A visual translation: the codified, symbolic language of Hipkiss’ landscapes and birds
AN INTERVIEW WITH HIPKISS—THE ARTIST DUO ALPHA & CHRIS MASON
Where were you born?
Chris: in Perivale, London.
Alpha: in Widnes, Lancashire (as it then was), UK.
We met in 1983 at Brunel University, West London, and you might say that's when "Hipkiss" was born.
Where do you live?
South west France—the Gers. We've been here since 2006 and in France since 2001. Our first years, in a small town near Montpellier, helped immensely with our language skills (and we still have good friends there), but we need the country landscapes and wildlife that we have in abundance here. In the UK, we lived in a small village.
Please tell us about your education.
Neither of us went to art school, despite both having had the opportunity to do so. Alpha studied computer science and maths at university the first time around, then went on to do a degree in sociology and applied media studies (including film-making and photography) as a mature student; Chris gained a degree in political geography and American studies in his early thirties. We're both keen students and all our pet subjects feed into the art. Do we regret not having gone through the art school system? Sometimes, yes!
Do you work with a gallery?
Yes—we work with Delmes & Zander in Cologne, Germany, and Galerie C in Neuchatel, Switzerland. We are hoping to have news of a New York gallery soon too. We have been represented by others over the years; our early contacts were within the 'Outsider' genre—something we put down to our own naivety in the art world (those art school regrets!) and the reluctance, in contemporary circles, to see drawing as a valid stand-alone medium during the early years of our career—but it was never an appropriate fit. Our subsequent move away from it has meant parting ways, in the professional sense, with a number of old friends. Good gallery relationships are something that we appreciate a great deal, and in our view they can enhance our creative process.
Please tell us about your career highlights.
This year's solo at The Drawing Center was definitely one of our favourite experiences so far; they are a great team to work with, and we were really happy with the way the installation looked and the feedback from it. Also in New York, we featured in a group show at David Zwirner's gallery in 2015. We have had work shown at The Tate and Irish Museum of Modern Art, which we regard as feathers in our cap, along with having work in The Met collection, the Kupferstichkabinett, JM Kohler Arts Center, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen and two of the FRAC's here in France, among others. On a more personal level, we are very proud to be in the private collections of Rudolf Zwirner and Cindy Sherman—one of Alpha's earliest art heroines—who has supported us in a number of ways. We've been recipients of the Pollock-Krasner award three times over the years, and last year, won the second edition of Art Olympia in Japan.
What inspires you?
Birds, in very many senses; we spend a considerable part of our lives watching them, talking about them, reading about them, photographing and filming them—and worrying about them, of course. They are a source of both pleasure and pain! It's a fascination that we shared long before we met. Even when they don't appear literally in our work, they are there somewhere. Experiencing different landscapes is also a big part of what inspires our work, including some of the least conventionally attractive elements—agricultural structures, industrial buildings, skyscrapers, wilderness… the micro and the macro. Politics (especially gender politics) and current affairs also figure prominently in our creative process.
Please tell us about your concept.
Our work is a visual translation of the world as we see it into a codified, symbolic language. Ours is very much a life project; although we might become particularly attached to one, or several, format or formats for periods of time, and our motifs and subject-matter change, what we try to communicate remains much the same. To us, it seems quite direct, but we have gathered over the years that viewers see a myriad of meanings in our work, some of which take us by surprise—though less so since Alpha came out from the shadows in recent years; it's fascinating to us how the perceived gender of an artist can have such an effect on all of us in terms of what we make of an artwork.
What is your current project and your next goal?
We are currently working on another series of towers, in the same vein as those shown at The Drawing Center; its working title is "Pit Land Against Sea" and we have around 24 drawings planned for it—some very subtle and others less so. We're about six drawings in, so the finish date looks set for 2020. The idea is to show the installation in one, or maybe two, venues in France, but we'd be happy to give it a more international outing, if anyone is interested! In tandem, we are also working on small panoramas featuring big landscapes, and an ongoing series entitled "Silver Birds", featuring sounds rather than sighting.
What are your thoughts about THE LINE DRAWING PROJECT?
We love collaborations—be they commissions from collectors who put their own stamp onto a work or ideas that come from conversations with friends; in fact, one dream show we've had in mind for a long time would feature artists creating their own take on other participants' work—so the project fits in well with that. Our art relies on human interaction at almost every stage, so it's doubtless less of a leap than for those who work on their own. It's a great idea and we'd like to see more projects like it.
It was a pleasure. Thank you very much, Alpha and Chris.
Hipkiss: Alpha and Chris Mason
‘Cincia Biglia’ (from the ‘Silver Birds’ series), 2017
Graphite & silver ink on Fabriano 4 paper
55 x 41 cm
‘The Hate Mine Question’, 2017
Graphite & silver ink on Fabriano 4 paper
35 x 78 cm