An Interview! Soap bubbles, candle soot, tyre, mother’s milk or films – paintings don’t necessarily need a brush to become paintings in Jiri Georg Dokoupil’s art. The artist who exhibited with Leo Castelli or Mary Boone in New York invented more than 100 painting techniques to appear as ‘unrecognisable’. Jiri Doukoupil was born in 1954 in former Czecholsovakia and is famous for being part of the German neo expressionist group Mülheimer Freiheit. Considered as an inventor of styles, he constantly renewed his way of expression. When I met Jiri Dokoupil in Prague’s DSC gallery ahead of the ‘Furniture for Fotos’ exhibition opening, we talked about bubble-paintings, Jesus Christ, Jean-Michel Basquiat, eroticism and spirituality as well as his recent work collaboration with Julian Schnabel.
Jiri Georg Dokoupil describes his new exhibition as “the most authentic proof of the theory of Marcel Duchamp, who says that the artwork will be only a spectator. The objects themselves do not mean anything until the viewer becomes part of the statue itself.”
KB: You are one of the very few Czech artists of the postwar period, who became renowned on the international art scene. What were the beginnings for you like?
Jiri Doukoupil: When I exhibited with Mary Boone or Leo Castelli I was seen as a painter who became well known in the German art scene. I was basically considered as a ‘German artist’, who mainly exhibited in Germany and other countries. So it was pretty easy. At the very beginning, I wanted to be a mathematician and physicist. In fact I see art as mathematics in a way.
KB: Together with Hans Peter Adamski, Peter Bommels, Walter Dahn, Gerhard Kever, and Gerhard Naschberger you established “Mülhermer Freiheit”. What was your artistic period of “Jungen Wilden” like for you?
Jiri Doukoupil: I started off as a painter with a daily task for myself and this task was that I had to have a different style every day. It was the reaction to the end of the conceptual art.
KB: You started off as a conceptual artist, making installations and performance art, but since the 1980s you focused on painting. Why this twist?
Jiri Doukoupil: In fact there wasn’t any twist. I am still a conceptual artist. Do you know anybody with 150 different styles? In the 1970s everyone wanted to be a conceptual artist according to the US or German schools. The conceptual art is a movement that started around 1965. The key idea is to become conscious about what the essence of the art is. This is conceptual art as a movement which lasted until the late 70s. But then we have conceptual artists such as Salvador Dali or Picasso who were very conceptual as well. I had a goal to produce a different style every time I created an artwork.
KB: …which you managed. You’re a very innovative person with the passion for different painting techniques. For creating images you use soap bubbles or soot from candles. How did these techniques come about? Have you ever painted with a brush?
Jiri Doukoupil: I truly do not know how I came across the idea to paint with bubbles. Everything is somehow a half dream and laziness. When I am lazy the idea in fact hits my mind. I had a friend who dealt with the subject of creativity. What is in fact creativity? It is well known that the German poet Friedrich Schiller kept a jar of rotten fruits in his desk which helped him focus his mind and increase his creativity. Stimulation is highly important.
In the 80s I painted many of my paintings with a brush. I have nothing against it. The invention of a brush is linked to the fact that someone wanted to create a photorealistic image. Nowadays people have cameras and shoot pictures in order to create the reality. So in fact you don’t need a brush anymore.
KB: When and how do you get an inspiration?
Jiri Doukoupil: When you are looking for something you should say the most of the absurd, a complete nonsense, or a joke. It is a think-tank. I like to travel between different cultures and languages, which inspires me. If I am trying to solve a problem in Germany, I arrive in Rio where I meet someone who solves the problem for me. In other words, if you need to solve a problem you have to be ready for the fact that someone else is going to tell you the clue. You need to pull the antennas out and wait for the impulse, which will come 100 percent.
KB: You created more than 100 painting techniques. What other painting techniques besides soap bubbles, fruit juices or milk have you invented?
Jiri Doukoupil: I painted my works with films or foam. What really comes out in the end is a huge surprise. I think that our brain is not in the state of understanding the subject or the material. We have to experiment and try out as only when we try out we can see the connections. You cannot foresee how certain things will behave, you cannot programme it. This is what I like. I’m interested in media that you cannot control.
