Kasper Pincis - Appropriate to Create
‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that is all.’
Alice in Wonderland
Kasper Pincis creates works of art that cross the borders between appropriation, drawing and graphic design, using old typewriters to type into existence new landscapes and imagery. The letter A becomes a mountain, roman numerals become geometric patterns, sentences weave off into a snowy mountain trail. His work re-appropriates the typewriter into an artist’s brush and the English Language into a palette.
It is a great example of art can be made of anything, but not by anyone. The typed words in Kasper’s artwork, mean exactly what he chooses them to mean.
And the question is…
What led you to becoming an artist? You studied in London but is that where you grew up too? Are your family creative?
I grew up in South West London, so I always feel a bit guilty for not having left, or at least gone further afield to study. I was raised by my mother who never really pushed me towards art, probably preferring me to become a lawyer or doctor, but once I chose my path she was very supportive. I actually have very little family in the UK as my mum is Polish, and my biological father, who used to be a photographer and graphic designer, has lived in Kuwait for over twenty five years. He was also an only son of an only son so it’s not the widest family tree, but it is quite diverse as my paternal grandfather was Latvian, my grandmother is Welsh, my stepdad is from New Zealand and stepmother is Egyptian.
I can’t really pinpoint what led me to being an artist, but I can remember my paternal grandparents taking me to museums such as the Wallace Collection and National Gallery from an early age. Both my grandparents’ houses were full of books and I always feel like I’m more influenced in my art by literature, rather than by other visual art. I think I just enjoy the internal logic of art, and being able to solve problems creatively.
You studied at the Royal Academy Schools and graduated from Goldsmiths College, and you started off as a painter, which is a bit removed from the work that you’re creating now. Can you tell us a bit about your creative journey from painting to typeface art and what kind of influence the RA and Goldsmiths have had on your work?
I think it just took me a while to work out my real interests, and what my real artistic project was as opposed to what I just felt was expected of me. I could always execute a painting so I felt like that was what I should do at first, but I couldn’t really ‘think’ in the medium like the best painters whose work I really admire.
There was actually a moment, or at least a period of a few months, of revelation that came to mark a watershed in my work and to which I can trace back most of my key artistic beliefs. It was while I was in my second year at the RA, and in the space of four months one of my lungs collapsed twice. In between these two incidents, I spent three weeks at an art seminar in Hungary, in a very beautiful, remote village by Lake Balaton. As there was no art shop in this village, I ended up making my first text piece by making a potato print with the things I could find. After my lung collapsed for the second time, I spent longer convalescing at home and watching the Joy of Painting with Bob Ross. This was not only very relaxing but quite inspirational. I loved the ‘zen’ nature of the process, and how it could only really be used to create a new landscape rather than depict a real one, as it relied on the accidents of paint breaking up under a palette knife to describe the side of a mountain, or brush bristles bouncing in a certain way to create fir trees.
Once I returned from my convalescence, a visiting tutor recommended that I read the Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, which offers a lot of existential meditation set over a long period of time in a sanatorium in Switzerland. This text, along with Walden by Henry David Thoreau, which is about living alone in the woods, combined with my experience in Hungary and everything else to contribute to my ideas about art being an expression of economy.
Charles Eames said once, during an interview ‘I have never been forced to accept compromises but I have willingly accepted constraints.’ This quote sprang to mind looking at your work because, typeface / typefaces are designed to perform a function. They are letters, they are used for signs, to give us information and what you are doing is drawing with them and using them outside of their function. Can you tell us a bit about your experience with constraints and compromises in relation to the materials you choose to work with and the images you want to make?
I think constraints are very necessary, forcing you to think creatively to solve problems, which is probably why I’ve ended up mainly working with typewriters and photocopiers and their apparent limitations. One example of this is a piece from a couple of years ago, a book called ‘LXVI’. Based on the roman numerals, I made one page using the letter I, five using V, ten with X and fifty Ls. The early pages aren’t too radically creative but when I had to force myself to find fifty different ways of using the letter L, it really pushed me to think of new ideas. I had forgotten that I used to use tone, by hitting the keys harder or softer, so that was a great rediscovery. I also like trying to think of the inherent qualities of particular letters, so L makes great chevrons as it goes down and across, and it’s nice to use that.
Tell us about your favourite typewriter, font and your ink and paper of choice.
I have actually seen a typewriter with an italic font of which I’m very jealous. I don’t know if I have a particularly favourite machine, but there are two or three that I mainly use as they’re so reliable, and the ones with extra wide carriages are useful as there’s room to put paper in at different angles and play around a bit. For smaller pieces I like to use paperback paper from Falkiner’s, I think people relate to the work slightly differently if it shares the scale and look of a book page. For larger pieces I’ve used a lot of newsprint, though it’s not the most archive friendly material, but it does have a nice ‘pulpy’ quality. It’s also thin enough to go through the machine folded. I need to experiment a bit more with bible paper as it’s similarly thin and comes in large sheets, but it looks a bit too white and perfect to work on.
