For our first exhibition with the painter David Czupryn, ARTUNER founder Eugenio Re Rebaudengo sat down with the artist to discuss his practice and the work currently on display.
Eugenio Re Rebaudengo (ERR): How did you come to painting as your preferred form of expression? You began as a sculptor, what influenced you to painting?
David Czupryn (DC): Yes, I began as a sculptor. I was studying at the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie with Georg Herold, when I decided to switch to Lucy McKenzie’s class. She held workshops on painting techniques, mostly trompe l’oeil – she had a very technique-based style of teaching. So I began studying painting: one week per month, five days a week, from 9 AM to 5 PM, with only one hour break.
I stopped doing my own art and focused on these exercises instead – I practiced before and after the workshops, everyday. I had to put all my previous works, the sculptures, in storage along with all the materials, tools and machines.
After about a year I had started on this new path, I saw a late-Gothic grisaille painting of a sculpture in a niche. Then I thought “Ok, let’s paint your own sculptures like this”. I thought it was a fun idea, so I got some of my earlier polychrome artworks out of storage and started portraying them. So I did my first painting in 2012.
ERR: Can you talk to us about your technique? How do you achieve such a “flatness” in your paintings, especially as there are multiple layers to them?
DC: I’m using a layer technique to achieve consistency. Most importantly, I apply the paint on the canvas as ‘flat’ as possible, so that it looks quite even. However, I do not want my paintings to look like a photograph or a digital print, with a very compact surface. That is a flatness that I don’t want.
One reason why technique is so important is the different characteristics of the materials I depict in my paintings. In nature, every opaque material has a special kind of ‘deepness’. I want to represent these traits … So the layer technique is perfect for that, because the pigment is lying on top of other pigments, and that gives the painting a peculiar colourfulness.
I create such ‘flatness’ since I don’t want to paint an image that suggests an ‘endless’ deep space, or one that has a horizon. In fact, the settings are not very spacious. Since the background is very narrow, the objects in the foreground appear closer to the viewer: they appear as being physically between the background and the viewer.
The plainest way of developing a background in my paintings is to portray a material – such as a wooden or marble board. In such cases, I start with an architectural setting which shrinks or expands the format of the canvas – only then I proceed to the foreground.
Another way of achieving the ‘flatness’ is the light-setting. I don’t use direct light sources – the lighting is comparable to the one used by the photographers couple Becher. It is called ‘Bernd and Hilla Becher Weather’, which means that is noon and cloudy. The light does not shine on an object directly, it is not dramatic and shadows are soft. In this way the lighting is more identifiable with the atmosphere in the room where the paintings are hanging.
ERR: It’s very clear that it is very important for you to create a feeling of the uncanny. Can you talk to us about why?
DC: I feel a connection to it. I have a special interest in objects, books, films and artworks that are dealing with the uncanny. I also have a collection of objects which to me are suggestive of that feeling when I look at and think about them.
I remember I was visiting a show in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, ‘Crime et Châtiment’, and I saw some puppets made by a prisoner from 19th century. He made these voodoo puppets representing the jailers. Also, there was a wooden door from a prison cell where a prisoner had carved the name ‘David’ – the thought that is was made by a human, a prisoner in another time… That felt uncanny.
‘Uncanny’ does not signify only ‘horrifying’ to me. It means more. Sigmund Freud comes very close to give a definition to it with his essay ‘Das Unheimliche’ (‘The Uncanny’).
Also, there are many artists dealing with this concept, since for human beings it is rather common to experience such feeling. It is possible to trace the developing interest about this topic in both cultural and art history. There is always someone dealing with it – it is like a central theme without being a central theme.
ERR: Is your work informed by metaphysical art and/or surrealism? Artists such like de Chirico or Dali, are they an inspiration? And if not, what other artists?
DC: Yes, as I mentioned before they also deal with this ‘central theme’. These two artists are definitely amongst the ones who inspire me, and I am aware that their work is very complex and I cannot reduce them to the uncanny only. Some more artists that inspire me are: Hieronymous Bosch, Arnold Böcklin, Ferdinand Cheval, Alfred Kubin for example. But the two artists who are my all time favourite inspirations are Diane Arbus and Matthew Barney.
ERR: Are you interested in psychoanalysis and is this something you’re keen on exploring in your work?
DC: Yes, I’m interested in Sigmund Freud, Pierre Bourdieu, Mikhail Bakhtin, Marshall McLuhan… but I don’t explore it in my work.
ERR: How did you find your experience at the Duesseldorf Kunstakademie? Was it difficult at the beginning to move from a sculpting class to painting?
DC: Some aspects were positive, others negative. At times I think we need an art academy system, but often I think we don’t – there are so many pros and cons. But this is another topic.
ERR: You’ve studied under Lucy McKenzie and Tomma Abts, could you describe the impact that these artists have had on your practice?
DC: The impact of Lucy McKenzie, with whom I studied for 2 years, is the technique. She would not talk much about her students’ work. She thought it was more important that students talked amongst themselves about their works. She had a very radical teaching style. This is what I learned from her: develop an idea, think objectively, believe in it and execute it thoroughly, without distraction. Going straight to the core.
Tomma Abts taught me at the end of my studies at the art academy. With her, we talked a lot about other artists, their works and about show installation as well. We also often visited exhibitions together with the class. It is fruitful to talk to her about your own works. She knows a great deal about art in general and, most importantly, she divulges her knowledge. Abts is very interested in her students’ thoughts. She has a subtle way of speaking about your artworks – after a certain time these sentences become important guidelines.
ERR: Some of your works appear to have anthropomorphic forms/characters, such as “rotten_ronny”, what role do these protagonists play? Would you say that there is a narrative element to your works?
DC: I’m not working primarily on narration. However the story behind the figure is the motor behind the development of a figurative painting. When I’m working on a character I try render it very focused: the most important attributes are sharpened and I switch between psychopathy and empathy to figure its personality out.
ERR: You seem interested in art history and works by other artists, sculpture in particular. What is the reason behind including some works, such as Mike Kelley and Isa Genzken, in your own paintings?
DC: I use them as a way to explore how sculptures ‘work’ in a painting.
ERR: There are some characters and shapes that seem to appear recurrently in your paintings, is that the case?
DC: Yes, definitely. If I realise that there is a figure I can work with – in a different setting, but dealing with the same topic – I use it several times. In this case I make a cardboard template of it. 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.
ERR: The illusionistic scenarios of your works often consist of marble, wood and concrete textures. What draws you to the use of these lifelike patterns and consistencies? Also, are you interested in study of plant forms biology?
DC: Mostly I use lifelike patterns and consistencies alongside artificial, faked, engineered materials to create a clash.
However, yes, I also study natural materials to understand how marble, wood, plants, etc… grow. It is important for conveying the authenticity of the depicted surfaces. But a while ago I started making drawings and studies of plastic plants and other synthetic materials. Then I compared natural materials with ‘fake’ ones produced by industries. So I started to synthesise them in my paintings, to show materials from another artificial point of view.