Henrik Simonsen Painter - Berlin, Germany

You speak about how drawing leads you to form the line which then has a magic of its own, making up the shapes. Can you expand on that?

Drawing is one of the most direct and simple mark making processes you have available as an artist. You move it across a surface and forms emerge and that creates positive and negative space and suddenly there is a 3D world on the surface what was blank before.

Although your work is abstract, the base is very natural. Do you think you arrive to this through shape and form, and also colour?

Most of my subject matter comes from the natural world but they are not presented in a traditional way. The colour and the way forms dissolve in places gives the work an abstract element.

‘Red Leaves’

Coming from Scandinavia, how has this background influenced your work?

I think the work links into a long Scandinavian tradition of taking influence from the natural world. This comes through both in design, architecture and art. It took me moving away from Scandinavia before I felt I could engage with the tradition, maybe because so much of Western contemporary art is about braking with traditions that I felt I needed some distant between me and Scandinavia before I could give myself permission to pick up the tradition.



You are also very influenced by Rococo Art, can you expand on this?

The Rococo took its influence from the natural world. In a way it was images of images of nature. The original source like shells and plants were abstracted into the rococo ornaments we know. In a way I was doing the same even if I did it in a different way. I enjoyed playing with the rococo elements but they have to a large extent left the work now.

Tell us about the way you use such bold combinations of colour?

For a long time I worked only in black and white. When colour arrived it did so with quite some force. Working in black and white you think in contrast and when I started working in colours I continued to do so. Meaning the colours were played against other colours for maximum contrast and effect.

‘Light Blue Days’

Your work you has tiny insects. When do you add these (dragonflies) to you painting?

The insects are often part of the idea and are sketched in at an early stage but sometime they arrived when a piece is nearly finished and it feels like they should be there.

Shadow is an intrinsic part of your paintings, can you discuss this aspect?

I think this ties back to my interest in contrasts I talked about earlier. Shadows adds contrast to the lighter parts of the work. But also look at a tree and it becomes clear how much of it is in shadow. I think the effect of light breaking through leaves is truly beautiful.

You also add areas of gold, can you tell us about the actual gold you use?

It is gold pigment in an oil medium. I like it because it is subtle yet rich. I have thought that I would want to experiment with gold leaf but not found a piece that seemed to really want that yet. I am sure it will happen.


On the flipside, you work in monochrome. Can you explain how you are able to work in two such different colour ways?

‘White Delicates’

You can get as much contrast in a very limited colour range. You just need to work a little harder for it.

Can you discuss ‘Fragile’- both technically and the inspiration behind it?


I am very lucky to be working with some excellent printers. They are called Artizan Editions and they also do Bridget Riley’s prints among others. I arrive at the workshop with ideas for work that I am fired up about and they find ways of making them happen. Sometimes that means finding new ways of printing. Fragile was a complicated print to pull off but I am very happy with the result.

Through history the butterfly has been used in art as a symbol of the human soul. Something not of this world but existing in it. In fragile I used that idea to talk about people (or souls) that spent their whole lives hanging onto the branches of a tree because they don’t trust their wings or can’t find the courage to let go. The butterflies under the tree are meant to represent our mortality … so the point is that we all fall into the grass eventually but how sad to be a butterfly that never found the courage to use its wing and take flight. So the print is a reminder to fly and to live.

Take ‘Yellow and Blue’- this painting looks so random but it is full of control with hidden areas for the viewer to explore. Is this your intention?

‘Yellow and Blue’

I wanted something that captured the explosion that natures goes through in summer. With the vibrancy and heat of a summer day. Nature is never out of control in works to its own systems and logic and there is always much more than what you see at first glance and that is what I hope the print captures.

Have you always worked with originals that are then made into Limited edition prints?

No, I try to avoid that. All the prints I have made have a source of inspiration in a painting or other work I have done but they are all done as original screen prints. Meaning that for each colour on the print I have made an art work that is transferred to a silkscreen and then printed. To me it’s a much more interesting way of working as you are not trying to make a print look like an original. You are creating something that is an original but in a print medium.

For your next exhibition in the USA, how many painting do you have to prepare?

‘Twisted’ part of the NYC exhibition at Wally Findlay


The exhibition is with Wally Findlay, which is one of the oldest galleries in NYC. They also have a very large exhibition space so I need to have around 20 paintings ready. It can feel daunting to start on a project on that scale but then you get into the studio and it becomes about working and individual paintings rather than an exhibition. I work every day. A day does not feel right if I don’t make it into the studio. That helps as well when you have a large exhibition to get ready for.

Can you discuss the importance of exhibiting to your work?

I paint just for me in the studio but I enjoy sharing the work once I am happy with it. I do not enjoy visits to my studio; it feels too exposed to have people looking at unfinished pieces. It feels like having guest coming to your home when your family is still in various stages of undress.

As a fulltime artist you need to exhibit and you need to have someone sell the work. I don’t think I am any good at selling my own work. I am far too close to it. Exhibiting is part of being an artist. There are pros and cons about the experience but I don’t think it is possible to avoid it, nor would I want to. Of course you can feel nervous about the reception of new work but that is part of it and it motivates you to do your best for each exhibition.

Contact details:

Henrik Simonsen – www.henriksimonsen.com


Henrik Simonsen, Berlin, Germany

Interview by Deborah Blakeley, August 2013