Léon Krempel: You studied sculpture at first in Dusseldorf. How did you end up painting?
David Czupryn: In Lucy McKenzie’s painting class there was a workshop on trompe l’œil. My first pictures were my own sculptures, painted. Unlike sculptures, they were freed from gravity. I saw a lot of potential in it.
K.: Trompe-l’œil means “deceive the eye.” Do you want to deceive the viewer?
C.: There is always a point where you let yourself be deceived, but then also the point where you are clearly aware of being deceived. When you realize it’s painted, that’s when the pictures start to get exciting. Their nuances emerge. Their contents surrender their mysteries.
K.: The first thing the disillusioned viewer perceives is the picture, how it hangs on the wall. What do they encounter next?
C.: The total surface.
K.: The total surface?
C.: By that I mean a very smooth surface. I can only speak for myself, not for the art of this or that era. In our time, I wonder what a painted picture actually is. It’s obviously flat, but how flat and what does flat mean? Flat like a desktop, flat like user interfaces, photography, print media? I don’t have any brushstrokes in my paintings; they’re all flat in my own way.
K.: Your pictures sometimes give me the feeling of standing in front of a painted, box-shaped barrier. How do you construct space?
C.: I understand space to be very limited. In my work, there’s neither infinite image space nor horizons. Often I hint at architecture, sometimes only in the form of a wall; everything takes place in the foreground. I make sure that the objects approach the viewer instead of the viewer having to enter the picture to grasp its atmosphere. I’m looking for the opposite of immersive space. The atmosphere of the image must be strong enough to have an effect on the space where the viewer is physically located.
K.: How does your copy of the 1937 painting Coups de Bâtons (Truncheon blows) by the Egyptian surrealist Mayo (»Baton blows«) fit into this?
C.: Well, I do not know if I copied or interpreted it; what I liked about it though is the decomposition of a crowd that builds up directly in front of the viewer. Mayo abandoned the calvary perspective used by painters of battle scenes; he arranged the melée like a grid of limbs and weapons, so you can look through it into the background.
K.: In a series of three pictures (»Both at once« i.e.), you break open the box-shaped space to paint cloudy skies. What attracts you to this classical task?
C.: Well, it’s interesting that you think the sky is in the background. Perhaps it is only mirrored, made out of tiles or wallpaper. I didn’t paint the sky as a natural sky. Rather, I am guided by an idea of a material that depicts heaven. So we’re back to the ambiguity of trompe l’œil. In Both at Once, we see a Janus face, who also does not know where he is looking, first forwards towards the viewer, then back to a sky that isn’t necessarily one.
K.: Rather aptly for heaven, does death greet us in another picture from the trilogy?
C.: Yes, namely as a silent valet or silent butler. Death personified in an everyday object.
K.: Conspicuous figures like death are part of the fixed repertoire of your pictures. You have even developed your own formal vocabulary for them. In the trompe l’œil tradition, on the other hand, they only appear occasionally. Where do yours come from?
C.: My figures are inspired by figurative sculpture. That has been the same for me across all periods. In painting I can literally twist and turn them as I want. Anything that fits the context is allowed. But you also encounter my figures in real life.
K.: But you mostly omit any gender-specific features.
C.: Yes, for me it’s simply about our species, and not politics or sociology, where women and men are still often perceived separately. That’s why I look at more general human behaviors. For example, “aggression” could be personified by a genderless figure in my picture.
K.: How do you indicate your figures’ characters?
C.: Just like in sculpture, attributes sharpen the figures’ characters for me.
K.: Your pictures are full of quotes and allusions. What are they needed for?
C.: Once again, much has been taken from sculpture here. For me, quotations from other artists’ works have a function beyond the attributes, in that they combine art and everyday life. To give an example, imagine Isa Genzken’s concrete radio. In an exhibition, it could be read as a metaphor for anti-communication, for example. In a still life that I paint, it refers both to the artwork with all its possibilities of interpretation and to the everyday object.
K.: Let me return to the formal once more. When surface is so important to you, what is the significance of color?
C.: A friend of mine once said, “Oh, David doesn’t actually need light to paint, he knows what’s written on the tube.” It’s true, I think in materials and they require the appropriate colors. Color is not secondary, but it subordinates itself exactly like all the other aspects. When examining a material that I would like to portray, I look at its composition first. Painting and its techniques enable me to portray chemical compositions or aging processes, for example, in a much more differentiated way than would be possible if I were to only pay attention to form and color, or to take photographs.
K.: You used complementary color contrasts in the image duo Pseudo Twins. It seems to me that color is able to do a little more than that for you.
C.: The Pseudo Twins are drawn from axisymmetric pseudo-architectures. You know, these Roman grotesques, fantastic, how weightless it all seems, eggs and other small objects hung on threads, only birds moving among them freely. In my interpretation, they became two pictures with one figure each. There is no perfect symmetry, that’s what makes it exciting. The figure on the left is made out of white marble and light wood, and the one on the right out of black marble and dark wood—the complementary color contrasts also serve to link what is spatially separated. Working on it led me to the extreme point where the two images mutually complete and neutralize each other.
K.: How do you use light and shadow in your pictures?
C.: Pragmatically. For me, it’s a question of volumes and surfaces. Because of this “and,” there are no direct light sources in my pictures, except once from a burning candle. In my work, it’s always what I call Bernd-and-Hilla-Becher weather: midday, cloudy sky, diffused light, no harsh shadows.
K.: One of your large-formats has a programmatic character in my opinion. How do you describe your 2017 image Alternative Life Forms?
C.: Very briefly: You have four non-gender-specific figures in front of the wall of a house with a balcony. From left to right, these are architecture, writing, music, and art. Art appears as painting and painting, on the other hand, as archeology.
K.: A self-portrait?
C.: The art-painting-archeology was supposed to be that at first, but then I did away with any similarities to myself.
K.: One of music’s features is a picture by Andy Warhol of Basquiat. Why Basquiat?
C.: Well, Basquiat was a member of a band called Gray before he made his career as an artist. And the guitar you see underneath is Picasso’s guitar. I have to think of Basquiat’s life story, where, as a little boy, he stands with his mother in front of a Picasso at the MoMA and thinks that he wants to do that too.
K.: In your recent painting, you also deal with subculture. What does it mean to you and where is it reflected here?
C.: In the picture my particular concern is the techno subculture that emerged out of electronic dance music. In my figures, I tried to translate the intoxication of its devotees and build them their own temple—it is the largest picture I have painted so far. Subculture is interesting for me, because it repeatedly develops beautiful microcosms and is innovative. It has its own particular codes and thrives well in a political climate, before it becomes mainstream and people cash in on it.