Lethe: Henrik Uldalen’s Solo Show @ JD Malat Gallery
Over the years, we've covered the distinctive work of Henrik Uldalen, who occasionally breaks out of his prolific studio practice with dramatic public murals. Cleverly mixing raw expressive, often abstract gesture making with profound realistic rendering, Uldalen frankly describes himself as an "expressionist painter trapped in the body of a neoclassicist painter."
With a direct creative approach, the Korean-born and London-based self-taught painter has developed a captivating visual language, earning worldwide recognition and appreciation. Through his figure-based work, he captures human emotion by giving subjects the whole stage, emoting or evaporating in the broad negative space they inhabit.
On December 13th, Uldalen presents Lethe, his second solo exhibition with London's JD Malat Gallery in Mayfair featuring a new group of big-scale canvases. Continuing a fascination with the hidden side of human emotion, the current showcase focuses on themes of the past and society’s eagerness to return to it, especially through the prism of modern-day politics. We caught up with the artist to talk more about the concept of the show, the development of his visual language, and individual works themselves.
Sasha Bogojev: From what I've seen, this is the first time you're returning to a gallery with a solo show. How does that feel, and did that influence the work you will present?
Henrik Uldalen: Yes, it’s the first major show I’ve had the pleasure to present in the same gallery, and I’m thrilled. JD Malat Gallery has given an economically stable platform for me to express myself, and with that, the freedom to pursue the things I might not be able to afford to do in the past.
Your restricted color palette gives cohesiveness to the whole body of work. How did you make that choice?
The colors and spectrum of values go hand in hand with the concept of the show. The common denominator in this show is pink, a veil of concealment that covers past memories in a sweet rosy light. I’ve been prompted to work on this concept by what I perceive to be the zeitgeist in the west, a desperate longing to return to past “glory”.
Also, the works feature exclusively nude subjects. What dictated that choice?
The concept of the naked figures originally stems from not wanting to place the subjects in a specific time era, which clothing usually does. These figures all represent the naked intellect, something metaphysic outside of time and space.
You are apparently distorting your images with hazy blurs and rough-looking surfaces. How did that develop?
I have been working with more of a subtractive technique rather than additive this time around, removing marks and features to reveal the surface, mimicking damaged old photography.
You seem to be putting more emphasis the negative space too. Do you work on it before or after the main image?
The backgrounds have been placed there at the same time as the figures, sometimes dissolving into, sometimes emerging. The backgrounds are ridden with unpleasant lumps of texture, covered with pink paint as a poor attempt to conceal it from the viewer.
Pieces like Clinch, Spore, or Emerge feel more abstract than anything else I've seen before from you. Are you moving towards abandoning figuration?
I’m finding more and more joy in the making of these abstract paintings, but I won’t say I’m deliberately leaving one camp for the other. I go wherever I feel I need to go, and return as quickly. At the moment, I feel like exploring these sides of my production, but I don’t know what the future holds.
All the works are pretty big, with Cede spanning 3 by 3 meters. What draws you to making work on such a scale, and did mural-making influence you going Big?
I have definitely enjoyed working on a bigger scale lately. The monumental feeling when you see bigger works has undoubtedly awoken something in me, and all thanks to painting murals and watching others paint murals. It’s difficult for me to describe the feeling you get when gazing up at a 10-meter by 10-meter painting on a wall. I want to replicate some of those feelings in a gallery setting.
How much work did you create for the exhibition, and what new concepts or surprises can we expect?
I have made 16 new paintings for Lethe, and a series of porcelain vessels that will be unveiled at the opening; pink vessels containing water of Lethe. The porcelain will tie-up with the concept of the exhibition, and serve as a cautionary tale of frail memory and jingoism.
Henrik Uldalen's Lethe opens December 13, 2019, and is on view through January 11, 2019.