Interview with Award winning Painter Cornelia Hernes from Norway : Retro Kolkata Exclusive


The Tapestry of Life. 2012. Oil on linen. 41x27 inches. by Cornelia Hernes
Cornelia is a award winning artist who currently teach at The Florence Academy of Art in Jersey City, USA where her studio is also situated. Cornelia was born and raised in Norway and from the onset of her oil painting pursuits in her late teens, she was particularly interested in rendering the human form and emotive expressions through portraiture and mythological motifs. During the course of her artistic and academic training she further developed a deep affection for the genres of still life, interiors and nature motifs. Her current focus includes portrait painting, still life & floral painting as well as commission based work.
While a student, she became a teacher assistant and upon graduation she was hired on as a Principal Instructor in the drawing and painting program. She moved to Gothenburg, Sweden in 2010 and taught at the Swedish branch of the Florence Academy of Art until 2016. The same year, Cornelia was awarded 2nd place in the drawing category in the 12th International ARC salon Competition. She now resides in the New York Metropolitan area.

RK : First of all thanks a lot for accepting our invitation for an interview. it’s a great pleasure to have you as our Guest. Let’s start from the first question… Let's jump into the past. Do you remember your first interaction with art? When did you decide you wanted to become an artist?

Cornelia Hernes : Thank you so much for inviting me for this interview. The pleasure is all mine! I loved to draw since early childhood. I am grateful that my parents recognized this interest and always supplied me with paper, color pencils and watercolors. For me, drawing was a portal into imaginary worlds. Drawing was (and is) a means to process impressions, thoughts and emotions visually. At about eight years old, I drew portraits of my classmates for our school newspaper. This is my earliest recollection of drawing the portrait from life and wishing to pursue a career in art.


RK : What role does drawing have in your creative process and what’s in your sketching “toolkit” right now?

Cornelia Hernes : While my current work is mostly in the medium of oil painting, I find it challenging to separate drawing from painting. The tools of observation greatly overlap and the principles of structure is the same in each medium. I consider that painting is drawing, but with the medium of paint.

I often create thumbnail sketches with pencil when exploring a composition. Occasionally, I make a preparatory drawing for a complex painting. Periodically I make finished pieces in the medium of graphite or charcoal. “The Storyteller” 2016, which was awarded 2nd place in the drawing category in the 12th Annual ARC International Salon Competition, is a drawing in chalk & charcoal on toned paper and exists only as a drawing.

The Storyteller. 2016. Chalk & charcoal on toned paper by Cornelia Hernes

RK : What do you consider to be the ingredients for a strong composition ?

Cornelia Hernes : This is one of those abstract concepts that contain no rules, but is rich with principle guidelines. A strong composition ultimately contain dynamic harmonies between the opposite forces in nature. Like music there needs to be a variation between dark and light, soft and sharp, atmosphere and focus point. A strong composition can be created by one instrument and still be rich with beauty and grace like a subtle melody of a sitar. And it can also be something vast, complex and dramatic like an orchestration of many instruments. A successful composition has interesting linear rhythm and dynamic relationships between dark and light. It is important that the interest of the eye is kept within the composition where it can travel through different visual melodies and accents that engages the mind and the heart.

Rusty bucket and yellow flowers. 2015. Oil on linen. 21x23 inches by Cornelia Hernes

RK : What’s your philosophy on the nature of the portrait? What do you think it fulfills within society and what should its purpose be?

Cornelia Hernes : Portraiture has a metaphysical potential. We can literally travel through time and space and engage with a person who lived in the past as well as in the present. Some portraits embody a rich presence of the individual who is portrayed as well as being manifestations of the mind and the heart of the artist. We can gaze into the eyes of the Fayum mummy portraits of ancient Egypt painted over 2000 years ago and somehow connect with individuals who lived then. Or we can travel to Iife in Nigeria 700 years ago and contemplate the culture of the Yoruba people through the breathtakingly life like portraits in terra-cotta and bronze that they created. We can visit the ancient temples of India and hear the whispers of the distant past. We can fast forward in time and practically converse with one of Rembrandt's many self portraits. Or we can contemplate portraits made by the so many talented artists who live today. I think portraiture has the potential to connect us with people from the past, the present and people of the future. When engaging with portraiture, there is a possibility to reflect upon our own identity, our experience of living. It is a portal by which we can contemplate the vastness of our emotions and the human experience. I think this form of visual contemplation can nourish empathy to grow as we reflect upon the experiences and emotions of other people no matter how close or how far in time and place.

