Silent Butler by David Czupryn deals with traditional tropes of the history of art, seen through the lenses of the German artist’s signature style: memento mori and the passage of time. The main character is uncannily domestic and familiar – the spectral personification of Death is indeed based on the once commonly spread piece of furniture known as ‘valet stand’ or, translated literally from German, as the more sinister ‘silent butler’ (two Late Roman and Early Modern examples on the next page).
The figure holds a candle in its left hand which, in the genre of still life is a canonical metaphor for the passage of time: if Death decides to blow out the candle, it’s the end. The viewer feels as if suspended in time – Death has taken the candle in its hand, will it extinguish the flame with its chilly breath, or will it let it burn on?
Our gaze moves across the painting, to the figure’s right hand, holding an Alexander Calder’s mobile as a scale – measuring good and bad in one’s life – and underneath it grows a trumpet vine, which Native American Shamans employed to summon ghosts. And indeed, behind Death, there are two ghostly clouds, whispering in its ears and influencing its judgment.
This painting is representative of Czupryn’s practice in many of its features: the pictorial representation of sculpture, the skillfully rendered faux marble, the trompe l’oeil box-like space in which the scene takes place, and the rendition of plant forms as hybrids between nature and man-made.