Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen's paintings are bridges; between eras, between styles and between emotions. Their classical nature imbues the deeply textural works with an innate drama, an unavoidable sense of intrigue. Yet their content, both timeless and contemporary, creates a relateable dialogue that opens up his paintings to an audience who previously may not have interacted with this style.
Inspired by many of history's Masters, Uldalen embraces not just what they painted, but how. Texture was a crucial aspect in this era of art whose predominant output was figurative. A face is a face, after all, and each artist vied to put their own stamp on portraiture. It came down to details like light and expression, but also the more subtly remembered (we usually see these paintings as photographs) aspect of building layers and using the oil to its potential.It wasn't just about the expressions, but how they made them.
Although greatly indebted to the work of the Masters, Uldalen is not limited by it. Not one to abide by any particular 'rules' of painting, he instead creates with very expressionistic strokes, adding oil with unconventional tools like scrapers and sweeping brushes - whatever is necessary to get the effect he is looking for.
The emotion is apparent, from both the dramatic expressions, the deviations from classical form and the deeply hued palette that he usually opts for. It's clear that it's not just a means of creation for creations sake, but a cathartic experience for the artist. This isn't just paint on canvas, but part of his story with part of his very being left there too. Yes, these paintings may depict other people, but in essence, they're avatars all depicting a part of him.
There's a psychological element to Uldalen's art that exists on the fine line between chaos and order, with both often present simultaneously. Naturally, the order is the element of extremely well-pointed technique. The faces are often depicted in a photorealistic manner, where the subject feels alive; their lips, eyes and cheeks elicit a genuinely emotive response. Yet, often at least one of these features are obscured. This is the chaos.
When Uldalen is painting, his own life is reflected in the process too. His mind, he admits, is messy. Therefore, everything around him must be ordered. From music in the background to his actual timeline of waking up, fuelling his body and then beginning to work straight away. His life must be calm to counteract his mind's volatility. This poetic volatility, and indeed, vulnerability, manifests in his paintings as a sort of illusory blemish. It's almost as if the mental state of his own being, and his subjects, comes to the fore as a physical manifestation of messy expressionistic strokes.
Uniquely his own voice, this has led to critics branding his style as 'photosurrealism', an interesting and almost contradictory genre mash-up. Yet, it isn't actually contradictory at all, rather an organic means of channelling his own thoughts, his own turmoil. It's painting as a coping mechanism with the schizophrenic existence of modern life.
Approaching painting without a formal education seems to have greatly benefitted Uldalen who views art from outside the paradigmatic view often used with contemporary artists working with classical styles. The Norwegian artist admits to projecting himself onto his subjects, trying to portray his mood and feelings through another person, as if what and who he paints is merely a vessel. This isn't reductive of the subject, but it is a new way of utilising them in the creative process.
There's an element of the method actor about him too, inhabiting a subject to the degree that they project what it is he feels. Art, for many, is about portraying life honestly. Uldalen's approach might jar with these people, but his art is equally as honest. It's just that it's not actually about his subjects as it may initially seem. He's the quintessential modern classicist. At the time, the Masters were groundbreaking pioneers of form. Only through time have they become 'classic'. It stands to reason that, in decades time, Uldalen too will have that impact. A large part of this is his willingness to embrace not only himself and his own artistic language, but how we consume and view art in an age of rapid technological growth.
Instagram has impacted how he creates art, and also how others view him. For Uldale's style of art, compared to the mass accessibility of pop art-style illustrations or street art, his amassing of 800k+ followers is a serious achievement and, if nothing else, sums up how relatable his works really are. The darkness that is summoned by his brush doesn't isolate or alienate him, but through his searing honesty, brings him closer to other people who feel the same way.
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