Interview: David Stoupakis
The work of David Stoupakis may look dark, but don’t let that fool you: in his mysterious paintings there is also tender hope and affirmation, exquisitely rendered with a quality that is at once realistic and dream-like. Stoupakis has irons in a few different creative fires as well, which means that his audience can never quite tell where his work will end up next!
“For me, the work I do is a kind of therapy and helps me understand and work out situations that I go through within my own life.” —David Stoupakis
Julie Winters: Who inspires you, both in the art world and outside it, and why?
David Stoupakis: The creative people that I have the opportunity to work with and what grows from those relationships and conversations. The thought that an idea is never too small and with enough time, thought and energy put into it, it can grow into something much larger. My family and friends inspire me. Their support of me has always been amazing; I truly don’t know where I would be without them.
JW: You’ve said that you’ve been drawing since childhood. Has the role(s) art has played in your life changed over time, and if so, how?
DS: Yes and no. I use the role of art in my life for what it gave me in the beginning, which would be comfort and security with who I am as an individual. Art has always been something that has kept me grounded from the very beginning. I think it’s changed for me from time to time when I chose to make it my career. As personal as I try to keep the art I create for myself, I know that when I put it out there, there will always be others to criticize what I’ve done with the work. So that may have swayed some decisions that I have made in the past, but over time I’ve grown to know that people are always going to talk. So, I now just try to keep my work as pure and truthful as I can for myself and know that at the end of the day, the work I’m creating is still coming from who I am as an individual.
JW: I was fascinated (and heartened) to learn that many of your teachers in your primary and secondary school years embraced the fact that you drew during class because they recognized that drawing helped you retain information better. As you became an established artist in your adulthood, did you stay in touch with or hear from any of them?
DS: I have been in touch with a couple of them by email, but I regret not staying touch with my junior high art teacher Will Robinson. He was very influential on my work and getting me to grow as an artist.
JW: How did you get into doing album cover art several years ago? Were these pieces collaborative, in the sense of your being led by the music? What was the overall process?
DS: I’ve always been really passionate about album art. It’s the way I got into a lot of music and visual artists earlier on. I remember as a kid purely buying music just based off of the art that was on the album. I would always go straight to the liner notes to see the name of the artist who painted the album cover. Back in the 80’s it seemed that the album art was just as important as the music that was on the actual album itself. I love creating album art if I have the opportunity to collaborate with a band that I love. I truly enjoy the whole experience: everything from painting the actual covers down to the designing of the booklet with the CD label, etc. I really dig making the whole thing an audio-visual experience of one world. The projects varied from a band coming to me with an idea that they had kicking around to the singer just giving me one lyric. The album art I did for Korn was all based off of the lyrics that Jonathan Davis gave me: “I’m just a child with the tears in its eyes. I am holding this gift that is broken.” Everything else just took off from there.
JW: You’ve said that the paintings come to you as images in your head, as with an overhead projector, and then you bring those images to life. And yet you’re able to describe the meanings of your paintings as well. Do the meanings of the images come to you right away, or do the images define themselves for you as you carry out your work?
DS: It all depends on the project that I’m working on at the time. The body of work I am currently doing is a bit more literal, so there’s a theme and thread going out through it. Other times I find the story and meaning of the painting much later when I have time to step away from it.
JW: Tell us about the landscape project you’ve been working on.
DS: Growing up, I spent every summer of my childhood at Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada. It’s where my mom is from and my parents actually live there now. To me, it’s the most beautiful place on Earth. Over the years I spent there I have taken lots of photos of these beautiful landscapes and have set up an easel from time to time. The landscape project is really just my attempt to capture the beauty that Cape Breton Island is—I guess with my own spin on it, but it’s really just as simple as that.
JW: You have a background in comics, and I understand that you have a graphic novel (The Passenger) coming out this year. How did this project come about? How has your approach to it been different from your approach to your single paintings?
DS: Yes, the comic book work is a bit more of a newer venture for me. It was the first thing that I wanted to do as a career in the early 90’s and just never seemed to work out. I truly love doing comic book work when I get the chance to. That industry meant so much to me growing up as a kid and still does today. The turnaround time and deadlines can be a bit more of an extreme, but I really love that challenge, and it’s fun as hell. It allows me to go about the work and process in a completely different kind of way. It’s a bit looser than my other paintings; in that way, it’s kind of freeing. The Passenger has been a project of love that I’ve been working on for some time now and collaborating with my friend and writer Pete Goodrich on. We very much look forward to finishing it and getting out there. It’s quite the story, and I’m hoping others will dig it as much as we do creating it.
