Hipkiss & Alex Nodopaka
Interviewing Chris Mason and Alpha Mason is like killing two birds with one stone. Both perform their artistic magic under a single name: Hipkiss. We discussed this interview at length, and to clear once and for all any misgivings and misunderstandings, we agreed they would explain their pseudonym, marital and working arrangements strictly from their point of view. We settled on the rules of the interview and I'm pleased for Vayavya to feature definitive statements by what is in fact and deed a single artist: Hipkiss, with no separation of gender, of he/she, or their intellectual red lines when speaking about and of their art.
The art by Hipkiss developed through numerous years. It began in 1983 and has continued into 2015. Hipkiss built a name for their art with exhibits in England, France, Germany, Switzerland, Japan and the USA, with plans to invade maybe Russia and why not the world in the future.
Alex Nodopaka: I have been acquainted with your visual, socio-political inquiries into the nature of your personal world for some time but never thought of contacting you until now. I specifically speak of separate worlds since yours, Alpha's and Chris's, and mine, and those of 'the others' are separate universes, and if either one of you has anything to expand on either one of your universes, please do so now. As a start, I need to clarify whether to address you individually, separately, or as a single unit?
Hipkiss: Many thanks for getting in touch- and hello to Vayavya readers. Firstly, we are indivisible, equal partners in our artistic universe, and in life in general. Having lived and worked together since our teens, the idea of ourselves as separate 'units', in any sense other than the purely molecular, is anathema to us. Our roles within the partnership are fluid, but there is no question that would be more appropriately directed only to one of us. Similarly, the way we view the world around us has become a joint vision- ever developing and influenced by parts of one or other of us.
Alex Nodopaka: Art is communication as long as the maker makes it a dialogue. I'd like this to be very informal. My questions may pertain to your political and spiritual orientations and you may reduce your answers to basic opinions. Sometimes the artwork takes on an arcane mantel and is significant only to its maker while remaining obscure to the viewer. Does each of your artworks represents something particular?
Hipkiss: Ours is a 'life project', so our themes and interests span years and artworks. Sometimes a drawing is dedicated to an event, a political standpoint or even an individual (human or otherwise), but the subtexts are more like a river running through the project. There are many elements that are clear probably only to us, but- with a few exceptions- we're normally happy to share them with an interested viewer if we can. Our life is about communication- and often humour; we don't strive to be mysterious!
Alex Nodopaka: I looked repeatedly through several slide presentations of your art and of course each slide that crossed my field of vision was of insufficient resolution to form a detailed opinion. What I got is a gut feel of invasive nature. For obvious reasons they suggest something Orwellian. There is an oppressive feel about them. I also get a totemic impression. Of course I don't want to assume they are of penile nature though the character of the obelisks is also a scepter, i. e. a commanders' baton. Are they symbols of organizational power in your art?
Hipkiss: No, we don't see it that way exactly- though, of course, the viewer's perception is theirs. People tend to alter that perception on knowing the true gender of the artist; those who think of Hipkiss as male tend to see more dominating, masculine forces at work, and the figures as female objects. In fact, we work in a more feminine way, from within the art. The figures are more alter ego than 'decoration'; the towers and totems, as you call them, are there for their aesthetic appeal. It's also- as with a lot of our work- a version of the real world as seen through our eyes; so, sure, there are what some might view as masculine elements, but they are balanced by other aspects of the landscapes- rivers, trees, birds, insects, flowers and plants. We see it as parts of a whole rather than any kind of conflict.
We don't regard nature as invasive, but rather as the fundament of life and art. It fascinates and never frightens us. We choose to live relatively in the wilds (as much as one can in Western Europe), and perhaps that's what comes across in the drawings. It's interesting to note, in horror/suspense films, that the protagonists- usually ill-advisedly- seek out other people for safety; for us, the countryside is safety at any time of day or night. While our work is never intended to be confrontational (or oppressive, or frightening), perhaps another reason it is sometimes seen that way is because we are atypical human beings in that respect.
Alex Nodopaka: Some images appear with reverse writing. Any symbolical reasons for that?
Hipkiss: Again, it comes from looking from the inside, out. It's a subconscious urge made obvious in those instances.
Alex Nodopaka: Do you always draw in the same style and why do you stay with the same technique compared to most artists who through the years experiment with several?
