The Artsia Blog

Artist Focus: Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen

Interview with Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen

This month our interview is with Norwegian artist Henrik Aarestad Uldalen, currently living in Oslo, Norway. He's a self-taught artist whose creative production revolves around classic figurative painting. The atmosphere in his subject matter is often presented in a dream-like state. Henrik is continuously working to improve his technique. His source of inspiration is the academic artists of the late 19th century. Despite his realistic approach, photographic accuracy is not what he seeks to achieve. He has participated in several solo and group exhibitions located in Norway, Denmark, and the USA.

How did you become involved in art?
I’ve always been interested in art, especially drawing. I've been drawing since I was a little kid. I got a lot of motivation from teachers, friends and my parents. Drawing is in many ways has been the only thing I'm remotely good at. I didn't start with painting until later in life, when I discovered oils. It was a revelation for me, letting me do what I always been trying to do, but couldn't manage with water-based paint.

Who or what are your top inspirations?
Nothing inspires more than a great painting-day the day before. That will surely get me easy up the next morning. It’s also inspiring when your see the latest work of your favorite artist.

Do you have a current favorite artist?
I have several favorite artists, some living and some dead. I can make a never-ending list if I wanted to. But to mention a few names that never get old; William Bouguereau, Alex Kanevsky, Antonio López García, Jenny Saville, Gottfried Helnwein and Odd Nerdrum.

Do you have a favorite gallery?
I’ve never really had a favorite gallery. I grew up in Norway, where we don’t have the same diversity in galleries as many other countries do. So in order to pay attention to what’s going on in the art-world, I’ve spent a lot of time on the Internet, focusing on the artists and not the galleries. I now know that a few galleries in New York represent many of my favorite artists, like Arcadia and Henoch. In general I favour galleries that focus on contemporary representational art.

What do you find most difficult about being an artist?
It’s always hard to get by economically. For me there is a struggle between making art you know sells, and art that is uncompromised. I obviously make the best art when I’m not under economically pressure.

What’s the best thing about being an artist?
It’s simply to paint every day. Waking up to the best job in the world every single day. I am thankful every day I get to do this full-time.

What is your style, how did you find it?
I would say my style is classical figurative, with a twist of contemporary. My style and subject matters has changed gradually over the years, but the underlying theme and intended atmosphere is pretty much the same as it was when I started out painting.

What do you think of the art world now and what would you like to see change regarding the art world?
I think the art world today is very interesting. But I think most modern artists could make way more interesting art, if they would include more craftsmanship and aesthetics. For me a conceptual piece of art has to have an extremely good or original idea, if that’s all to it. And most conceptual art I see does not.

Being from Oslo, how do you think art is perceived? Do you think it differs there than other countries?
I think the state of art is different here in Norway compared to the US. Mostly because of the way the government favors modern art contra classical figurative art. In the US they acknowledge the fact that there are different forms of art, therefore you have art-critics that specializes in the different genres. In Norway we have good art and bad art, with classical figurative automatically on the lower side of the scale. It becomes obvious when you see the art being represented in the official Norwegian exhibition “Høstutstillingen”, or what types of artists who gets economic support. When it comes to the average Joe, I don’t think Norway’s any different than other countries.

I really like “No Title 2", the close up of a young woman’s face. I love all the detail in this piece, can you explain how you created this piece and the process behind it?

It starts out with a rather abstract and vague idea, which first takes form after I’ve been taking a lot of photos. From here I cut, paste and experiment with colors and compositions in PhotoShop. When the photo reference is done, I paint it from one side to the other, finishing every step on the way. When that is said, although the realistic approach, photorealism is never a goal.
The reason I started making these close ups in the first place, is the simple fact that I love painting faces. I consider myself a portrait painter in many ways. So it felt only natural making a series of paintings just for my own pleasure.

What techniques and materials do you use?
I paint in three stages. First I block in the big shapes, and apply a transparent color-wash. Then I paint alla prima, in one set, finishing the different parts of the motive. At the end, I might go in and adjust the colors or value.

Describe a typical day in the studio, what helps you get into the creative mood?
Most of my days I know I’ll be in that mood just by being there. I know that dragging myself away from the computer and start painting will set me in a “creative mood”. I usually start out around 10 in the morning, working to around 10 in the evening. Music is essential for me in the studio.

What advice can you give to new artists?
I’m a pretty new artist myself, and don’t really think I have enough life-wisdom to guide others to success.

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