Henrik Stenberg: The Highest Valley

Henrik Stenberg

Artwork’s Title: The Highest Valley

Material Used: Acrylic on board

Studio Based: Laholm, Sweden

Henrik Stenberg, The Highest Valley, 2021, acrylic on board, 80 x 120 cm

Can you tell us about the process of making your work?

Mostly I work on flat wooden materials like plywood or board. I do my paintings with acrylic paint that I work with in many layers more resembling water colour than oil colour. I start of with a thin layer of more or less random shapes that I only to some degree have control over. Then I begin to see shapes in this mess. From these shapes I make rocks, like some kind of two-dimensional sculptures, and also streams, snow, trees and clouds, and I come up with new objects along the way. Recent years I have not been working after photographs at all. I only use blue, red, yellow and white.

How would you define your work in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?

Organic, detailed, multifocal

Speaking about your new artworks is there any particular story behind the “The highest valley” (2022) painting that you could share with us?

This painting is a part of a process where I´m working with mountains and rocks. In this particular painting there is hardly any air perspective and big cliffs in the background have somewhat similar shapes as smaller stones in the foreground. That gives the painting a slightly ambiguous perspective. But there is a snowy landscape in the background that clearly is on above everything and a valley with a stream that leads from that snow-clad massif. I like the combination of chaotic rocks and fluffy clouds. To me the snowy tops seems like a desirable destination. The foreground is hard to get through. As all my recent paintings it represents some kind of wilderness, but a wild nature that is a cultural product made up by a human.

In June 2022, you are going to present your new group exhibition, “Outside-In”, at Coulisse Gallery in Stockholm curated by Jeanette Gunnarsson; what is about your new paintings at that show?

The paintings shown at the exhibition are all large size paintings in portrait format. That kind of format stresses the higness of the mountains. They all have a kind of shallow perspective that makes things in the background appear almost as close as things in the foreground. I feel there is some resemblance with Chinese landscape paintings and landscapes in medieval European paintings, and northern European renaissance paintings. There is also something fantasy-like about them, but I would not let dragons and unicorns enter the paintings. You see no animals at all, actually. I think of my mountains as places that could exist, somewhere, but I don´t want to completely forget that it is paint on a surface. I have heard that my work looks digital, but I am very analog-oriented. I like to work big with physical materials.

In your recent works, there is an evident fascination in the depiction of rocky landscapes; what made you concentrate on this repetitive motif in your body of work?

I have always been interested in mountains. I like how different kinds of nature and climate can appear on such a small area, with great diversity, and I like the fact that mountains actually have a highest point. I am not a mountaineer but that point has a certain appeal I think. Mountains also symbolizes mightiness and dignity, and holiness. The portrait format of my paintings also has some resemblance with altar pieces, where the upper part is more heavenly than the lower part. There is also a lot of freedom in the shaping of rocks. The same is true with trees and greenery. It is not like painting a face, or a building where odd angels or shapes can look strange or funny. The rocks in my paintings can look rather odd.

Would you be also interested in being artistically involved in different kind of painting techniques or motifs? For example, more abstract works?

I think that abstraction always is a part of painting. If you look closely enough on a painting it often looks abstract. I like to keep some abstract elements in my paintings, because it gives a feeling of some kind of nature, something that is not completely made up by me to look like something. It can feel like fresh air and sometimes a bit enigmatic, and I like when I manage to keep these kinds of elements into a painting. It is easier in large scale paintings where I can concentrate on smaller parts of the painting, without constantly seeing the whole picture and what it represents. It would be interesting to work more in that direction but I´ll see what comes up. Then we have concretism. It is interesting but so far away from what I usually do that it makes me feel that I´m doing some kind of pastisch.

I have been dealing with motifs and styles in the past that differs a lot from what I do now. I have been working with aspects of culture and how aesthetics can change, historical clothing and portrait styles, popular music history and different kinds of housing, with humor as an ingredient.

I have also created somewhat surrealistic scenes where people and figures meet and where open stories can be hinted at. But I felt that I wanted to go into a more open process where I could dive into the shaping of a landscape of some sort, with no photos or sketches as starting points. I wanted to feel free and not necessarily tell a story.

Do specific artworks have been created by random experiments in your studio or do you usually come up with a particular concept or narrative in the very beginning of your artistic process?

Sometimes completely new work comes up from random experiments. This kind of work can open up doors to a new kind of creating or a new theme. Other times it ends up as solitary pieces, like small worlds of their own, or small groups of paintings with similar ideas. I think this kind of work is interesting, but most of the time I am in a process where the method is quite clear.

What would be the best way to exhibit your work?

I like to show my paintings on the wall in a gallery or other arts venue because you can see all details and see them in full size and get a personal direct experience, but I also like printed material or the shininess of the computer screen. Instagram is a good tool to reach people and to communicate with viewers.

Which are your plans for the near future?

I just want to keep working and see what comes up.

Additional Works

Henrik Stenberg, “Fluff”, 2020, acrylic on board, 81 x 122 cm
Group exhibition, “Outside-In” at Coulisse Gallery, Stockholm
Henrik Stenberg, Monolith, 2019, acrylic on board, 87 x 122 cm



All images courtesy of the artist

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