PUBLISHED IN ISSUE 18
INTERVIEW BY CLAIRE MILBRATH
Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico first argued in the 17th century that “primitive” man was closer to the source of poetry and inspiration than the “civilized” man. Indeed, the minimal etchings of ancient art often now resemble the sleek effectiveness of modern logo design. Appreciation for the mode of Primitivism would only grow as modern man perfected the art of image-making. The invention of photography did little to motivate artists in pursuit of achieving realism in drawing and painting. In rebellion to the camera’s rigorous attention to detail and depth of field, artists looked to tribal art and children’s art, for ways of seeing beyond the three-dimensional world.
As technology advances faster than I can update my iOS, classical communication and language collapse under the weight of over-saturation. With an excess of information, the message is easily lost. Our search engine optimization mechanics tell us that all text must be larger than eight point font, and written at grade seven level literacy. Increasingly, it’s easier to communicate with emojis rather than find the words.
Denise Kupferschmidt’s minimal visual vocabulary invokes Primitivism and earlier forms of ancient iconography. Through her simple outlines, which she calls Crude Idols, Denise communicates complex ideas efficiently and instantly. “People tend to project more complicated ideas on simple forms,” she says, making work about fundamental polarities of good and evil, masculinity and femininity. Denise also has a special appreciation of paper, using aged stock from old books for her printmaking, or building totems out of paper cut-outs. Denise is a time-traveller artist, borrowing language tools from Mesopotamia, yet making visual art that functions as instant-messaging.
What draws you to the shoe?
I always like working with objects that have been important throughout human history, and so their design has changed, like vases or shoes. They are two objects that can be endlessly visually riffed-on with the practical use still there, intact. So I can use those objects to create endless series of drawings where I just keep visually redefining them.
Women’s shoes have a specific function in my work; they are something people use to define a woman. They are tremendously political with regards to feminism—women’s role in the workplace, sexually. All feminine accessories are. But I recently got into drawing women walking, stepping forward into something beyond the edge of the image boundary, using their forward momentum to represent their agency, their choosing to move, to walk, to go their own way. A high-heeled shoe is specifically feminine, yet powerful; the entrance of a foot in a pump in television and film represents the entrance of sex, power, choice, domination. Hillary Clinton has been represented on the cover of magazines as a pump crushing a little man in a suit. It’s a fraught image but a powerful one, and it communicates so much.
When did you start making art?
I’ve been inclined to draw since I was little, and I would say I also had a desire to create beyond drawing that came out in a wild, destructive way where I would paint or draw on my family’s things, our walls, clothes, my body. I never knew how to channel it. It always felt bigger than me, and it still does. I feel like I’m always trying to tap into some larger reservoir of creativity, but maybe it’s something that could overtake me, so I’m apprehensive about it. It doesn’t feel like it pairs with day-to-day life that well.
What historical era are you most interested in?
On Twitter I came across a group of historians who are medieval feminists, and they try to uncover the secret lives of women during that time by studying texts and manuscripts of that era, to show that women weren’t voiceless in the past, that feminism isn’t just contemporary, and the way women are represented throughout history is always from a male perspective, which should be questioned. I also got into reading about the Black Plague recently, and the way it changed the political landscape of Europe and Russia because so many people died. I was never into that kind of history before but it’s really fascinating! Maybe I have some kind of need to see that humans can survive something that feels really apocalyptic like the Black Death to get some perspective on our current political situation.
Do you consider your work to be fashion?
No, but I feel informed by the way fashion reflects society and shifting cultural norms. Kind of like, “What do women look like now, and how does it visually represent how much power they have in society currently?” I also recently found some fashion drawings I made in highschool of what I thought were really cool outfits, and they kind of look so much like my work now!
Do you feel there is a sense of humour in your work?
I think in drawing, there is inherently a kind of goofiness, or whimsy. There’s something childlike about it that is hard to get away from, so I just accept it, and will often try to accentuate it. I end up thinking that a lot of my work is funny although I have a hard time expressing exactly why.
What is your favourite symbol?
I designed a beach towel once to sell, and it had one of my figure drawings that is more feminine-looking on it. When I got the box of towels it had a label on it with what the printers had titled the job, which was “Lady Symbol.” Just kind of sums it all up.
See our Artist T-shirt with Denise:
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