JD Malat Gallery
Henrik Aa. Uldalen
My experience at the JD Malat Gallery was comparable to no other gallery visit and was my first insight into the commercial art world. I had visited similar galleries before, as a member in a large group, but this was the first time I was able to engage with someone who had worked on the project personally and could offer an in-depth insight into the paintings. The gallery itself, based in the heart of Mayfair, wasn’t as imposing as its neighbours, which I liked, for its doors were open and friendly, and a keen assistant poised ready to answer any impending questions.
180 x 120 cm
Oil on Wood, 2018
The gallery was presenting Henrik Aa. Uldalen’s first public exhibition of any physical paintings, for previously his work had only been shown online, on the social platform Instagram. As I approached the works, it became clear that the paintings were certainly impressive, both in their scale and imagery. The photorealism coupled with the strong expressionist element created an unsettling and oppressive atmosphere. A feeling of panic started to creep in, and I felt that I was sharing in the terror and sorrow that the subjects in the works were seemingly experiencing. There is also an obvious nod to Bacon here, seen through the areas of thick oil paint and the blurring of the face. However, Bacon often distorts faces entirely to an extent that they are often unrecognizable, whereas Uldalen’s subjects are more visible. Further, Bacon often depicts the subject’s whole body, whereas Uldalen mostly chooses to focus solely on the face.
Three Studies of George Dyer Bliss
35.5 x 30.5 cm 180 x 120 cm
Oil on canvas, 1969 Oil on wood, 2018
Uldalen’s work explores the ‘fragility of skin’ (JD Malat, 2018) through the medium of oil paint, varying the amount of its application in each work (noteworthy examples include Inhale, and, Sink). Often, the paint is applied thickly, but incredibly carefully, with the eyes often covered. As someone who has researched Uldalen’s work in-depth, it seems bizarre that he would cover up the one facial feature that he chose to paint in such intricate detail, and excels at.
Insert from Inhale Insert from Sink
180 x 120 cm 180 x 120 cm
Oil on Wood, 2018 Oil on Wood, 2018
Indeed, it became questionable to me as to the extent the work had been prescribed rather than being organic. Having spoken to the assistant, I was informed that these works were commissioned by the gallery and that, with brief in hand, Uldalen had spent the last couple of years completing the series. If I understood what was said correctly, I couldn’t help but wonder how much of Uldalen’s own directive process had been affected by this arrangement. For example, the aforementioned covering of the eyes, though this could, of course, have been specific to Uldalen’s personal artistic development, maybe as a reaction to his previous works, but it made me think.
In general terms, the commercial art world with all its vagaries is a double-edged sword for artist and gallery alike. The artist may feel obliged to paint in a particular way to satisfy a gallery’s requirements, at the expense of personal enquiry, whilst a gallery is always, especially early on, taking a financial risk, and offers ‘advice’ in their efforts not only to give the artist a ‘leg-up’ but to make a financial profit themselves in the process. In my experience, many artists need direction, need a deadline, as they are prone to drift, so a commissioned brief, in a sense, focuses their work. In Uldalen’s case, being an Instagram prodigy, it does give hope to art students, such as myself, who dedicate a proportion of their lives promoting their social media accounts, posting sketches and paintings in the hope that a collector or gallery will be attracted to their work – to give their work a launching pad.
180 x 120 cm
Oil on Wood, 2018
Leaving the exhibition, I came away changed. My first ‘proper’ view into the contemporary art world was both exciting and slightly depressing. As a fan of Francis Bacon’s work, Uldalen’s style hit all the right notes and I thought that his use of oil paint to explore the fragility of skin was interesting, indeed captivating. However, the question remains in my mind as to what extent Uldalen had to make sacrifices. Maybe he didn’t make any, I don’t know? The JD Malat Gallery have done a good job in exhibiting these paintings and I very much look forward to seeing Uldalen’s future work. Perhaps we will see a re-emergence of his beloved eyes?