Reimagining the near past and constructing local identities. A Fulbright project by Linnea West (2012-13)
I had a studio visit with painter Adrián Kupcsik yesterday, going to his apartment, and from there one floor up to his studio. In the past few years he has taken a different, more painterly and emotive direction with his work, which previously were highly conceptual and also playful. The mood of his recent work is more somber, and—of interest to me—deals both explicitly and implicitly with social issues. For example, his paintings of Victor Orbán, current Prime Minister of Hungary, as a soccer player, are explicitly political and implicitly critical. Orbán has directed a lot of funds toward soccer, such as the construction of a football stadium in his hometown. Kupcsik’s newer works also feature ballet dancers in abandoned spaces or with protest signs, exploiting the gap between a traditional conception of high art and culture and the role/world they inhabit in these images.
I particularly liked hearing the story behind a charcoal series he made over the summer. He discovered a cemetery that was a monument to fallen Soviet soldiers. Remember, the Soviet Army was first a liberator and then a jailer in Hungarian history. So, inspired by the inscriptions on the grave that only listed rank and name in Cyrillic script, Kupcsik did portraits of locals, trying to find individuals who matched his idea of what the person would have looked like, and underneath did frottage of the plaques in the graveyard.
I first became interested in his work through the self-portraits he showed in the What is Hungarian? exhibition at the Kunsthalle. The self-portrait series showed the artist as a gypsy, a Jewish man, and a Chinese man. You can seen the change in his style from the portraits to the newer works clearly. Kupcsik talked about the challenges of developing a painterly style that fully appreciates the history of painting and that at the same time is Hungarian. He feels that Hungary does not have a distinctive national style, but that perhaps one is being made now or that the current lack of style reflects a crisis of national identity. This desire to develop a Hungarian way of painting seems, to me, to exist in tension with the need for international success. Interestingly, Kupcsik cited the example of Cluj in Transylvania, Romania, as an example of a city whose painters in the past few years have done well internationally.
Kupcsik’s latest works can be found on his Tumblr.