Hipkiss: Our style has evolved considerably over the years- different textures, the addition of metals and occasionally colour, the use of different grades of pencil- plus the changing ways of treating perspective, light and shade, space within the compositions, etc. If you compare the early works with more recent ones, that evolution is quite clear, but you need that kind of time-lapse mode of vision to see it. Again, it's a life project; we don't feel the need to experiment with new media and then move on to something else. We'd rather work on refining our use of the media we know. It's a continuum.
Alex Nodopaka: From a drafting point of view and content your art is truly extraordinary. Each piece has a naive signature overtone and is filled with intellectual connotations. What are they?
Hipkiss: Thank you. Our intellectual interests are pretty broad, ranging from the subjects we formally studied (maths, physics, political geography, sociology, sexual politics and media theory) to botany and ornithology, via current affairs and history. The connotations, as such, are myriad. Our work is not polemical, but, rather, an ongoing dialogue between ourselves in the context of the world we live in. We don't have a single, sole point to make, though we do have an 'ethos'. We are passionate believers in equality among humans and respect for the planet that we share with so many other beings.
Alex Nodopaka: You have figuration and architectural details that are not imitative of brut art nor have traces of academic provenance despite their professional execution. They are permeated with a sense of cerebral machinations. Are you planning your structures consciously or are they figments of your imagination?
Hipkiss: Many of the structures are actually taken from life, in fact. We are constantly on the lookout for interesting shapes in architecture and the more mundane, industrial buildings, so a lot of them wouldn't be recognized- even if they were rendered with more accuracy!
Alex Nodopaka: Tell us the meaning of the repetitiveness of the features in your depictions. The degree of detail invested in each artwork is a time-consuming effort that must be enjoyed or does it become tedious after some time? Is it a sort of a meditative interlude filling your hours?
Hipkiss: The reason for the repetition is, once again, aesthetic. We see it in nature; many natural constructs consist of infinitely repeated elements. In its execution, it is a kind of dual meditation, yes. A bit like Madame Defarge, without the dark insinuations- but including the tacit communication she had with her husband. It's a constant centre of our lives, and no more tedious than typing this text.
There is never a frantic need to get the marks onto the paper, but it's a constant companion and connection between us.
Alex Nodopaka: Why are most of renderings in urban settings?
Hipkiss: We are intrigued by the meeting of the bucolic with the urban. Most of the work is not actually in urban settings, but rather on the edge of them. Again, it's a way of looking at the real world.
Alex Nodopaka: Many pieces appear symmetrical and their effect is iconic. Is that by intention?
Hipkiss: A dedication to honest communication is the basis of our partnership and also informs our work. To draw pictures on cardboard or scraps of paper, for example, would feel affected. We actually strive to avoid symmetrical compositions in our figurative endeavours for the same reason; real landscapes aren't symmetrical, and our versions shouldn't be either. You are probably referring to the more abstract pieces - the towers and what we call the 'quantum physics portraits'. To put a tower anywhere but the centre of a drawing, assuming it's not part of a landscape, would be contrived. These are exercises in detail - similar to the rows of moths and crops you might have noticed in the landscapes. In terms of the intention, the interest for us is that every one is different, even though they look so similar on first glance. Yes, you could say that the towers are icons, each individual.
Alex Nodopaka: Do you make small size art? Why only large pieces?
Hipkiss: There are many, many small pieces, the smallest being 4"x6". You could see them as studies for parts of larger works, but they are definitely creations in their own right. We've recently held a couple of exhibitions featuring only these smaller pieces, because the larger works tend to get all the attention when they're shown together. It's our very own microcosm!
Alex Nodopaka: To return briefly to your creative singularity I was addressing each of you separately and was interested in as each personal contribution but you corrected me. Would you expand on the nature of your artistic conjoining?
Hipkiss: For a start, it must be pointed out that any relationship is organic, and when you've spent as long together (as constantly) as we have, the commonalities deepen over time to a point at which there is no one aspect of one of us that isn't shaped by the other. The discourse is multi-layered and complex. Our creativity is a spiritual thing- a constant filtration and development process that happens almost without our conscious knowledge. We decide together, and often wordlessly, what works for us and what doesn't. There is no hierarchy.
