The Artist as Shaman
– an interview with Uwe Henneken
Uwe Henneken studied at the Academy of Fine Arts Karlsruhe and at the HBK Berlin, Germany. His work has been shown internationally in galleries and institutions such as CAPC Museum of Contemporary Art of Bordeaux, France; Aspen Art Museum, USA; Museum of Fine Arts of Leipzig, Germany; Meyers Riegger in Karlsruh, Germany and Andrew Kreps Gallery in New York, USA. Recent solo shows include ‘Caves & Volcanoes’, Bark Gallery, Berlin, Germany (2021); ‘Welcome back to where we are’, Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne, Germany (2020); ‘Stomp Ground’, Galerie Krobath, Vienna, Austria (2019); ‘Leaves’, CCA, Andratx, Spain (2018) and ‘We travelled so far’, Galerie Rodolphe Janssen, Brussels, Belgium (2016). Uwe Henneken currently lives and works in Berlin, Germany.
"Some anthropologists see the shaman as the prototype of the artist, being able to travel between the worlds and come back to our reality with a vision to share and express. I wasn't aware as a kid, that I may get answers to my questions through painting."
Could you tell us about your artistic practice and how it has evolved over the years?
My artistic practice is an ongoing process of surrender. I make space to become quiet and open up to what it is that wants to be expressed through me. Often I am surprised by the outcome.
Many of your paintings exude a sense of discovery and venturing into unknown landscapes. You have previously spoken about your interest in the subconscious mind, what effect does it have on your work?
I see the subconscious mind as a dump hole for our suppressed negative emotions as well as our treasure house of ideas and possibilities. Realizing how my fears, my doubts and anger block the creative expression, was a game changer. Painting these negative emotions for me is one necessary step in my artistic process: literally expressing them through putting them out of me onto the canvas. "One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious", as C. G. Jung put it. After making the dark conscious, I usually burn these images, as I see no use in them for others. This whole process gives great relief and from there I can go on with painting.
In a previous talk, you spoke about wanting to become an archaeologist as a child and the artist as a shaman providing access to another reality. Could you expand on those ideas? Has this interest played a role in the way you approach your artistic practice?
That’s true, as kid I was always a big fan of Indiana Jones and very interested in ancient and indigenous cultures. I had the feeling that there must be something that connects us all and I wanted to find out more about it. This longing for unity is still there.
Some anthropologists see the shaman as the prototype of the artist, being able to travel between the worlds and come back to our reality with a vision to share and express. I wasn't aware as a kid, that I may get answers to my questions through painting.
Could you tell us about ‘A Teaching in Transfiguration’. What is the genesis of this work?
It’s basically about a teaching between two beings. A lesson where you don't know who teaches whom what. That's left for the spectator to find out...
What is your definition of art? What makes a good work of art in your opinion?
That’s a very intimate question. For me everyone is an artist. Some may have a clearer talent or vision, some just a bigger ego. I see art as a kind of service: to put my talent into good use, best to uplift the spectator and leave her/him in a higher vibration.
Uwe Henneken, A Teaching in Transfiguration, 2021View work
Uwe Henneken painting his hand-embellished print ,'A Teaching in Transfiguration', 2021
What and who inspires you?
Even if it may sound cliché: love, life, my wife, my kids, nature, meditation... And all those amazing artists out there.
If you could own any piece of art, what would it be?
Difficult to say. I personally don't own many artworks. Nevertheless, I always feel good in the presence of certain works of artistic expression. Art really can be a source of joy and energy.
What are you working on at the moment?
Right now, I am working on my last Berlin painting. We are moving to a farm in Denmark very soon and I am so much looking forward! The transition can already be felt in my latest works and I am very curious what pieces will grow there soon...