Layering seems to play an important role in your work, the most extreme example being the piece which is so saturated with typeface at one end that the paper looked like it’s been dipped in ink. Like when you repeat a word or a phrase over and over again, until it loses all meaning and that sort of ties in with what we mentioned before about using something outside of how it is designed to function. In one of your pieces you’ve stripped back a capital A to stand out on its own to form a mountain range and then, going the other way in another piece, you’ve layered up to obscure it completely. Can you tell us a bit about these different approaches in your work?
Originally I quite enjoyed the pictographic qualities of the different letters, so a capital A is a ready-made mountain and a V, satisfyingly, is a valley, and I started out with figurative pieces. Lately though, I’ve really just enjoyed exploring the process of making, and trying to achieve density and blackness economically. Or economically in one sense, as I’m just using the alphabet, typing each letter once in alphabetical order; but in another sense quite laboriously as I’m then just stuck at the typewriter typing the same letter over and over. I quite enjoy these contradictions, such as heroism undercut by a kind of stupidity.
Extreme layering could be like an active meditation. What kind of different levels of satisfaction did you get from them when you were working / finished working on them?
Good question. When I used to make more figurative work there was a different level of concentration required that precluded too much meditation, but my recent work on both the typewriter and photocopier has been very repetitive, becoming more of an exploration of time as productivity, and there have been times where I’ve worried that it’s driving me slightly mad. But it does also lead to a meditative state that brings about some eureka moments.
Do you find that the process of creating or making, has any similarities to problem solving, that you’re able to work something out within yourself by the time you finish a piece?
Yes, I think that it’s all about problem solving. Or rather, each piece sets out to answer a question, what would happen if I tried to do such-and-such, and by the end of it new questions or problems are raised which can be tackled in a new piece. And as I’ve said before, art is expressed through an economy of means; so the challenge to achieve something in the simplest or most economic way asks for problems to be solved.
When we met we had a chat about measuring the difference between mastery and success, in relation to how we / other people view our artwork. The idea of mastery being that you are creating artwork to make yourself a better artist, to be able to achieve a standard you’ve set yourself, to master something. The idea of success, being a singular event, such as an exhibition or a sale. Tell us a bit about your thoughts on this, who you do make art for and what effect does this have on the outcome.
The question of whom the work is for is an interesting one. It is definitely for someone else, I make the work to be seen by somebody and it’s not just a solitary practice, but this imaginary ‘other’ sitting on my shoulder does seem to be someone with similar likes and interests to my own. I guess my imagined audience enjoys the same aesthetic qualities as me, but with the nature of the work I want them to be ignorant of the process, so that they can try to work out what has gone on. It’s a bit like writing a crime drama. With recent pieces that try to achieve a deep blackness, by typing the whole alphabet over itself or photocopying all the pages of the dictionary over each other, I still want there to be a way in, some clues to entice the viewer, so you can see the individual letters at the edge of the page and work out the subsequent process. Also, some things are easy to work out, like the piece from last year where I typed the letter o on the typewriter until it filled in with ink and dust and became a black dot. It is just the letter o almost two million times over ten metres of paper, but I think the idea of me typing it is more compelling than the actual fact of it, so that is something that the viewer brings to the piece.
Bob Ross is a wonderful soothing memory for many artists, everyone should watch the episode with Peapod the squirrel, it is a delight. With this in mind, who are your top 5 artistic influences and why?
Difficult to say… I’ve been taken to galleries and museums since I was really little so I know I was struck very early on by the monumental nature of Zurbaran’s paintings of St Francis, as well as other Spanish and Flemish paintings in the National Gallery, but I think most of my artistic influences come from literature rather than other visual art. So I would have to say Georges Perec for his love of wordplay and playful habitation of the page. Henry David Thoreau for his ideas on economy and self-reliance. Herman Melville for his humour and humanism. Thomas Mann for writing the Magic Mountain, and Raymond Chandler for spinning a good detective yarn.
I feel like more and more people look to art for a simplistic representation of complex ideas, that as artists we have the opportunity to act as interpreters. I would like to be able to make a piece of art that would reflect our political situation, but I am not a political artist, these are dots I can’t join. Is there a subject you would like to try to interpret through your artwork that you’ve thought about but haven’t achieved yet?
I do worry that my work isn’t politically engaged enough, or how I would describe it to people without making it sound meaningless, but I think it’s fine just to make art for the most part as an exploration of ‘truth’. As long as we are honing our craft and playing and thinking with materials, we are ready to be called upon when the time comes. There is a great museum in Gdansk in Poland about the Solidarity movement, in the shipyard where it started, and the ingenuity of various artists and designers to publish and print banners, membership cards, posters and newsletters underground is very inspirational. Shamefully, I only went to my first political protest a couple of years ago in Hyde Park Corner, in sympathy with the protesters in Gezi Park in Istanbul, but as an artist, I knew where the nearest art shop was and could make placards for people.
What are you working on at the moment, or, what are you planning on working on next?
I’m currently mainly working on the dictionary series, photocopying all the pages of the dictionary on top of one another. So far I’ve completed this with an English dictionary but would like it to be recognizable for different audiences, so will make it with a German dictionary for a gallery in Berlin and a Catalan dictionary for an exhibition near Barcelona.