SANDRO KOPP/ for NO magazine
Google him, and the first thing you’ll learn is the name of the famous beauty he shares his life with. Look a little further, and you’ll find whole sites dedicated to the various roles he has played in a certain Peter Jackson trilogy. But deal with him directly, and it becomes very clear, very quickly what is dearest to his heart- because it’s all he wants to talk about. Sandro Kopp is a painter of portraits , making a very new mark.
Of all things, it is the modern magic of Skype that he has chosen as a vehicle through which he shares his talent for portraiture. What this means is less confusing than it sounds ; Kopp engages in Skype conversations with people he knows and as they talk, he paints. It is a lively process – he doesn’t work from stills but rather directly from his subject as it happens. Naturally the images are quite realistic, but realistically they are somehow unnatural. Fleeting moments trapped. Each piece is born through the initial conversation but may not be ready to leave its nest for some time after; “Each sitting usually takes between two and three hours” he tells me. “ About half the paintings are done after that, but if I go back to them, it rarely just for one sitting. Once I start layering, it will usually take 5 or 6 goes until I get something right. When I am painting I tend to be so wrapped up in the process that I can't really objectively judge it. It tends to take some weeks before I can say with certainty that a painting is done.”
“The surrogate reality of the internet has become so powerful” says Kopp, “ and we keep encountering terms like "online presence", that got me thinking, since 'presence' is a concept that I am constantly bumping into in my work. What I am interested in is whether, alongside being a means to communication, Skype is also a means to presence.” He explains that the process started “as an experiment in combining elements of painting from a photograph with elements of painting from life, but in the year and a half that I have been working this way, it has taken on a whole life of it's own and all kinds of ideas have blossomed from it.”
Kopp has paid his dues to traditional art forms and sees the use of Skype as an extension of what’s come before; “My great love, oil painting, is such a gloriously old fashioned medium... I am always looking for ways of doing something new with it and this Skype process presented itself as a way of marrying this ancient medium with something that is very "now"... a way of further mediating figurative oil painting.”
Kopp, German-born and now largely based here in New Zealand, has painted friends far and wide and among the faces in his portfolio are Yves Saint Laurent, Stefano Pilati, Mike Mills and Tilda Swinton. His work creates ‘highly contrasting features and complex skin tonality’ and for Kopp, the technical process is of great importance. “Technique is always evolving.” He explains. “It's a natural process, but again the media are crucial: A certain type of paint may make me work in different way to another... Working through the Skype medium will make things look different to working from life. I think the how and the what are inextricably linked.”
As for inspiration, his reach extends to “painters Glenn Brown, YZ Kami, Andy Warhol, curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, photographers Jeff Burton and Ryan McGinley, musicians Björk and The Knife, writers John Berger and James Meek ..." but Kopp is a lover of life’s simple pleasures too. His work provides “a great way of spending time with friends and making something together ” and his eyes are always open. “Our dogs... Clouds... Cooking... Gardening... it all feeds back into my work eventually.”