Selfportrait in Black Hat. 2018. Oil on panel. 12x12 inches by Cornelia Hernes

RK : How has the public reception been for Realist art?

Cornelia Hernes : When I studied towards my Bachelors of Fine Art degree at University of Victoria, Canada BC, I once had a professor who told me that representational art was no longer relevant as an artistic expression in our society. I was clearly a fish out of water as I had always gravitated towards representational art, but now found myself at a conceptual art institution were honing in on the craftsmanship of drawing and painting was taboo. After graduating I eventually found my way to Italy and The Florence Academy of Art where I received skill based training in drawing and painting and where I met like minded people of which there are many.

My impression of the public appreciation for realist art is that while the market is subject to cultural trends and economic fluctuations, on an innate level people are drawn to something that they can understand and relate to.

I think representational art is always going to be relevant as our relationship with nature as well as our persistent search to understand our own humanity is a timeless pursuit. Thankfully skill based art survived the 70’s and is now becoming more accessible through galleries, academies, schools and ateliers throughout the world. For those who do not have a school or a gallery nearby, the internet is an amazing way to access tutorials and online courses as well as connecting collections directly to artists.

Andrea. 2019. Oil on linen adhered to panel. 12x9 inches by Cornelia Hernes

RK : How do you view the concepts of the real, the hyper-real, the authentic and the imagined playing out within your works?

Cornelia Hernes : I have a hard time sticking to one style or idea as there are many aspects of nature that I enjoy working with. I like to work in the genres of still life, portraiture as well as themes evolving for example, mythology. I usually work from nature directly, but I will also work from source materials such as sketches and photographic reference. Occasionally I will employ solutions from my memory or imagination. When working with portraiture I sometimes work to depict a specific person whereas on other occasions, I care more about the story or emotion being portrayed where millimeter likeness matters less. While I tend to resolve my paintings quite far, I also enjoy keeping elements of subtle abstraction. I tend do omit minute detail as I favor atmospheric passages in harmony with the focal point. When translating nature, I often ask myself “what is the essence of what I see and what is the essence of what I wish to convey.” My goal is not to document every single detail, but to translate an emotion, narrative or theme. I will say that I don’t identify my work with photorealism or being hyper real. My work probably tend to hover around the real, the authentic and the imagined depending on the piece.


RK : Your figures are often set against a more abstract and somber background. Is this juxtaposition intentional? How do you create the background?

Cornelia Hernes : There are many ways in which to create a background and harmonize the portrait or figure to its environment. I do tend to spend quite a bit of time with a composition and I will brainstorm a multitude of possibilities before narrowing in on one solution. I often opt for a background that is somewhat or distinctly darker than the light on the portrait, figure or object (if I am painting a still life.) I find that this enhances the effect of the light and is conducive for translating the illusion of the three dimensional form & volume. A darker background can visually make the distance recede in contrast to making the shape of the light optically emerge from an atmospheric space.

The Jade Robe. 2019 Oil on linen. 12x10 inches by Cornelia Hernes

RK : Why do you think that the public has seemed to return to embracing figurative painters?

Cornelia Hernes : I have been told by many different people through the years “ I don’t understand art, but I like the kind of art that you do.” Of which I will often reply that one do not have to play an instrument in order to have musical preferences. I think for a while the public has been told that real art is found in intimidating, unapproachable white spaces. Usually with accompanied text to enlighten confused about the important concepts behind the work. My impression is that the pendulum of history is shifting and it is becoming more acceptable to again enjoy and celebrate art forms that are approachable and that also harbor the potential to contain a sense of mystery and an appreciation for beauty.

Midsummers night dream. 2013. Oil on linen. 23 x 35 inches by Cornelia Hernes

RK : We love your use of light and shadow. How do you use these elements to draw out the emotional impact of your work?

Cornelia Hernes : I often include a shadow to contrast with the value of the light, but also to create an internal structure. The contour of a shadow shape that exists within a form has a great potential to speak of the gesture, proportions and anatomy of the form. A shadow shape can also be a wonderful way to create a beautiful, interesting and abstract impression in conjunction with the shape of the light. When a form is partly disguised by the shape of the shadow, it tends to read as more mysterious and atmospheric. Whereas a form that is illuminated and bright may read as more revealed and uplifted. I do consider this interaction of shadow and light as a means to express emotion, however

I use it mainly to create interesting shapes designs with structural integrity. The emotions in a portrait are often expressed with the more subtle shapes surrounding the eyes, eyebrows, the lips and the cheeks. I mainly use one dominant light source on my subject matter in order to have one clear shadow shape design and to avoid dual or triple shadows that cancel out each other’s structural potential.

