Chimerical somatic discovery is a central theme in David Czupryn‘s oil paintings, and is comparably central in the work of Samuel Beckett, the experimental Irish playwright and author of such canonical stage plays as Waiting for Godot. In fact, many parallels can be drawn between these seemingly unconnected explorers of the body and mind, residing somewhere in the intersection of Beckett‘s visuality and Czupryn‘s theatricality.
Czupryn‘s paintings appear as snapshots within a story, a moment within a larger narrative progression. In one, we imagine the act of ironing. In another, the creature is climbing. Though not performance artworks of themselves, his paintings have a certain sense of movement within them. Likewise, Beckett‘s work favours visual stillness, and indeed he was known for an uncompromising perfection in the staging of his plays, frequently diverging from written texts in pursuit of an appropriate image (such as with Not I, where the speechless “Auditor” character could be omitted entirely for a more decisive tableau).
Moreover, each artist pushes the boundaries of his discipline, and investigates the viewer experience. In Beckett, there is grotesque but extravagant celebration of the relationship between Audience and Stage, where in some cases certain characters become representations of either the former or the latter, in no subtle way. Czupryn‘s paintings illustrate a similarly unsettling mastery of medium. He applauds art’s inherent intent to deceive, and by using an advances layering technique he produces the illusion of unblemished truth by achieving a painted ‘flatness’, thus giving a sense of perfection that only serves to amplify the counterintuitive and fantastical images presented in the paintings themselves. Though this hyperrealism creates a state of fluidity, subjects of Czupryn‘s paintings often intermix a surprising jumble of natural and artificial elements. As he describes: “Mostly I use lifelike patterns and consistencies alongside artificial, fakes, engineered materials to create a clash”. The effect is pleasantly contradictory; the resulting images, a collection of vaguely humanoid dream-like suggestions, both beg for an interpretation of their narrative and fundamentally resist it.
Indeed, like Czupryn, Beckett‘s narratives are evocative and peculiar, and they too resist any confirmed explanation, invoking much speculation among academics and theatre-goers alike. Yet, despite this resistance to definitive analysis, both he and Czupryn demonstrate a clear focus on the body and mind, a development which no doubt is born from their shared interest in Freudian psychoanalysis. Both seem determined to explore the most eccentric characteristics of their subjects. Czupryn states, in a recent interview with Eugenio Re Rebaudengo, “When I’m working on a character, I try to render it very focused: the most important attributes are sharpened and I switch between psychopathy and empathy to figure its personality out.”
Both Czupryn‘s paintings and Beckett‘s stage plays also consistently depict grotesque, ugly, unpleasant images; neither conceals or beautifies his subjects, as if defiantly challenging his audience. Don’t come back. Don’t look. I dare you.
The most notable links between the two figures is in their shared deconstruction of the human body, and their thoughtful uses of foreign materials to reassemble anthropomorphic figures. Czupryn‘s explorations of disembodiment take more fantastical forms than Beckett‘s, but are nevertheless a central feature of the oeuvre of both. For example, in Beckett, disembodiment takes the form of characters half buried in sand, or totally shrouded save a single orifice, or perhaps presented as talking heads protruding from giant urns (Happy Days, Not I, Play, respectively). Though is it precisely here, where the two artists most closely meet, that they also starkly depart. Beckettian disembodiment is often read as a direct line of sight into Beckett‘s personal distress – his work is lately supplemented by speculations of his hypersensitivity to his own body, his recurring illnesses, and mental afflictions. Scholar and writer Lois Oppenheim, former President of the Samuel Beckett Society, now co-director at the Hot Stove Project, a liberation movement for “thought and behavioural differences” (so-called ailments of the mind), describes Beckett‘s relationship to his own body in a 2009 paper:
“[a] hyper-visual mode of thinking, his hyper vigilant relationship with his own body, a body which produced extraneous heart beats, eye troubles, lung problems, and a host of other ailments, some of which were anxiety provoked and all of which were anxiety producing…”
Given this biographical insight, Beckettian reconstructions of incongruous (body) parts are unsurprisingly interpreted most often as indications of character solipsism, stasis, or death.
Conversely, disembodiment in Czupryn‘s paintings can be interpreted more openly; the composite beings he depicts are contrarily embedded with life. Though Czupryn‘s paintings seem, like Beckett‘s writings, almost impossible to divorce from a discussion of either the body or mental affliction, the interests of the two artists seem quite different. One such interest for Czupryn appears to be addiction. He shares this insight:
“For example, the painting ‘(fig.) of H)33d5’ is based on drawings which I made of drug addicted women living in my neighbourhood. The painting with the same figure ‘rotten_ronny’ is about an acquaintance who died very young of a drug overdose. And the third one, which is specular but is the same outline, represents a former good friend of mine who also struggles with drug abuse.”
Unlike Beckett, Czupryn‘s work is less a response to himself than to others, his culture, and society. Supporting this is evidence of his fixation on synthetic materials that mimic the qualities of nature, another central theme to his work. Disembodiment in his paintings provides a means to amplify contradictions between nature and synthetics. In other words, Czupryn‘s work is observational, whereas Beckett‘s is fundamentally experiential. Yet, despite this difference, it is useful to liken these artists’ influences and the similarities in their visual outcomes. As viewers, readers, and spectators understanding their semblances serves to give us context, and a perspective from which to appreciate their work.
Without doubt all mediums of art serve to inform and impact each other, and Beckett and Czupryn are not the only artists who seek or sought to radically defy their chosen medium, to confront the body, or to derive inspiration from Freud or psychoanalysis. Yet, although Beckett may not be the most obvious (or only) sibling to Czupryn‘s work, there are undeniable connections between them, in style and subject, which can enlighten our experiences of both.