree which probably did the real work of educating me: Morten Thyholt, Trygve Åsheim and I all discovered painting at the same time and just stuck together, painting and discussing art–an education as good as any art school I would say (without having the slightest knowledge of how art school is).
Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen: We discovered art together. Finding new amazing dead and living artists almost every day, reading up, trying out new techniques. It was great. And we still show together at the same gallery in Oslo, Norway. We’re having a group show on Saturday. I can’t wait.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: That is precious to have friends who understand what you are about and are working on similar explorations alongside you. Are you all in your twenties then?
Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen: It’s been priceless. We are all in our twenties, yes.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Would you say that there is a distinctly Norwegian personality that comes through your and your colleagues’ artwork? That sets it apart from, say, artwork coming out of Germany, Japan, The United States? Especially coming out of this generation?
Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen: It’s a bit hard to tell because I have problems with seeing my own work from fresh new eyes. But I guess that environment has almost everything to do with how my art is made. I could point out that one of Norway’s biggest exports is black metal. It’s that cold and dark here.
Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen: Norway can be a stunningly beautiful place too.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Yes, that is one of the things that strikes me about your work: that cool color palette.
Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen:
With Norway’s long, dark months, we have a lot of time to sit around on our couches, reflecting about our existence. But I guess all artists have done that throughout history.
Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen: The thing that sets us apart from previous generations is the flow of information. We are aware of every artist who has ever lived. So we are spoiled when it comes to inspiration. But at the same time we have to make many choices along the way that other artists before us perhaps didn’t have to make.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: For instance?
Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen: What style to express ourselves in, for one thing. And within that, what technique would you choose. We know them all.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Hmmm….I see. Yes, the same way it is with writing, yes. And with music. Dance… I would say all of the arts, yes. Much as it is for merely being human. So many choices…
Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen: Even though I love being an artist in this period of time, perhaps it was a bit easier to find a steady direction earlier in art history. A simpler time in some ways I guess.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: And no matter which path you choose, you are bound to encounter haters and lovers of the choices you have made. So it forces you to be clear about what it is in the end that pleases you. Forget what the others say. Yet that isn’t always easy, is it? And so here is where your friends come in. Even if all they say is to remind you to listen to your own voice.
Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen: Exactly.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Finally, I’d like to ask you about your ethnicity. Your name is Norwegian and yet your physical characteristics are distinctly Asian.
Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen: I’m adopted from South Korea. Coming to Norway when I was five months old.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: And so now as an artist you have the opportunity to create the aesthetics that most speak to you personally. We do live in an exciting time!
Deanna Phoenix Selene: For my last question then, where do you see your artwork going in the future? What still calls to you, whispers to be explored?
Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen: Yes a exciting time indeed! Hmmm…That is a very hard question. Right now I’m thinking that it would be nice if I loosened up my brush strokes a bit, painting a bit more freely.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Is that a little terrifying to think about doing? When you have such a lovely control over form and line? Perhaps you will need to turn the music up and dance around your studio a bit.
Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen: But see it this way, Sargent and Zorn could paint a perfect nose in just four brushstrokes. THAT is control!
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Hmm…yes, I see what you mean. Lovely!
Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen: By the way, I just finished this new painting.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Interesting, similar composition but completely different feeling. She is at peace.
Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen: Thank you! I’m glad you find it interesting. I need a day or two to make it grow on me. I’m still not sure. Ha-ha!
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Maybe a bit too personal?
Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen: Oh, no, never too personal. Honestly, it’s because of a simple and stupid reason: One new color that I’m not used to working with. You would barely notice it. It’s a tint of yellow, which I almost never use.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Are you very sensitive to color then, Henrik? I have an artist friend in Finland whom I’ve profiled here, Jaakko Savolainen, who cannot use yellow anymore. It’s too emotionally intense for him.
Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen: I am super sensitive to colors in my own work. That is one of my biggest goals for the future: To use more colors. That, and painting with rougher strokes. I haven’t used yellow, because I have preferred the artists who almost never use yellow. But I now see that the painting doesn’t have to be ‘Rembrandt warm’ even if yellow is used.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: It’s cool tones you are emotionally drawn to. The others feel too…garish?
Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen: Yes, and have always been. Perhaps it’s an Asian thing?
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Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen (b. 1986) is a self-taught artist whose creative production revolves around classic figurative painting, presented in a contemporary manner. The atmosphere in his subject matter is often depicted in a limbo or dream-like state. Despite his realistic approach, photographic accuracy is not what he seeks to achieve.
For more of Henrik’s work, please visit his website at: HenrikAarrestadUldalen.com
My dream: to create a unique vehicle for artists and visionaries from all genres and all over the globe to inspire and learn from one another.
Henrik, Your paintings move me deeply. I would love to write about your work in an art magazine for which I review. Let me know if you are interested.
And Bravo! You have the gift.