Windows Into Exile is the first solo exhibition of New York painter Brandon Lipchik in Germany. The title evokes a conversation with the novel The Exile of Capri by Roger Peyrefitte. The French author, a pioneer of literature about homosexuality, tells the story of the two lovers Jacques Fersen and Nino Cesarini. In reaction to scandals surrounding Baron Ferson’s amorous relationships with Parisian male youths, he chose the island of Capri as a refuge for himself and his long-time lover. Living in self-imposed exile on the island, the couple led an eccentric private life which stood in opposition to the mores of the 20th century Italian upper-class. They resided in the garden of their beloved Villa Lysis, named after the Platonic dialogue on friendship and homosexual love. Many of their contemporaries condemned them for such kinds of ‚perversions‘.
In preparation for the exhibition, Lipchik travelled to Capri for a few weeks in the summer of 2019 in order to further inquire about 21st century queer identity and sexual freedom through the medium of painting. He was inspired by the landscape, light, colours and ambience of the Italian rock island in the Gulf of Naples. He produced digital sketches and took photographs with his iPhone before further developing his experiences and impressions into pictorial form at his temporary Berlin studio.
In the seven resulting paintings, Lipchik combines the genres of landscape painting and still life. The metaphor of the picture as a window, alluded to in the exhibition title, extends far back into the history of art. In his 1435 theoretical treatise on painting (De pictura), the Italian humanist Leon Battista Alberti describes the picture as an open window to the world. Lipchik flings this window wide open. His paintings are grouped together to form a panorama. At the same time, Lipchik gives the impression that the viewer is a hidden spectator, catching a live glimpse into the private sphere of his figures. He places male nudes in the space and, as they spent their leisure time, the viewer, like a voyeur, can observe them through fences and vague notions of hedges in the form of individual flowers. Lipchik does not show these figures’ faces with the exception of two small portraits. Instead, he offers prying eyes truncated glances of backs, feet and hands. A man lies at the pool, relaxed, enjoying the landscape and light. Perhaps his gaze wanders over to the man who turns his back on him. They spend their leisure time with ball sports and gardening.
Lipchik leaves things like luminous tennis balls, stylized antique vases and bold hammers ostensibly hovering freely in mid-air, their forms strangely blurred. This manner of presentation is a result of the work process which Lipchik explains as follows: ‘When I am working on a new painting, I start out with a digital drawing. I transfer a digital drawing onto canvas which will, in turn, reappear on screens and in the digital realm. The distribution through Instagram, for example, allows a large audience from around the world to participate. Ideally, they enter into a gallery or fair and see the images in the space. The process of translation – from digital compositions to paintings – is important for me. In this process, I discover entirely new possibilities of approaching an old method like painting and I am able to reconsider materiality and colour on canvas. This way, I can emphasise the physical and tactile qualities of painting and simultaneously engage in a dialogue with the flatness and immateriality of digital space.
Lipchik is interested in the process of distortion and dissociation of a picture, which can occur both in the digital realm and on canvas. In doing so, he masks a picturesque scene such as the Caprian landscape with lovers and collages occasionally bizarre and contradictory compositions. Lipchik confronts the viewer with male role models and ideas of paradise as calcified clichés. Like in Max Beckmann’s work, the canvas becomes a stage populated by recurring ambivalent motifs.
In finely distributed light colours before the backdrop of Capri’s landscape, Lipchik collages a cluster of everyday objects and traditional motifs of art history on a plane. He takes up Giorgio Morandi’s experiments with flatness and spatial depth and, in doing so, brings to the canvas a mix of consumer objects and artifacts. The results are idiosyncratic colour tones, perspectives and arrangements which turn the classical genres such as still life, landscape painting and portraiture on their heads. Similar to David Hockney’s pool images, this salutary exile becomes a constricting place. As with Hockney, the idyll is, at second glance, tarnished by damaged relationships, artificiality and solitude.
For Lipchik, this way of approaching pictorial dissociation is also a chance to broaden one- sided ways of reading and to react to the diversity of contemporary visual culture. ‘Nowadays it is a drastic act to continue painting. We are constantly being bombarded by images in social networks, our clicks lead from video to photo, from text to video, from private messages to the daily news’, says Lipchik about deciding upon the medium of painting. He bridges the gaps between digital space and the material world by means of an airbrushed trompe-l’œil effect. With a superimposed layer of paint, Lipchik brings the painting closer into the gallery space, revealing a new, distinctly idiosyncratic mode of contemporary painting.
Text by Anika Meier
Brandon Lipchik (*1993) is an American painter born in Erie, Pennsylvania living and working in Brooklyn, NY. He studied at the Rhode Island School of Design.