JW: There is a lot of symbolism in your paintings; for example, keys feature in many, as do birds and crowns. How would you define the evolution of your work in terms of symbolism?
DS: I really like things that make me feel nostalgic and a certain kind of way. I have never put too much thought into the symbolism. I think the symbolism has just taken on a life of its own the more times I contribute it to a painting and how it’s being used. I’ve stopped using certain things in the past for not wanting to be known as the guy who paints teacups, haha.
JW: Has there ever been a time when you’ve been surprised by an image and how you were able to translate it (or not) into a painting?
DS: More when I’m experimenting and I have no real sense of direction where I’m going with a painting to begin with. I created a painting some years back [that] I guess I call “Rain”; it was this really loose and expressive painting that I had no real goal to achieve when I started it, and it really just took on a life of its own. That painting surprised me and is probably one of my favorite pieces I have done. I’m looking forward to getting back into that way of painting with the next body of work.
JW: Old photographs serve as references for many of your paintings, especially those with children. How did you become interested in collecting old photographs, and at what point did they start making it into your work?
DS: Collecting old photographs I blame on my sister Laura. Some years back, we were in an antique store and my sister found this old photo of this child, and it was completely haunting but endearing at the same time. The image of this girl shows up in quite a bit of my earlier works. I almost like the idea of giving these children that have long since passed a new world to live in. From that point on I just began collecting old photos whenever I found myself in an antique store or thrift shop, and from time to time, friends that know I collect them tend to get photos for me as well.
JW: You’ve said that frames “are the windowsill of the window…looking into the other world [of the painting].” How do you find the frames you use, and do you have to alter them sometimes to fit the vision of the paintings?
DS: I feel a frame can make or break a painting. I like to view it as just as important as the painting itself. Normally if I buy a new frame or even an older frame, I usually refinish it to fit the individual painting. These days I’ve been more or less building my own frames from the ground up: that way, I’m able to make them much more personal for each individual piece. I also just really love carpentry.
JW: It often seems to be the case, as with you, that work described as “dark” is produced by people who are themselves positive and “light.” What are your thoughts on this apparent discrepancy?
DS: For me, the work I do is a kind of therapy and helps me understand and work out situations that I go through within my own life. I like to think of myself as a pretty positive and very happy person. If I am painting something that’s thought or viewed to be “dark, ” maybe that’s something I am getting out of my system at that time. However, I feel that we as viewers always relate and find something in the works depending on what we are going through at that time in our own lives. I may create a painting and have the imagery being something very hopeful, but that same painting might be viewed by someone else as being something grim and dark just because of my choice in palette color.
JW: What are your goals for your own artistic development?
DS: I would say to keep being as truthful as I can to the work that I do. To keep evolving and growing as an artist to whatever form that may take and always keep the craft interesting to me and allow the idea to never be too big or too small.
JW: Tell us about your upcoming show “The Kindly Ones.”
DS: “The Kindly Ones” is an exhibition and art book that I am collaborating on with artist Menton J. Matthews III and writer Kasra Ghanbari. The theme of the show and book is based on the Greek mythology of the Erinyes. I am really excited for this exhibition! I have been working on this show for the past nine months. I’m very much looking forward to getting it out into the world and out of the studio. There is something really special about being able to collaborate with like-minded people.
JW: Are there any other projects that you’re working on that you’d like our readers to be on the lookout for?
DS: There are quite a few projects that I have in the works. I’m currently working on collaborative short film projects with Aprella Barule that I’m really extremely excited about. Aprella is amazing: she is an awesomely great actress, and her story writing is genius. I have also been working on this audio project that I am stoked about where I have been having conversations with other creative minds, talking about their craft and the journey they have taken to arrive where they are today. I’m looking to being able to start releasing those episodes sometime in June. I’m also working on a couple of creator-owned comic book projects with some other amazing creator friends. 2015 is going to be crazy fun! I’m very grateful.