On a practical level, Alpha was the one who studied art to any significant level, so she has that background- but we chose early on for her not to be the main draftsperson because her style is too studied (and too slow!) for what we want to create. A good partnership is as much about what one chooses not to do for the benefit of the whole- thus Chris is the draftsperson, but we are both as responsible for the techniques and direction of that drafting as each other. Alpha is the writer and the one from whom the big vista narratives originate from, but what she writes, and the choice of the big vistas she fixates upon are, again, a product of our two minds working together- as are all our compositions, from the miniatures (and the short stories) upwards. It's a 24/7 creative union.
Alex Nodopaka: As you already know from previous experiences when dealing with two individuals, and especially in a creative process like art your conditions are extremely rare. I saw much graffiti artwork executed by several artists but usually it is not a unified message but individual signatures unless performed under the direction of a single leader. Frida Kahlo was one such example and in other cases helpers were working under the direction of a single artist. Diego Rivera is another such example. In most cases it is the sheer size of the artwork that requires more than one hand to complete it within a schedule. In your case you claim dual intellectual conjoining and a singular technical hand to complete it.
Hipkiss: Yes, we are a rarity, it seems. As for whether what we produce merits that doubling of imaginative and intellectual currency is not for us to say!
But it's that aspect that made it easy for some commentators to ignore Alpha's presence- especially the way we started out. In those days (the early '90s) before the internet, etc., when an artist had to seize any opportunity to be represented that came along, we stumbled into the Outsider world pretty much by chance, and certainly without knowing the implications.
While we certainly owe a debt of gratitude to those early contacts in terms of name recognition - and some of them (some of whom we still work with to this day) would never attempt to misrepresent an artist in order to make them fit in with the genre - there are those who would happily fabricate an artist's biography to imply the 'necessary credentials' of an 'Outsider' artist: male, solitary, preferably mentally ill, poorly educated, possibly incarcerated. Preferably dead too!
Most wouldn't go so far as to outright lie, but much can be insinuated by the use of words- and by omission, of course. Alpha was always there at the meetings, and evidently part of the art; even in our first ever article, in Raw Vision (written by Alpha supposedly as a third party), we made the relationship plain, but it was routinely written out of our biography subsequent to that.
More generally, there is a tendency in any patriarchal society to downplay, undermine or plain ignore the input of female partners. As feminists, it not only irks us, but we feel we have a duty to confront it. We made the decision a few years ago to make it abundantly clear by use of the dual pseudonym.
Alex Nodopaka: Ok! Short of reading all that you have shared with others and that has been written about you, there's no way for the fresh reading public to know the actual conditions on how your artwork is executed. What can be understood now is that you chose to be two in one. As to the patriarchal angle and masculine angles that's how a majority of the peoples in the world are divided. Of course there are hundreds of fine variants amongst the lesser minorities. Yours fits into one of those or does it?
Hipkiss: We are just us. Between us personally, gender simply doesn't figure as important. We have always defied the patriarchal norms, but in terms of alternatives, we've never lived in those communities (which are probably very few and far between). To us, it's important to work for change in the world we actually live in. It's great, and quite humbling, to see young women in the public eye, such as Emma Watson and Taylor Swift- and quite a few young male stars too- standing up for equality. Then of course, there are those whose focus is in areas where the problem is out of all proportion to ours in the West; activists like Malala Yousafzai are the heroes of the modern age.
When we were young, the F(eminism) word was almost worse than the other one, and we were all guilty, to some extent, of colluding with the status quo. All respect to the younger generation.
Alex Nodopaka: As I am writing this, an entity came into my mind similar to the virtual entity named Seth in 'Seth Speaks' by Jane Roberts and another thought about the difference between the special and the general theory of relativity. And in your situation a case of unified theory of physiology... ha!
Hipkiss: We hadn't come across Jane Roberts before. After a Google, we're a little wiser. It's easy to see why you might think that, but the way we communicate is generally quite earth-bound. It's about a sixth sense, but also the protracted collusion (collation?) of ideas and principles. We've simply developed together over the years, reasoned with one another, shared every source of information that fascinates us. Yes, of course we may have grown into different people from those we might have had we spent our lives alone or had other partnerships, so there is a force at work between us that has pulled us into our joint space-time experience. It would be lovely to think that we are physiologically symbiotic, so that each could keep the other alive if necessary. Sadly, that's not the case.