KB: You somehow refuse to subordinate yourself to a concept, never creating a single, for the viewer clearly recognizable style. Your work includes more than 60 so-called cycles and more than 100 established techniques and styles. So how viewers recognize your ‘handwriting on canvas’ ?
Jiri Doukoupil: I want my paintings to be readable. Usually these are very simple systems. I don’t like complicated paintings.
KB: Your giant painting called ‘God, show me your balls’ gained you an international success and attracted the attention of the art world . What is the painting about? What does it personally mean to you?
Jiri Doukoupil: In the 80s there were three key artists and Julian Schnabel was one of them. The curator ……invited Jean-Michel Basquiat to Documenta 7 but not Julian Schnabel – a serious effront in my eyes. So ‘God, show me your balls’, which has a slightly different meaning in German ‘Gott zeig mir deine Eier’, is a kind of homage to a Julian Schnabel plate painting, (which were made of broken ceramic dishes collaged into an image). I used books instead of ceramic dishes. It was the most difficult painting I have ever done in my life.
Apropos Julian Schnabel, we have just finished paintings that we did together in Germany. The collaboration with Julian was excellent and very vibrant. The result is quite stunning.
KB: A frequent motif of your images is for example, Virgin Mary or Jesus Christ. What is the significance for religion and spiritual side of life?
Jiri Doukoupil: I am not believing in God but I come out from a Western cultural and religious background. I am surrounded by these religious images, and I come from this cultural background. In a way it is the greatest ‘pop’ ever created . If you search in wikipedia or google, you won’t find e.g. Madonna with the highest number of searches, Bill Gates, or Beatles. But Jesus. Nobody has ever seen Jesus. It is a genius thing. There are endless theories that exist and deal with Jesus. The most mystic person is Jesus. It is an endless and deep topic, you can be concerned with Jesus for your entire life. Maybe Jesus was not a man , maybe a woman, or even trans. We don’t know it as we have no direct record to track this back. Everything was written 60 years after death of Jesus by the apostles
Faith is great. I also believe… in art!
KB: Artists buy often your work. Who of famous artists actually bought your paintings?
Jiri Doukoupil: I also buy art. But Keith Haring very much admired me. He went to my exhibitions. He only had one style, just one. At that time I already had more than 60 styles. An American cannot grasp it.
When something is successful you should do it all the time – this is the Warholian idea. In this way, I am completely the anti-Warhol. When I do something and it gets success, then I will 100 percent stop doing it. Doing it for money, is not my style. I have never done any piece of art for money. Certain cycles and series I could have multiplied. There were many requests. But I refused. If I have the feeling there is no invention with this certain style or technique anymore, I will simply stop!
KB: Your images have a slightly erotic touch. What means eroticism?
Jiri Doukoupil: Eroticism is one of life engines. Sexuality is a manifestation of life energy and it is definitely connected to creativity. It is endless. If for example someone cannot live on sexuality, then art is a certain valve for its manifestation.
KB: Did you meet Basquiat personally ?
Jiri Doukoupil: Basquiat I met once in a bar in New York. How is it being the only black man in this white art scene? He looked at me and run away.
KB: Your current exhibition at the Prague gallery DSC is called ‘Furniture for Fotos’. In the first floor you find yourself in a sort of labyrinth of black and white furniture sculptures that can be used in an interactive way by its visitors. The basement floor is a whole different story – I found the transparent suitcase with the guns very interesting. What idea is behind ‘Furniture for Fotos’?
KB: Jiri Doukoupil: I had a dream that the second dimension decided to be the third and this decision did not find a good end. It is all tragedy. The second dimension did not wither the third dimension. It is a certain allegory of this modern world. We are convinced that we live in a third dimension but in fact we only live in the second one. Second dimension is everything that is flat. We are not living 3D. The world is in the second dimension. The statues are 3D but made for 2D. People on the street are in 2D, thinking that they are in 3D. Look at the photo, it is flat.
I do in fact things that I do not necessarily understand. That’s what keeps me going.
WHAT? ‘Furniture and Fotos’ – pop-up exhibition
WHEN? From 19/05/2016 till 21/05/2016
WHERE? DSC Gallery – Prague