Energetic colour fields

Ankomst, Hennie Ann Isdahl. Photographer: Kjell Ove Storvik

Hennie Ann Isdahl has no express therapeutic goal for her monumental, lacquered compositions Rise and Arrival. Even so, she has high ambitions for these two powerful, gleaming, colourist works for the new Medicine and Health Studies Building (MH2) at UiT: they should have a positive effect.

Words: Mona Gjessing

– No doubt I’ve thought indirectly in the direction of art as therapy. That comes from my own long-term personal experience that colours have a very strong effect on me. I want my colour compositions to have an uplifting effect on the viewer. Apart from that, it is difficult to describe what it is that makes my works become what they are, says Hennie Ann Isdahl.
She finds it easier, however, to tell us something about her production process, how her works progress. She explains that her works undergo an exhaustive process of simplification, as she always begins with too much.
– I simplify, simplify, simplify. I can find inspiration for my work anywhere, and collect huge quantities of things I find. I record things that I think I may have a use for one day, and I note down ideas on scraps of paper that I store in my studio. In addition, I use my camera instead of a sketchbook and take a great deal of photographs that I use as the basis for new ideas. Reaching the final form of expression is always a very long process. Arrival is composed of three colours with transitions between them, printed on six aluminium panels. After being printed, they were lacquered with a very glossy clear lacquer. This is a good example of how my works may come into being, explains Isdahl.
When she was working on her sketch for the auditorium wall in the summer last year, her intention was that the works, with the help of motifs, use of colour, and size should be capable of being viewed while on the move or perceived as movement in the space. In this way, she wanted to integrate them into the architectural context.

After spending a long time working on one proposal for the 10-metre-long auditorium wall on Floor 7, she decided to test another alternative.
– This was a sketch that I’d had around for several years. I thought that this proposal was more daring than the first one. After manipulating the sketch in Photoshop, I saw that the proposal could work. It was this sketch, with the title Arrival, that the committee chose. I was surprised, but very happy that the committee displayed such artistic courage, says Isdahl.

Rise, Hennie Ann Isdahl. Photographer: Kjell Ove Storvik

Isdahl’s path to finding her own style of artistic expression, which today includes both sculpture and painting, was influenced by the fact that she showed talent for drawing while growing up on Karmøy, and won a place at the School of Arts and Crafts in Bergen straight from upper-secondary school.

-At the School of Arts and Crafts I studied graphic design, and now, many years later, I think that my background as a graphic designer influences much of my artistic output today. For example, I’m very fond of simple, clean surfaces – of which there are a lot in graphic design. In the early days of my artistic practice, I painted panels using a brush, and then I began to use surface filler to get smoother surfaces. After a while I found that I still couldn’t 100 percent create the appearance I wanted, and it was then that I began to use lacquer. My own facilities weren’t very suitable for this type of activity, so I contacted an independent car-spraying workshop at Ski. That was in 2004. I’ve used that company ever since – including in connection with the production of Rise and Arrival. I was, and I still am, interested in creating perfect surfaces, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t also appreciate qualities in pure painterly surfaces. In Rise, which is installed in an open stairwell and divided amongst five walls on five identical landings, I don’t just switch between panels with different colours, but also between gloss- and matt-lacquered surfaces. The design of the work is experienced thematically and visually as concurrent variations. It forms a fine contrast to the rough appearance of the grey concrete walls of the stairwell.

Ankomst, Hennie Ann Isdahl. Photographer: Kjell Ove Storvik

The title Rise was chosen because it says something about the objective of university studies: to rise up from one level of knowledge to another.
– The choice of thin aluminium angle as ‘frames’ around the fragile, delicate coloured surfaces was made for both practical and aesthetic reasons. I do definitely have an arte povera attitude within me. I like traces of the transitory, but also value perfection. The conflict between these preferences is clearly apparent in my visual expression, emphasizes Isdahl.

In 2012, Open Space, an artists’ association of which Isdahl is a member, held an exhibition at Tromsø Art Society. It was here that one of Public Art Norway’s art consultants for MH2, Jenny Marie Johnsen, became interested in Isdahl’s work.

– My plans for the coming year are to continue teaching at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU), where I’m employed as an associate professor in visual studies for landscape architects. Teaching students is rewarding, and it is also challenging in a positive way to have to put words to creative working processes that I have spent years on alone in my studio. I often work on a number of different projects at the same time, and in the immediate future I’m working towards another exhibition with Open Space – this time a larger exhibition at Trondheim Art Society in 2019. I’m also working on the development of several sculptural objects that will be displayed at an exhibition at Akershus Art Centre in the new year. In my future work, I want to investigate painterly qualities in sculpture, and sculptural qualities in painting, to express this in a slightly concentrated form. A fertile dialogue may arise between them, concludes Isdahl.

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