Black ink and book paper are her materials of choice. Meet Denise Kupferschmidt, the New York-based artist investigating the female form – and in turn her own – in her latest exhibition, Room for One.
What are the main themes explored in Room for One?
It’s a show made up of drawings that I made this year, and some from the last couple of years. The drawings are part of an open series where I’ve been investigating woman-like figures and objects that can be stand-ins for them, like vases or shoes. The figures are often found posing in ways you would see in advertising and they’re always foregrounded, like a magazine cover. I had previously thought of the figures as a universal representation of a body for anyone to identify with, but I don’t believe anymore that there is a universal anything, and I think the figures are more specifically women even if I didn’t originally intend for that when I started the series years ago. There’s also a wall painting of a very large female figure in a typical fashion advertisement pose that also could relate to the trope of the reclining woman found throughout painting history; her size is intimidating and she takes up the whole wall, all the space given to her. The title could be about how we’re stuck in our own heads and no one else can see ourselves the way we see ourselves, yet that vision is often colored with others’ viewpoints that we’ve internalized.
Could you tell me a little about your upbringing and in what ways it has guided your creatively?
Growing up, I loved TV. I watched a lot of television from a very young age because I was alone after school until my mum got home from work. I was so affected by the culture of advertising I saw on television – of wanting, examining your physical body, and pursuing a perfect form – like so many young women, it changed the way I saw everything, and myself. Every time I draw a figure I feel like I’m retracing some kind of map I internalized when I was younger of my body and every specific flaw it contains, superimposed with a map of some kind of perfect body. The differences used to be so important to me. Luckily I’m at a place in life where I see myself differently and can accept my natural, imperfect body. I still love TV though.
How would you describe your artistic style?
It’s a style out of necessity. Before I developed the way I work now I was really trying out a lot of things, materials, ways of making images, and I was having a hard time focusing on any of it. So I decided purposefully that I would only work on drawing. I came up with a method of producing drawings that allowed me to work quickly and make a lot of work, so that I could work repetitively with an image to get to the core of what made me like it. That’s why I started working with black ink on book pages; materials are inexpensive, plentiful and not precious, so I could really try to find out what a drawing was all about and not worry about the outcome. And the absence of color just made what was happening with the forms clearer for me, and allowed me to work faster. Once I had “figured out” the drawings, which took years, then I was able to take that and start working on sculptures and paintings again using what I had discovered on paper. As far as how things look, I’d say I’m most influenced right now by the work of Henri Matisse, the photography of Étienne-Jules Marey, the French scientist who helped invent moving images on film, whose investigations into how bodies in motion look I really identify with visually and spiritually, and fashion magazines.
Do you have a mantra that you live by?
I always tell myself to never speak in absolutes. I feel like whenever I make some kind of declaration, “Oh I'll never do this or that”, I find soon enough I’m in a scenario where I have to contradict myself. So I try to maintain a fluidity in my positions on things, which also helps in the studio to not get so locked into what kind of artist I am.
I’m in some group shows this winter at Brand New Gallery in Milan, also showing at TSA, Cuevas Tilleard and lorimoto gallery in NYC. I have a solo show coming up at my gallery, Halsey McKay, in the spring. And I’m going to be working at the Yaddo artists’ retreat in upstate New York for a month in February. So I’ll be busy pretty much until it’s warm again, which is fine. The winter is perfect for getting your work done in a cozy studio.
Room for One is on view at The Gallery at Ace Hotel New York through January.