Norwegian artist, Henrik Uldalen, uses oil paint to speak the thoughts too sincere for words. For him, art is the only language through which he can express his most true and honest self. Emotional and atmospheric, Uldalen’s dreamlike world finds light – fragile yet beautiful – in the depths of darkness, harmonising the inner and the outer, the solid and the surreal.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Henrik Uldalen, born in Seoul, South Korea in 1986, but adopted and raised in Asker, just close to Oslo, Norway. In recent years I’ve lived abroad in Spain, Mexico and now Florence. I love traveling and getting new impulses for both life and work.
So you're a self-taught artist. When did you realise you wanted to be a painter and how have you seen your work evolve since that moment?
I’ve always worked with drawing and art, because I love it. But it wasn’t something I knew I wanted to work with before I was perhaps 16. At that time I didn’t particularly stand out in drawing and painting amongst my peers, and lost motivation when I saw how many people there were who were actually able to make better work than me, just in my small town. So I decided to get an education to become an art teacher instead. While I was studying I made some friends who loved drawing and painting as much as I did, but who also had the same idea about finding something stable instead of pursuing their art dream. Together we motivated each other to find and explore art. That’s where I tried oil paints for the first time. And the moment I did, I realized that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Suddenly I could do all the things that I couldn’t do before. I finished my education and worked for a few years as a teacher in an elementary school while painting on the side. I was – and still am –working within the same range of emotions and concepts since the very beginning; but now I know more about art, and perhaps know how to express myself better and more efficiently.
Your chosen medium is oil on panel. What drew you to oil painting above other methods?
I love the feeling of painting with oil: patience, possibilities to work and rework the same areas for a long time, and the smoothness of the medium. With the other mediums, I painted as if it was oil paint, wanting to achieve the looks of classic oil paintings. Of course, this is way more difficult to do with other mediums and that frustrated me a lot. Oil was just the medium I had been mimicking my entire life, and then I found it.
In your profile, it states that you look to explore the dark sides of life, nihilism, existentialism, longing and loneliness. What initially sparked these themes? How do you feel they are translated through your work?
I’ve always had some kind of darkness in the back of my mind, since the very beginning. I’ve always been drawn to these concepts in all forms of art. And when I started to make art on a regular basis, it was the only thing I wanted to express. Having said that, I’ve grown up in safe and loving conditions, with friends, family and beauty. This is something I think I was just born with.
There is something rather serene about the characters you portray; the way in which they seem to be in a limbo of existence, simultaneously present and detached from reality. There is also this almost ineffable fragility to their expressions and movements as if they are experiencing something emotionally profound. What do you imagine these floating figures to be thinking in their dreamlike states?
Every portrait and painting I make is a form of self-portrait, so every person is feeling and experiencing something within the range of my concepts. They’re often rather abstract feelings that I can’t put into words in a good way. That’s why I paint. It’s my preferred language. Everything else is a weak translation.
What thoughts and emotions do you look to evoke in a viewer? Is this something you know in those initial moments when you first approach a painting?
The main goal is to make the viewer feel the same way as I’m feeling. But most of the time it doesn’t happen, and I don’t mind that either. My art is not chiselled in stone, so everyone is allowed to have their own personal experience with it. I don’t really care about that either. My art is first of all for me, a way to get something off my shoulders in order for me to be able to function as a normal human being the rest of the time. I usually have something specific in my mind when I sit down with a painting. This will change in the span of the painting, depending on the intricacy of the painting and time spent on it. If it’s something I spend less time on, I feel that it’s closer to my initial thoughts, and therefore more direct and honest. I love doing fast works and studies for this reason.
Many different people appear in your work and some of the characters are recurring. How do you choose whom to paint next? Do you find that different models inspire you in different ways?
Yes, absolutely. I have a long list of models I use regularly. Having said that, I'm always searching for new models. Back in the day, the models almost exclusively consisted of friends and acquaintances but these days, as I’m traveling a lot, it has pushed me into searching for people online and in the streets. Instagram has been a great help for reaching the masses and asking people all over the world to pose. I now have a database of names in almost every country, if I’m ever around.
Is there anyone in particular – be it artist, musician or someone close to you – that you feel especially inspired by? Where do you look for inspiration?
Music is probably the art form that affects me the most. There aren’t many moments in my life when I’m not listening to music, and every mood has a different genre and artist. While painting, it’s usually something calm. Right now it’s Other Lives, Chelsea Wolfe, Warpaint, Susane Sundfør and Agnes Obel being played the most.
I also enjoy movies and series, but it doesn’t affect my work much. Those are more like small gifts to myself when I’ve been good.
Describe the piece that you're currently working on. At what stage are you in the creative process?
I’m not working on anything at the moment. I’m in the midst of moving, so everything around me is quite chaotic right now. I’ve just finished a massive workload, so I feel like I deserve a little week of vacation. But it will also be nice starting on new projects. It does feel strange to not paint, when my usual day consists of 12 or more hours of art.
What's next for you?
I’ll be working on smaller group shows around the States in the coming future. I try not to fill up my schedule too much. During the first six years of painting I always had huge solo shows, which stressed me out quite a lot so at the moment, I’m enjoying working on smaller projects.