Alex Nodopaka: I hope you also take my remarks with a grain of salt. If your art is by Hipkiss and or Mason then the art signed with both names might alleviate the confusion? Were you to be crowned Emperors would there be two laurel-leaf crowns or one? After all, the art comes first and that is what we want to talk about, though as an afterthought you say it took two-in-one to create it.
Hipkiss: Two crowns, of course! (But maybe we're just greedy.) The art is always by Hipkiss. We have another name for our writing, with Alpha's first name. It's important for us to use a surname separate from our own. Again, the need to make our duality absolutely clear has come about gradually over the decades. When we chose to use our separate first names for our art and writing, we were only ten years into the partnership. If we suddenly changed the name now, it would imply that Alpha is suddenly involved in the art only now, and that isn't true. Without Alpha, there would be no Hipkiss, and it's become 50-50 over time. And that still implies a tangible division of input that isn't there.
It was no 'afterthought' to say it takes two, by the way. As we've said, it was other people who chose to ignore Alpha's part in Hipkiss, to the extent that we had to spell it out.
Alex Nodopaka: Does the visual representation and words come before, during, or after the drawing is completed? Are the words cues to the final artwork? Are they its early first inspiration or off-hand exclamations? I chose the word completed instead of finished signifying that an artwork is always an ongoing affair, as a matter of fact similarly to when you unroll the paper as you draw along or is your piece a 'frozen moment'?
Hipkiss: Our oeuvre as a whole is an ongoing affair, so most of the drawings are a kind of layered series of snapshots of a period of time. The overall look of the piece is discussed before we start, in terms of composition, feeling and any particular elements we might want to include. Sometimes the words (the title, perhaps) come first, but that's rare. Usually the words come from a random conversation, a news item or something one of us has read recently. But the final decision is made because we like the sound. Sound is a little-discussed part of figurative art, yet we all verbalise the words in a piece, even if only to ourselves.
Alex Nodopaka: Another statement is about the pigeonholing of art/artists with labels despite the variety of stylistic resemblances of various isms. Art is art and artists produce it through individual techniques and styles. For one I disapprove of your art being called 'outsider' just because yours is not bound by an 'approved' academy of art.
Hipkiss: Needless-to-say, so do we. There is a certain feeling in the art world that if you didn't go to art school, you are not only 'uneducated' in art, but in life as a whole. We had plenty of opportunities to study art, but we always had our own vision- and the friends we had who did go to art school tended to come out confused and 'cleansed' of any spark they had when they went in. That's just our observation, of course, based on a handful of people. But yes, we chose to study different subjects at university, to broaden our minds, to feed into our vision. Alpha has studied a few technical aspects of art along the way- life drawing, photography, film-making- and that has been enough for us.
Categorising art on the basis of stylistic and philosophical movements makes much more sense. That said, we don't think we fit into any prescribed pigeonhole.
Alex Nodopaka: The appeal in your work has also an architectural nature, it is as if you were a futurist virtual city planner architect. Where does that experience come from?
Hipkiss: We have no experience of city planning or architecture- but we both have a tendency to dream about very complex and fantastic structures. That's probably why some of them look 'other-worldly'.
Alex Nodopaka: Would you be willing to select a specific artwork and describe in detail its development from purely your perspective? Does a certain intuitive automata take over after a certain point of progress into the artwork? What inspired it initially?
Hipkiss: We'll select 'A-C-H-E-', a seven-part panorama, finished in 2011 and measuring over 8 metres in length. In theory at least, the parts are interchangeable. It's not easy to describe its development in terms that would be universally understandable; again, it's a slow process, the mere culmination of which is the drawing itself, but we can give some pointers.
We came up with the idea over a few months and started work in the spring of 2010. It's based on an imaginary dialogue between us and a well-known British artist; he made his own long panorama after seeing a very old one of ours. One could say the former was appropriated from the latter quite extensively, which was flattering. Prevented from an actual dialogue by the renown of the artist, we decided that this work should be our response.
The early work (and its later, more famous, 'spawn') was composed around a horizontal river. In this riposte, the landscape is viewed from the side, in a warped elevation and in seven parallel universes; the river has morphed into a road meandering away from the viewer and the landscape is predominantly rural, in contrast to the other pictures. The gentle hills are taken straight out of the Gers, which we've called home since 2006; the ethereal pyramids are a reminder that this is a dream-like vision (though they're also there for purely aesthetic reasons).
