“The past is a foreign country,” author L.P. Hartley famously wrote in his book The Go-Between. Perhaps that’s why we hold on to the postcards…
Sophie Kipner is a visual artist and writer from Topanga. Her current ongoing project, #DONTLIFTUPDONTLOOKDOWN is one in which she uses blind contouring, the technique of drawing without lifting the pen or looking at the canvas while she draws her subjects.
Describe growing up in Topanga belonging to a family of musicians and how that may have shaped you as a writer, and an artist.
We are very much a product of our environment as it shapes the lens through which we see the world around us. When you see other people around you pursuing—successfully— the creative path, when you see with your own eyes that it’s possible, then you just grow up believing it could be your path, too. Topanga is a vortex, alive with inspiration and people from all around the world who gravitated towards it for that very reason and I think that certainly steered me in the direction I’m on now.
What are some of your fondest memories growing up with musicians trickling in and out of your home?
Besides the obvious benefit of having cute boys in boy bands (it was the ’90s after all) over all the time, it was a constantly rotating influx of all sorts of people, of all ages, genders, backgrounds. It felt like someone was always staying with us, too, so much so that our house was often referred to as The Hotel. My dad’s recording studio was in the backyard, but they’d always come up to the house to join us for dinner. I think what I loved most were the conversations around those meals. Hearing their stories from wherever they came from, how they got where they got, what makes them artists, how they see the world through their own lenses.
What are some of the challenges artists face during these new times? Has writing or painting come more naturally whilst sheltering in place?
I have been longing for uninterrupted time to be alone, to have the space to create which is what I surely believed was all I needed, but then faced with this unprecedented time, my reaction to it wasn’t what I expected. It took me a while to feel productive as I spent the first part of Covid just getting my head around what was happening. I didn’t anticipate—and I don’t imagine any of us could—how emotionally consuming it would be and how much that affected my ability to paint. I’m finally getting back on track through. Projects are taking me longer but I think that’s because I’m giving myself permission to go slowly.
Your latest work, a series of paintings #DONTLIFTUPDONTLOOKDOWN led to a collaboration with Rolling Stone’s first chief photographer, Baron Wolman. Which of his photographs left the biggest impression on you?
I’d have to say the first one that I knew I needed to do was his Woodstock, “Love Your Animal Friends” because the crowd scene just instantly pulled me in. I love what Baron said about crowds—What he was interested in was turning around to see the faces and scenes of who was looking at the artists. Who were they? I wanted to know that, too. And I couldn’t wait to find out on the largest canvas I’d ever painted on and with a scene that was as complex and intricate as that one.
Your collaboration with Baron is set to be released as a short doc, ‘Sophie and the Baron’, led by a mostly all female crew with Director Alexandria Jackson, Executive Producer Joanna Natasegara and Editor Lauren Brown. What was it like collaborating with Baron?
When Baron and I connected I asked him if he’d let me reinterpret some of his incredible images for an exhibition I had at Hotel Figueroa, I set out to make the best portraits and reimaginings of his works I could. But what I never could have imagined was what an unbelievable opportunity it would lead to, not only in our collaboration but in the documentary that would come as a result of capturing it along the way.
My cousin and director Alex is an incredible filmmaker and she has brought it to life in a way I never could have imagined. Baron always says to say yes, because if you say no, you never know what you’re saying no to, and this documentary is an amazing example of what can happen when you say yes.
What are some organizations that you have your eye on at the moment?
So much important work is happening right now. Black Lives Matter, Grassroots Law, and Campaign Zero, to name a few.
To artists everywhere, some parting words on how we can best reflect our times and make room to create:
I think to just keep showing up for yourself, whether that be at the desk to write or in the studio to paint or whatever it is you do, to just keep putting yourself in that chair, in that room, and the rest will come, even if it takes a minute. For more information, please visit Sophie at www.sophiekipner.com and www.kickstarter.com/projects/sophieandthebaron/sophie-and-the-baron