Wencke Uhl, “Pretty in Pink”, 2022, Acrylic and oil on canvas, 100 x 120 cm.
Wencke Uhl, who often reflects images of women from different ethnic backgrounds on her canvases, strongly advocates reclaiming the female body and femininity through the eyes of a female artist.
Interview by Ummuhan Kazanc
Dear Wencke Uhl, at what stage of your life did you decide to be interested in art? When was the breaking point?
I’m not sure when I got interested in art, but I have always been a very visual person. Be it illustrations, photographs, movies or fashion and lifestyle – I like looking at things. To this day, I can enjoy a beautiful cinematography as much as a good story, just like I don’t judge but I do appreciate a pretty book cover, and I find clothing an expression of personality.
I have painted for as long as I can think of. Probably like most kids, it was one of the first things I did. I have always painted and or created one thing or another, but I think I took up painting more excessively in recent years, because I finally have enough time to pursue it seriously.
You are a figurative paintress and you draw inspiration from human beauty and the female form. What does figure painting mean to you?
What I like about figure painting is that I find the human expression is among the strongest and most diverse forms of articulation. A facial expression or posture can comprise and reflect so many feelings at once – more than a tree, house, animal or, to me, also abstract objectless art ever could. Also, as a teenager I wanted to become a fashion designer. I believe painting women is a remnant from this time.
While most of my paintings have a somewhat realistic approach, I’m not striving to be a photorealistic paintress. I like adding strong contrasts, patterns, or playing with exaggerated light and shade whenever I feel it supports the mood or attitude I want to convey.
Wencke Uhl, “Behind the Scenes”, 2022, Acrylic and paper on high-quality canvas stretcher, 70 x 90 cm.
Do you work with a live model or do you paint with inspiration from the people around you?
I use photographs for reference. These can be of random people I see in magazines or online, stars and starlets or people around me. It’s not so much about the specific person though but about a mood or the way the person holds themselves that catches my interest. And I always modify my paintings from the reference photo to make it my own creation and not just a copy.
What do the women who make up the subject of your paintings tell the audience, do they have a message?
They’re strong, emancipated women of every ethnicity and I wish both to counter traditional images (of women) as being subordinate or inferior and to promote diversity, self-confidence, and freedom. Moreover, women have long been underrepresented in the arts and have usually been filtered through the male gaze. So, while I’m not much of a feminist, I’m a strong advocate of reclaiming the female body and femininity through the female gaze.
Popular culture, gender rights, identity, equality should be an endless source of inspiration for you. How popular culture and social events affect you and your art?
They are a huge influence for me. I love how popular culture has evolved in recent decades – how stereotypes are broken down into more diverse categories and images, and I love the vibrant culture it thus continues to create. This dynamic is exactly what I’d like to portray and reflect in my art.
According to “Social Identity Theory” identity is formed, among other factors, by our significant others, so family and friends and today also strongly by the media. And while the media in the past have fostered very limited social roles of and for women, just like other marginalized groups, I’d like to add my version to the cluster.
In your paintings, women look very strong and are represented in bold colors. How would you explain this approach?
I came of age on the 90’s, the beginning of establishing the image of emancipated women in popular culture. This image strongly influenced my view of the world and how it should be. So, I feel like passing on and nurturing this image. I like using bold colors because I find it underlines the bold attitude I wish to convey, but also because I simply find it aesthetically pleasing.
We see combination of different art styles like pop art, realism, impressionism, illustration art and so on in your paintings. Can you tell us a little about your style and technique?
I just like all those styles a lot and wouldn’t want to decide for one. More importantly though: all those styles are a reaction to their time. As, for example, impressionism was a reaction to the rise of photography, which threatened to replace hitherto realistic painting and thus, created the desire to newly establish painting as a relevant form of art. In the same way my mix of styles and mediums is a product of today’s reality, in which boundaries are floating and we have seemingly endless influences and possibilities.
Lastly, can we learn about your futures plans? Do you have exhibitions?
I currently have a group exhibition at Maison 10 in New York City, which I’m very excited about, and which runs until mid-August. I do have two projects in mind for the fall, but nothing’s been finalized, so I can’t tell, yet :)