Much of the detail is taken from our cultural interests at that time, as well as direct references to the other artist's work: there are numerous hints both in words and symbols. At times, there has been a 'fashion show' element to our work that is also in evidence here. There is something defiant about catwalk models and we rather like designing outfits, though, again, this is a penchant that's become less appealing than it used to be. In this instance, again, one could also see the people as alter egos, taking our messages across.
In terms of how it was created in a literal sense, it was no different from any other work- except that the constant appraisal of the piece as a whole was more complicated than for a smaller one. Our studio, which is also our living space, is not large- but contrary to what has been written at times, we do not work 'blind' and never have. Older large works were made on a roll, it's true, whereas now we join sections afterwards, but the only reason the composition has improved over the years is because we've got better at it– in our eyes, at least!
We start with a sketch and discuss the details and the perspective on various levels. Chris draws very quickly and can repeat motifs without too much direct attention, but 'intuitive automata' is not really the right description; there are always two intuitions at work and two sets of eyes on progress, so the evolution of the landscape is very much a two-brained affair. We talk a lot about what's happening on the paper.
The work took 14 months from start to finish and we were quite pleased with how it turned out. Galerie Michael Haas of Berlin sponsored its creation and acquired the work. To our knowledge, the dialogue with the artist remains one-way!
Alex Nodopaka: Do you have any non-artistic hobby? What literature appeals to you? You're somewhat socio-politically engaged judging by the annotations in some of your artworks. What are your leanings? Any discussion you'd like to share or engage for this communication?
Hipkiss: Most of our interests feed into the art in some way or another. We are genuinely keen bird-watchers (though not twitchers- we like the common ones as much as the rare); as we've got older, we've become ever more immersed in our fascination with them as sentient creatures. There is a kind of connection that we feel, which is hard to describe. They provide the space in our heads for peace and aspirations.
Our natural surroundings, of course, fascinate in general. But who chooses the countryside over urban or city environments and doesn't love its details? The sounds, the colours, the tiniest of insects are an intrinsic part of our world. That said, when we want a holiday, we go to a big city to enjoy sushi and the buzz of anonymity. Three days are usually enough.
Music has been a perennial backdrop to our lives and creativity- from the obvious Beethoven and Chopin through to early Slipknot and Alison Krauss. We're very opinionated when it comes to our musical tastes; they're as much based on the intention of the artist as they are on the sound, which has led us down some diverse paths. For example, we don't like all thrash metal, by any means; we're a bit Kubrick-esque in that our aim is to explore the best of each genre.
We have long discussions about music, though our passion for seeking out new artists has diminished in recent years- perhaps because we lived through so many movements that were new and original at the time, and the postmodern era doesn't offer so much of that. We want to be slightly shocked by music when we first hear it, but those days are gone for now, at least. Alpha is a competent classical pianist when she finds the time to play.
Most of what we read is non-fiction, although Chris uses contemporary novels in French to keep up with the language. Alpha avoids fiction as it impacts her own style of writing, though she likes Yukio Mishima (despite his politics). Emily Bronté is a shared love, but that's obvious. Neither of us studied literature to any great level beyond school. Mostly, we read about history and contemporary politics, and struggle to understand quantum physics. A favourite read recently was 'Gut', by Giulia Enders - a fascinating tour of the wonderful landscapes, systems and populations inside our bodies.
As for our socio-political leanings, we are traditional liberal socialists, broadly speaking. As stated earlier, our passions centre around the continuing battle for equality, in minds as well as law. The impact of too much freedom for big business is also a preoccupation, given the threat to our planet. Our work is often perceived as being an environmental statement, but- though we care deeply about the issues- it doesn't directly express those concerns.
Alex Nodopaka: Warning: some of Hipkiss's art exceeds 30 feet in length. They are a puzzling amalgam of cityscape details that rhyme and appear to have been produced as a stream of pictogrammic consciousness. Without a doubt the subject matter content of Chris Hipkiss a. k. a. Alpha and Christopher Mason is visually interesting and intellectually challenging because of their surrealist rendition and architectural perspectives. The artworks reflect obsessive fixative characteristics peculiar to schizophrenics though I suspect neither of them are. However, their art definitely fits in that general category of naive art.
