Baton Blows is a reinvention of the Egyptian Surrealist Mayo’s 1937 Coups de Bâtons. Czupryn has been remarkably faithful to the original. His composition and battling forms are identical to Mayo’s; they just appear crisper without the patina of history.
Czupryn has appropriated the same symbolism the Egyptian Surrealists mobilised in their fight against the twin evils of fascism and colonialism. Mayo’s spindly, angular figures were not just born out the artist’s interest in the formal concerns of modernism but aimed at deconstructing the ‘ideal’ bodies of fascism and colonialism. The concrete fences which flank the scene are a jarring emblem of British oppression, they hem the fighters in and provide a brutish backdrop to this painful struggle.
Czupryn has pushed these elements to the fore. In his interpretation politics has acquired a quite literal materiality. It is a war waged between actual not abstract bodies, their physicality clear in the insistent wood grain on their surface. Here, wooden is not a byword for stiff, but instead represents some organic living (and livid) essence. The material is embedded with symbolic meaning: there is Egyptian mulberry wood, cedar from Lebanon. One reclining figure has been crafted in tamarisk – a wood traditionally used in the making of funeral caskets. The painting is shocking: every surface is depicted with Czupryn’s virtuosity, and an acuity that suggests the sharpness of fiction is truer than fact.
The sky is another departure from Mayo’s original work. These arcs of radiating tesserae have the appearance of a mosaic, but also recall pixels. This only adds to the surreality of the action, which becomes like a scene in a video game. Baton Blows thus calls up the digital forum in which political skirmishes now take place, from the initial waves of the Arab Spring which reverberated around twitter, to the Facebook ‘echo chambers’ of recent elections. Czupryn has painted a Coups des Bâtons for this century: a reminder that the past can come back to life with horrifying clarity and vigour, an uncanny resurrection of history.