Nature and ritual: The meditative art of Mychael Hennig

STIR engages with visionary American digital artist, Mychael Hennig, and his stunning 3D compositions.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : May 22, 2021

Within the wide ambit of digital creative practices, there is an unmistakable trend of artists using technology; that which we innately place at an opposing end in a binary with the ‘natural’, in order to venerate nature itself. Twenty-eight-year-old 3D and CGI artist Mychael Hennig’s work forms the perfect entry point in order to examine this phenomenon, as the practitioner, who has accrued a decade’s worth of experience working with drawing, painting, sculpture and photography has, off late, immersed himself within the depths of 3D art platforms. While Hennig’s practice is only two years old, his pieces are immaculately crafted, and brim with a deep reverence for nature and organic forms. He acknowledges the irony of his favoured medium, telling STIR, “I consider my work to be organic surrealism with a strong emphasis on nature and psychedelia. I find using a cold, calculating machine as a medium to make warm, natural and organic artwork to be a fascinating contrast."

Untitled | Mychael Hennig | STIRworld
Untitled Image: Mychael Hennig

Hennig explains that his appreciation for nature is grounded within a childhood spent in Toledo, Ohio in the United States. He says, “I grew up in a town surrounded by forests, and spent a lot of my childhood playing and exploring out in the wilderness. Those experiences I have had out in nature have stuck with me throughout the years making artwork." Along with his love for nature, Hennig was also heavily influenced by the artistry of practitioners who lean towards the visionary, and this can be evidenced quite clearly from a shared usage of psychedelic techniques within their works. Among these, Hennig mentions the famed visionary artist, Alex Grey, and his iconic visual art for American Progressive Rock band ‘TOOL’ as being particularly important for his aesthetic development. Originally wanting to design Skateboard deck graphics in the likeness of art by Grey and others, Hennig would eventually stop drawing and painting in order to pursue a career in professional photography. To this end, he would attend a school for the same and progress on to shoot portraits and weddings. Eventually, however, he would begin to feel a sense of torpor creeping into his life; a consequence of his relative dispassion regarding the line of work he had found himself in. He explains, “After a few years, I began to feel very burnt out and artistically drained with photography. I felt there was something missing, and I didn't fit properly in the medium anymore." Led to contemplating his professional role, the artist would have a breakthrough in his deliberations whilst watching a particularly stunning scene involving a folding cityscape in Christopher Nolan’s Inception, which is a film known for its exceptional use of CGI. This prompted Hennig to delve deep into 3D software, which eventually led him to his workhorse: Blender.

Untitled | Mychael Hennig | STIRworld
Untitled Image: Mychael Hennig

Discussing workflow, Hennig says, “I will normally try to keep my workflow as simple and hassle free as possible. I have a massive list of ideas I would like to get through, and when you have that, it's important to get your process as seamless and locked down as possible. I primarily use Blender software to setup my 3D scenes. It's what I started working in 3D with, and it's what I am most used to. For all of the elaborate headdresses and things, I will use Houdini software to create those fractal-like pieces."   Interestingly, Hennig mentions that he does not see his human subjects as front-and-center in his pieces, but rather, as mere mannequins; carriers for his other, more psychedelic elements. He continues, describing how he uses two other programs; namely Marvelous Designer and Lightroom in his workflow, and one wonders if there is in fact a degree of interchangeability at play with digital software. If not, perhaps it is a certain shared logic with regards to interface that has enabled so many practitioners such as Hennig to effectively harness multiple digital applications in the pursuit of their artistic vision.

Hennig’s art radiates certain serenity | STIRworld
Hennig’s art radiates certain serenity Image: Mychael Hennig

While Hennig’s work is primarily grounded within his affinity towards nature, he is specifically preoccupied with creating a meditative serenity within his pieces. He explains that nothing really resonates with him the way organic artwork does, and that hailing from a small town close to nature, a certain quiet, introspective energy that one may find out in the woods lingers into his artworks. Along with this, he also pursues a visualisation of nature as transformative and experiential within his pieces, saying, “I think people naturally resonate with seeing others go through some kind of change, and to me that's what my artwork represents. Normal everyday people going through internal metamorphosis, shown externally outside of their bodies. Most of my artwork is a metaphor for personal growth, in myself, and in others." There is most certainly a ritualistic quality to Hennig’s pieces, which suggests his subjects are going through a transformative experience. However, in keeping with the artist’s aforementioned assertions regarding primacy within his artistry, it is these experiences that come to define his works, not their human participants.

An example of Hennig’s subjects “carrying” his art | Mychael Hennig | STIRworld
An example of Hennig’s subjects “carrying” his art Image: Mychael Hennig

Hennig mentions that the pandemic has not slowed him down in the slightest; rather, he only worked harder on his artistic ambitions, and as a result, has made great progress in his personal practice. He regards last year as being one of incredible personal growth for him, having been able to learn new creative programs as well as solidify a direction for his practice to move towards. Lately, he has also found a community to call his own, having become a part of Blender Share on Instagram, which is a collective dedicated to sharing renders created in the Blender software. Currently, Hennig is planning on pushing further into his deep, introspective practice, but mentions that he also wants to branch out a little; perhaps acquiring new production skills and expanding on his aesthetic sensibilities in the process. He ends his interview with STIR saying, “To me the most important thing is keeping my work authentic, staying true to the vision that I have, and making the art that I enjoy seeing most."

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