Hipkiss: Again, not sure about the category. We don't see much in common with naive art. Folk Art, perhaps, but even then not really... Punk Folk, perhaps? Bear in mind that we were children of the punk movement in the UK; it probably infuses our work without that conscious intention.
We've covered obsessiveness. Perhaps people see that because they are imagining one artist, sitting alone. When you picture the work as it really is- a dialogue between two people- it's clear that it's not obsessive, just a lively discussion in a space we share almost constantly.
As for schizophrenia, no. We have never suffered any degree of mental illness and wouldn't wish it on anyone. Not so say we're not eccentric, but what artist isn't?
It's an uncomfortable subject for us, because we don't like to pour cold water on the apparent desires of so many collectors and enthusiasts to see a kind of 'other consciousness' through the eyes of the mentally ill. But it's a subject that comes up, and it's close to our hearts, so here we go. Of course, there has been the very occasional case of an artist who is both a genius and mentally ill, but that's probably very, very rare. Most 'genuine' Outsider artists have been in institutions, in our opinion, and the art has come about through art therapy- a totally different thing. Certainly, to operate in the art world, mental illness would make it extremely difficult.
We were the primary carers for a young friend of ours many years ago. He was an incredibly talented artist who developed schizophrenia in college. In the years he spent living with us after his diagnosis, we saw him struggle to find his focus, to get back to his talent. He never got there. He couldn't muster the discipline or consistency needed to create even one stunning work, let alone a series- and there's no way he could have negotiated the communicative aspects of the art world even if he had. The reality is usually just that, and it's terribly sad to witness. The contrast between that reality and the romantic idea of some commentators to us is frustrating; we see it as something of a morbid fascination.
Alex Nodopaka: Your draftsmanship is experienced and detailed in its minutiae and the meaning in your art is sufficiently arcane as to defy pedestrian explanation except for a sequential description of details issuing seemingly automatically from the pencils. Most of the chef d'oeuvres are made up of contemporary recognizable features in buildings, landscapes, cityscapes. The literature implies that Hipkiss is a sort of art savant without an academic diploma that obviously is not required in their case.
Hipkiss: As we've said, most of the articles you've read are probably wildly inaccurate - especially if they try to imply that either of us is in any way a 'savant'! This is exactly our point; some 'Outsider' writers will dream up these kinds of fiction; they shouldn't be given the time of day, yet the casual- and even not-so-casual- researcher can take them as gospel. Again, it's a by-product of the desperate search for true living Outsiders, few to none of whom actually exist.
The process of drawing is not automatic- far from it. With two of us always in the room, the spoken communication is continuous during the creation of a piece, as well as that which is unspoken. Our creation has many spontaneous elements, of course, but automatic is not the right word.
Alex Nodopaka: A peculiar characteristic of the artwork is the combination of multiple perspectives that vary from true to out of scale proportions that lend the art an odd but harmonious optical effect. Only the artists can explain the meaning of the contents but they have Orwellian and Kafkaesque overtones.
Hipkiss: The multiple perspectives are usually the result of happy accidents (there are obvious exceptions, such as model buildings), but it's good to hear that the effect is harmonious! While we discuss every aspect of a drawing, that's not to say that every detail is 'policed', so these discrepancies occur. It's probably this aspect that gives rise to the description 'naive', but unlike true naive artists, we do actually understand perspective- even if we make mistakes.
Again, we don't see the darkness in the work ourselves. The monochrome presentation probably helps to give that impression, but we are not trying to communicate any kind of oppressive vision of the future. It's definitely present tense, and we don't subscribe to anyone else's narrative. Other literary or artistic figures are 'guests' in our universe only.
Alex Nodopaka: The drawings are visually interesting, intellectually and psychologically challenging because of the visionary-surrealist rendition of architectural perspectives. In addition the artists demonstrate how originally unique minds may be in the association of allegories, metaphors and visual symbols. How significant are symbols in your art?
Hipkiss: We love symbols, although- like the words- they are not always as deeply meaningful as the viewer might imagine. They are the visual equivalent to the words, in fact. We might take an existing symbol from somewhere if we support its significance; often, we make them up. In any case, to us they are another kind of signature.
