Updated: Dec 23, 2020
(This interview took place sometime between 2018-2019.)
Sabrina Puppin was an MFA student at the School of Visual Arts and worked as a teacher assistant in the Fine Arts department. She was born in Aviano, Italy, and is now living the "American Dream" of living and working in New York City. Her works are diverse and vary across disciplines and the types of medium, including "drawing, painting, photography, installation, and sculpture." Her earlier works were paintings that were realistic and pointillist in approach and therefore very time consuming, while her later works are more spontaneous and involve accidental discovery and experimentation with the abstract colors and forms. According to Sabrina, her recent works aim "to eliminate any recognizable forms to leave the viewers exposed to the visual power and intoxicating effects of color." Her recent work investigates the nature of reality, posing the question on whether there is a common ground to the reality experienced by individuals or not.
1) Although you do not believe in the existence of God, is there something that you think that objectively determines what is real, or is there no such thing?
It's all very personal. Each of us has our own reality and determines our own reality. What is real for me may not be real for you. Do we all see the same telephone, or is this telephone different to each person who observes it? It has nothing to do with supernatural power. I believe it is very personal. Here in New York City, everywhere I go I see abstraction. The question is why do I see them and others don't see them? I try to translate these visions, these abstractions that I see, into the studio, into my work.
2) Tell us how you arrived at the current body of work in fluidic and geometric abstraction in painting and sculpture.
I started with painting. It was just the painting. As you see they are colorful and shiny, and there are many things going on that overwhelm you when you see them, but then they pull you in. And somehow I felt like it was my American Dream. Colorful, shiny, big, lot of things overwhelm you and pull you in. While doing my work, I thought about how people started to read my paintings in different ways. And I asked, "Is that what I want - to have everyone see something else?" I decided that I wanted people to see just the colors but not forms. I've been trying to eliminate form, or the readable form... but it's practically impossible because anywhere you drop color you would get a form. So I came to the point where I started to say that the only way to eliminate form is to paint monochromatic. At that point, I started to create geometric shapes that I got from scraps that I collected around, and I still painted monochromatic but I composed the shape in a composition. That's how I came to the three dimensional work. It's still a process in development. In the sculptures there are still forms, but it was somehow a way to reconstruct from a point where I didn't know how to come out. When I came to it, a monochromatic canvas, I had to find a way to come out, or else it wouldn't be finished. With reconstruction with shape but painted in a monochromatic way it was way for me to come out. But, yes, in sculpture there are forms.
3) Do you think perhaps everyone has their unique perspective that is very personal about what's real and what they perceive, and maybe all that range of perceptions exists on a bell curve? Perhaps, based on what it actually is, people experience the "thing" in different ways, but there is a statistical distribution of all those experiences, and there will be more of certain experiences and less of other experiences? The one that is closest to the actual thing would be most common, perhaps?
I understand what you want to say, but what is the actual thing? You mean by actual thing something that is real, but is it real the same way for everybody? So, there may be a way that a majority of people see very closely together, and some will see differently based on a different culture or education. I want to stress that my investigation of reality is rather scientific because I want to know what people see with their eyes, or what I see what my eyes. Or even a different way to see things. For example, we walk in New York and you look at a building, and I might see a reflection of something else on the window and I see abstraction. So this is the sort of distorted reality. Why do you see the building and I see something else? But in reality I believe that it is the building for everybody. This can be reconnected to the American Dream and be political as well.
4) What do you think about how on Facebook and social networking sites people try to spread fake news and try to control the reality? How does your work relate to that?
Well, I never went so far. I see the problem of all this social media and way to contact people everywhere in the world... when people spread alternative facts... can change the reality for the people. Not the reality because a fact is a fact, but the perception can change. The reality, the fact, is a fact.
5) So you agree or think that what exists is real but we don't have a good way to objectively confirm that it is real, right?
6) So what are your next steps in terms of exploring the concept of perception of reality in your work? Would you get more political or more abstract?
Well, I believe that my painting will be very abstract for few years. In a few years I would know. But the process in the thinking may change. I am still fascinated with playing with distorted reality. That's what I do with photography. I take pictures of real things and distort them. With painting, at the moment, I am trying to push my limits. I tend to be too colorful and really shiny, but I like the precision of the work. I want to see if I can be less precise or leave parts of the sculpture especially not finished or just how I found them to see where I can go with that. It's more of at an experimental stage of using media without manipulating them too much from what I am looking at. So it's not so much thinking about distorted reality... The distorted reality will be continued with photography because with photography I can record what I see around the world when I am walking and sometimes I like it as it is and sometimes I try to distort it more. But with painting at the moment, I am at the stage of technical and material experimentation.
7) So which mediums do you find most versatile?
For about four to five years, I have been using a mix of glass and ceramic paint. And that's the only paint that I use. I like to work with them because they are colorful and shiny. Also because by learning how to mix them I learn to create effects that I cannot achieve with other kinds of media. I experiment with the support - where do I paint and how is it different to paint on metal or on wood with this kind of media? It's this kind of experimentation. I am trying every possible surface.
8) You seem to have a really strong perception of color. So what is the process of putting down colors in your work?
When I do work, I don't have in mind the painting that I am going to do already. I just decide on the size and shape of canvas and take out all my colors. And from there I start with one and keep going with how the color gets applied on the canvas and how it's spread. And then at that point I decide now I should go with this other color. So it's really a process that is not something that I think of or plan beforehand. With the media that I use there is that 10% chance of not controlling the color - there is 10% chance that the color will do what it wants. And they mix in certain ways that I cannot control. I like that 10%, 15 -20% chance of what's going to happen.
9) Who are the favorite artists that have influenced you a lot?
Normally what I like is reading their interviews, their voice and what they say. And most of all I like it when they say "You have to look at my paintings. I am not able to put words on my paintings." There was that one interview with Matisse who said "I cannot talk about my work. The reason why I painted is because I cannot talk about it."
10) What genre of painting do you consider your work to be?
It can be read in many different ways. Abstract, abstract expressionism... because of free ways of applying the color. It can be hyper abstraction because of the big size and color that is shiny - it's all hyper. With sculpture than I am doing now I am looking at Kandinsky and Russian constructivism because I realize they are very similar and it's a way to reconstruct. I try to see whether their idea of reconstruction coincides with mine but so far I didn't find any... only similarities in what the work looks like from the outside but not in the development of the work. There are many contemporaries that have similarities in the final appearance but not the process.
11) Can you tell us about your earlier works and how you came to your current style?
For about 30 years or more I've been painting realistic - very realistic portraits of women and only women. I don't know why but it may have been a stage where I was learning technique and art history. I was concerned about the representation of women. And I only painted in black and white, never colorful. And when I did realistic painting, I couldn't do abstraction. I used a technique that was very tedious and took hundreds of hours because I made portraits by applying little dots next to other ones, and it was a kind of like meditation. I couldn't do abstraction because I didn't know what I should do and I gave up. And at some point, I needed to take a break from art for 3 years due to my taking up a very demanding job, and when I returned to painting, I started making abstract works and never went back.