Few things are as simple as black and white, but for Argentinean artist Eduardo Stupía, it’s just that—after all, the steadfast landscapist has dedicated his work and practice to black and white for the last 40 years. It’s a logical choice, one derived from Stupía’s beginnings as a draftsman, and it’s fared as an excellent way of delineating his evolution from youthful to mature work.
Starting with a devotion to classical art and an interest in surrealism, Stupía went on to incorporate narrative, calligraphy and abstraction, while simultaneously, whether consciously or unconsciously, engaging with art theory. Later, these components would be central to his process. His practice changed dramatically as he played with application, media and process, ultimately amalgamating all styles into one. And so he’s spent his life inventing and reinventing his artwork.
“I became abstract first in practice, before I could even think of myself as an abstract artist."
— EDUARDO STUPÍA
As a young painter, Stupía’s work was shaped by an intimate home environment. Born in 1951 and raised in Buenos Aires, Stupía lived at home with his mother, working in seclusion at a small desk creating microscopic and chaotic realms in pen on paper. He eventually was introduced to the art world and its culture at the National School of Fine Arts Manuel Belgrano, where his classmates divided between the traditional and the avant-garde. Unlike the majority of his peers, Stupía himself favored tradition, his drawings filigrees of lines evoking classical figuration, realism and anatomy. In curious contrast, he also borrowed structure from contemporary comic strips and surrealism, into which he layered planes of numerous narratives to create rambling stories worming across compositions. During this period, precision and detail consumed his surfaces as he mapped aerial views of imagined lands.
School was the impetus of his iconic style of abstraction. He recalls of his years as an art student, “we weren’t [taught]. . . the concept of modernity. It was only much later that we learned about Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, the Frankfurt School and their influence in the artistic thinking and concepts. Consequently, I guess that I became abstract first in practice, before I could even think about myself as an abstract artist.”
Ten years later, Stupía started to study under a master of traditional Chinese art, and, as he said, “everything changed.” He discovered a completely different visual language, one of gesture and attention, as well as the tools and training commonly used in the genre. His teacher showed him examples of common Chinese motifs, such as bamboo leaves and trunks, horses, birds and flowers, and asked Stupía to carefully copy the imagery as a learning technique. Not only did he
improve his precision, he also integrated brush, ink and pencil into his practice, turning away from tight lines drawn by hand and towards blots, dots and blurs, rendered by his whole arm. This was huge: the brush meant potential mistakes, but it also yielded discovery. At this time, he had moved into his own apartment where he could work on large sheets of paper. Like a scientist, Stupía experimented fervently, finding that one stroke contained a myriad of greys. He began
implementing this gradation into his work to create a celestial atmosphere of a cloudy grey scale, a newly formed cushion to areas of intense detail. These were Stupía’s first colors. New tools also changed his imagery as calligraphic shapes replaced Western lettering. A large, intuitive and emotive language swallowed the surface. In a surprising turn, Stupía found that mastering his tools meant letting go of control.
By the 1990s, Stupía had grown comfortable with change, transitioning from ink and brush to mixed media applied to canvas. Again, he learned through trial and error, first attempting to add oil, acrylic, enamel and other heavy materials to paper, only to realize that such paint adhered best to canvas. Next, he played with chemistry by mixing water and oil, among other counterintuitive combinations. He focused on abstraction, abandoning any figuration and lettering that remained from his past work. Surface corrugated where media met, and brush strokes undulated as rippling waves of grey. His mixed media generated an impurity and tension that attracted onlookers. This was the messy climax.
Stupía has since crafted a denouement that incorporates all aspects of his oeuvre. He has attained enlightenment through language, which to him is “perfection and imperfection, an absolutely powerful device that makes everything possible, even the impossible.” Stupía’s work is now part of a greater dialogue between the artist and a global audience—no longer a personal pursuit to invent or control composition.
After recent successes in the international art market, such as “Reinventing Landscape,” his 2013 solo show at Rosenfeld Porcini in London, Stupía has discovered what one does after four decades in the art world, which he believes starts with turning away from categorial art notions and looking at them with a different perspective. Next, he lets go: “You may not have a single idea, you may feel worn out, empty, exhausted, finished, lazy, and suddenly you move propelled by some unexpected, blind force, which makes art a completely materialist phenomena, at least up to the moment when you remember what it was like to ‘create’ and ‘invent.’”
Thus, a vocation once shaped from practical circumstances has morphed into a pilgrimage to create, evolve and integrate a graphic language into his artworks. To Stupía, visual language transcends verbal language, which must be learned, and is inherently understood by a multitude of cultures. As he says, “when you discover what language is, and its magnitude in the practice, you suddenly feel that language ... in itself [is] beauty, not just a resource to make beautiful things.” By concentrating on black and white, Stupía strips art and language to their core. It is here that he confronts us with nudity, not of human form, but of that undeniable force that connects us all.