Alex Nodopaka: For the purpose I chose the following artwork as exemplifying my analysis particularly for its title, Force The Winnow that could also be interpreted as a play on words Force The Win Now but my scientific background remembered vaguely the complexities of the formulaic definition of Winnow which allowed to describe the artists art in formulaic manner of the same complexity as their art. The detailed sequence of the explanation of the verbatim formula plus my own artistic license follows, see LEARNING FORMULAS USING WINNOW, which pretty much explains the artists chef d'oeuvres.
Hipkiss: Again, a fine example of the viewer seeing something we missed. Thanks for bringing our attention to the Winnow algorithm! It gives a nice double meaning. In fact, we were using the word in its agricultural sense, extrapolated in our minds to its more general meaning- i. e. sorting the wheat from the chaff. 'Force the Winnow' is a reworked, canvas version of 'You Shall Pay Back the Winnow'; the latter title was a good example of our forging a sentence because it sounds good to us.
Alex Nodopaka: Vayavya is a poetry and art publication that prints on the internet three times per year. Tongue-in-cheek, I'm proud to potentially expose you to over a billion readers though the reality may be bleaker as it is bleaker in real life. Like knowing what a magic trick consists of. So the more abracadabra during the presentation the more effective the WOW effect and I assure you there's a lot of Wow in images. I would like to post one artwork of yours to evoke some ekphrastic poetry on one of my poetry forum? Which artwork would you select?
Hipkiss: Like most artists, we prefer our more recent works. If that weren't the case, one might never develop. Our current pick would be 'To Us the Land'. It has the space to breathe, and that's something we strive to create, believe it or not.
Alex Nodopaka: Most of the art at the forefront of the international news is about its lack of social and philosophical content while yours is. Would you expand on that.
Hipkiss: There are notable exceptions to that tendency- Tracey Emin comes to mind, but there are others. For artists who don't explore those elements of life, it's probably partly a case of a desire not to alienate potential sections of their audience. But it also comes back to the way we work as compared with the more accepted idea of the contemporary artist; when your project is lifelong, it's natural that one's social and philosophical leanings are part of it.
Alex Nodopaka: Do you entertain other forms of art?
Hipkiss: In the sense of creating other forms, only writing.
Alex Nodopaka: Will you draw a self portrait?
Hipkiss: It's an oldie, but nothing has changed.
Alex Nodopaka: Are you interested in particular artists? Who are they? What are the reasons?
Hipkiss: We tend to gravitate towards the big ideas, and architects: Christo and Jeanne-Claude come to mind- impressive projects, and a working relationship we can identify with to some extent; Zaha Hadid for rethinking architecture and introducing large, woman-made shapes to the world; Tracey Emin, of course; Cindy Sherman.
Alpha has a penchant for the work of Anthony Gormley, more for his warmth and humanity.
In a simplistic sense, classic architecture is bound to be an inspiration- the Manhattan skyline, the Chrysler building, The Shard in London. the beautiful Twin Towers. But Frank Gehry has it right when he says that good architecture has to also be based around the humans who will use it. Being inside buildings like the Guggenheim and the Pompidou Centre (the latter not terribly appealing from outside), you become aware of the immense skill of a human-centred architect. It's quite a contrast with Niemeyer's gorgeous but un-livable visions.
Alex Nodopaka: Are you interested in poetry, specifically concrete poetry?
Hipkiss: Sorry to say- especially in this company- that we're not terribly knowledgeable. Chris discovered Walt Whitman during his studies; the way he painted American landscapes with words is captivating. Sylvia Plath is tragic but perfect. We tend to seek out our poetry in music, but that's seldom literary in the modern era. There's a certain satisfaction in concrete poems- as much a logic problem as a product of pure creativity. From the point-of-view of writing poetry per se, we only ever indulge in limericks for our own entertainment.
Alex Nodopaka: Have you ever been confronted with an artist block? How did you face it?
Hipkiss: They do happen. Though our project is ongoing, it does have phases in terms of formats and themes, and sometimes when a phase ends, there will be a period of 'dead time'. Sometimes it can last for several months, punctuated by the production of miniature or smaller works. Then we settle on a new idea that's exciting enough to kick us off again. Working as a couple is great for that too; there's no panic about the lull because we know that we will tease out the next direction between us and it's actually quite a pleasure.
Alex Nodopaka: How about humour in your work?