Wonder Oil on Linen by Cornelia Hernes

RK : How important is design in your life? Are you passionate about interior design? Is it a source of inspiration for you or not?

Cornelia Hernes : I do think that harmonious spaces elevate the heart and the mind and I care deeply about having a home that is comfortable and pleasant. Whenever my husband and I have renovated or moved into a new home, my passion for interior design has certainly flourished and the first priority has been to select colors for the rooms and avoid pressboard furniture at all costs! I find homes without books, art or music depressing and white walls a missed opportunity to surround oneself with colors.

RK : Artists and art lovers often have one painting by a great artist that has especially influenced them or holds special meaning. What is the one painting that had the biggest impact on you as you were beginning your career, and why?

Cornelia Hernes : My milestone art experience was when I first saw a painting by the Norwegian Artist, Odd Nerdrum. I was 16 at that time and had given up on the idea of pursuing art as a career. I thought that representational art was completely lost and that it would not be possible to pursue today. I came into a dark room in the exhibition space where one massive painting was dramatically illuminated. One of his paintings “woman killing wounded man” completely took me by surprise. A brutal theme so beautifully painted. It created a seismic shift of what I thought was possible. Soon after I began painting in oil.

Bathing Beauty. Oil on linen. 21x17 inches by Cornelia Hernes

RK : What’s a typical day in your studio like?

Cornelia Hernes : I often begin the day with checking up on the painting I am working on and then I spend some moments considering what I will be focusing on that day. Sometimes I paint, other times I prepare materials to paint on, stretch a canvas or even measure artworks to be framed. I will also attend to emails from clients and my online students. If I am painting, I begin the painting session with mixing up the colors that I will be working on that day. I will tune in the music, put my apron on, roll up my sleeves and get to work!


RK : What do you hope people take away from your work?

Cornelia Hernes : During the process of depicting nature, there is a connection and an appreciation for the subject matter that tends to grow. There is a sense of love that emerge from studying the forms closely. I hope that this deep appreciation is translated in my work and experienced by the viewer in some way. I wish for my work to inspire tranquility and curiosity as well as being uplifting and engaging. For me, the visual language is a way to celebrate the many beautiful and often subtle moments of life as well as contemplating upon the timelessness of our vast and tender nature.

The Tapestry of Life. 2012. Oil on linen. 41x27 inches by Cornelia Hernes

RK : Any projects you would like to share?

Cornelia Hernes : Currently I am making video tutorials of my portrait painting process that is available on a platform called Patreon : www.patreon.com/Corneliahernesartwork

It is a subscription based platform that makes it possible for art students of all levels, professional artists, collectors and anyone with an interest in portrait painting to gain access to hours of video content and information about oil painting. It is exciting to live in a time when it is possible to directly connect with people all across the world who has a shared passion for art.


Rk : So many people who are just starting to paint are intimidated by oil paint. What’s your advice for people who are interested in exploring this medium?

Cornelia Hernes : If you are starting completely from scratch, it can be helpful to first attend a workshop, or watch some YouTube videos, or see some online tutorials by professional artists, such as you will find on my Patreon page.

I recommend to start with the basic ingredients of oil painting and expand from there. One does not need a very complex palette to begin with. Even using a white, black, ochre and an earth red goes a long way in painting the portrait and the figure. I recommend against using overly complicated mediums as well as excessive amounts of solvents in the painting process. Use a simple medium containing linseed oil in sparing amounts. I recommend to at least have 15 brushes in a variation of sizes when starting out. Avoid the cheapest brushes on the market as they loose their shape and hair quickly. Then you need a palette and a palette knife to mix colors on the palette. Lastly you need a primed canvas or panel to paint on and then go from there!

Morning Moment 100X70 CM. Oil on Canvas. 2009 by Cornelia Hernes

RK : We (Retro Kolkata) are trying to build one single stage for all the artists, because we believe that artists are the most beautiful creation of God and geographical boundary can never break their unity and harmony. Please say something about our initiative and any special message for your followers.

Cornelia Hernes : In a world with such much flux and distress, it is amazing to see bridge builders who work to bring people together and celebrate artistic expressions. Thank you, Retro Kolkata for your beautiful vision to connect, educate and inspire!


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