‘If it’s authentic and right, the following will come’

Henrik Uldalen

Henrik Uldalen - Credit: Archant

Hackney-based artist Henrik Uldalen speaks about creativity, social media and channelling negative emotions.

Henrik Uldalen

Henrik Uldalen - Credit: Archant

Born in South Korea, raised in Norway and now living in Hackney, self-taught artist Henrik Uldalen has attracted hundreds of thousands of fans posting his beautiful - sometimes unsettling - paintings online.

Melancholy portraits of people painted in muted grey and pastel palettes are blurred, smudged and transformed. Working from his studio situated in Hackney Downs for the past three years, Uldalen is now slowly edging away from realism to more abstract work.

Henrik Uldalen

Henrik Uldalen - Credit: Archant

“I work with oil paints - I’d say my work is a combination of presentational art and specialist art. So I have a history of more classical realism but I’m slowly easing into more abstract work. Work that’s based on pure emotion and feeling rather than narratives,” he says.

Uldalen’s oil paintings tend to depict fragile-looking figures in cold hues. Negative or existential thoughts have inspired much of the work, and he says creating art has been an important outlet for him emotionally.

“Loneliness and solitude are a huge part of my art and are the underlying theme to the work that I do. It stems from feeling alienated from the rest of the world. There’s been a whole cocktail of different emotions that I’ve had to deal with over the years,” he explains.

“I’ve always needed to do art to get all these feelings off my chest so I can function as a regular human being. Painting has been a therapy for me to deal with difficult emotions.”

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Uldalen has over 660,000 followers on Instagram, where he shares portraits and behind-the-scenes glimpses of his creative process. In 2015 he curated Paint Guide, an account dedicated to showcasing work from his favourite artists. Despite this, Uldalen previously had a more complex relationship with digital platforms.

“One of my galleries asked me to open an account. I’d always been against social media, it never sat right with me because people paint pictures of their life that might be untruthful.

After embracing it, I’ve discovered it’s a really good tool to show my art, especially coming from a smaller country,” he says.

“I’ve managed to use this platform without lying. It’s more of a documentary of my life and work. Most of my work is an honest picture of me, it’s me at my absolute most honest.”

Uldalen studied art in school but then went on to teach himself the practice. He believes that in fine art the system is elitist, inaccessible and a real barrier for aspiring artists to make a living if they haven’t gone to certain institutions or don’t have connections in the industry. For him, social media democratises the art industry and puts power back into people’s hands.

“I do enjoy certain aspects of social media, especially how power is given back to the artist as we now are able to take our careers in our own hands. We can now promote ourselves and not be that dependent on galleries,” he explains.

“Although I do love galleries and seeing things first-hand is very special, bypassing the gallery system and allowing us to still be big without having to know the right people or have the right education is important.”

For Uldalen authenticity is his most valuable piece of wisdom to impart on would-be artists. He says: “Make art that’s true. Making something that you believe in is the most important thing. Don’t necessarily focus on social media, if you do that then you’re not really making art but an advertisement for yourself. If it’s authentic and right, the following will come. “

Henrik Uldalen’s upcoming exhibition Metanoia will run at JD Malat Gallery from 11 June - 12 July. Metanoia explores a transformation in Uldalen both personally and through his work in 17 paintings. Embracing change and letting go are key themes as he works in oils to depict people obscured by thick layers of impasto. He describes the exhibition as “a symbolic riddance of a certain darkness which I have always carried.”

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