Hipkiss: Yes, there is a lot of it- apparently mostly too subtle to see. Humour is a big part of our life; the only reason we succumbed to watching British TV after a few years in France is because we missed the innovative comedy. Not to say that the French don't do comedy, but it's not the 'thing' it is in the UK (and the US)- much more pure stand-up. Personally speaking, we're not jokers or comics, but we're probably quietly witty! Our work is peppered with in-jokes.
Alex Nodopaka: Are there any special reasons you decided to expat?
Hipkiss: A love of France, of course, but also a desire to experience life as a 'proper' European. We are staunch supporters of the EU project, no matter what creases need ironing out, and life in Britain can seem quite insular in that respect. This is a feeling that has been borne out by the recent decision of half the population to call for a vote to take Britain out of the EU. We love our birth country, but our horizons are bigger. We also wanted the opportunity to learn a second language while our brain cells were fit enough.
Alex Nodopaka: Are you comfortable in your art? Do you find solace in it? I mean do you feel you must do something artistic today and if you don't you have a feeling of dissatisfaction?
Hipkiss: Art is as much a part of our life as our life is a part of our art. In that sense, it's not so much solace as simply normal life. That probably means we're comfortable! As for doing something artistic every day, again, being a duo whose creativity is a result of intercommunication, we don't have to put anything down on paper to be doing something artistic. That's a nice situation, and not one that we take for granted.
Alex Nodopaka: How often to you go back to an artwork and erase a portion to replace it with a new sketch?
Hipkiss: It's very, very rare, but it does happen. If there's a perspective disaster that's fixable, for example.
Alex Nodopaka: When you start a pictorial do you conceive an overall subject or do you develop as you go along?
Hipkiss: The overall subject and composition is always decided in advance, then a rough plan is sketched out. The details can often change and develop with the picture - and whatever's going on in our lives and the wider world. When pictures follow familiar compositions or themes, the words and details take centre stage.
Alex Nodopaka: Dubuffet said, "I like painting to be at the limit of no longer being a painting." How do you feel about the limits of your drawings?
Hipkiss: We're forever striving to make our world 'real'. Two dimensions are a major limitation, of course. We've toyed with the idea of making mammoth installations in a real landscape- and we would love to do that, but the necessary funding would be equally mammoth. In the meantime, our perpetual aim is to create 'walk-in' landscapes, often with a sense of vertigo. We are currently planning a huge piece that will mimic the feeling of looking over a vast bay below. Lots of birds, too.
Alex Nodopaka: Have you ever made collages of your unfinished or rejected sketch/drawings?
Hipkiss: No, but we have started to make art books out of some of them. It started when a collector asked us for a sketchbook, something we don't use. We collated some connected drawings, mounted them on linen canvas with a metal binding and presented it in a wooden and metal box. It turned out pretty well, and we are just embarking on a set of five books made from a completed large drawing that we felt didn't quite work in one piece. It's great because it means that the time and idea wasn't wasted. It will also be a nightmare of a jigsaw if anyone ever has the urge to put the original back together!
Alex Nodopaka: I am elated by your interpretation of Vayavya using the crows as allegories. As is natural with such esoteric symbols, I applied my artist's prerogative of choosing to see them from an American Indian perspective. I relate 'ethereal' in your portrayal of Vayavya as being of the ether/air & the many inferred meanings of crows such as having sharp eyesight as relating to art that I transfigure into 'vision'. At a glance I also want to see a hint of a Yin and a Yan symbol. That would be very applicable to your Alpha+Chris association. Naturally, I would prefer that analytical information to come from the creators'/artists' minds. So how about it?
Hipkiss: I don't think you're imagining a hint of the Yin/Yang symbol; it's a powerful one that we like to include in more subtle forms, obviously. As you'll have gathered, we are not a Yin/Yang split as a couple; we share both aspects- like most people, I should think, though we are possibly more aware of that. Crows, to us, are symbolic of so many things: our partnership, evidently, since they live and work together for life and as equals- but in the sense, also, of their manifestation of unfettered Being. Of course, all wild birds share that, and for us, getting lost in their ego-free state for periods of time is our main form of meditation. The crow family is a special favourite; we've spent many days following raven families in the Welsh wilds. Wonderful to watch. We aspire to ravenhood, but if we could attain carrion-crowdom, we'd still be honoured!
Many thanks for the interesting questions. It's been a pleasure to think about them.
Chris Hipkiss and Alpha Hipkiss, with their cats Ginseng (in the front) and Persifleur (in the back).