HL Arts: Sophie Kipner - Keeper of The Artist’s Secret

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Growing up an abstract artist, Sophie Kipner one day began coloring inside the lines, adhering to boundaries, stifling herself until she found a way back to the magic, the natural artist hiding in every child, and refused to let go.

Some adults like to say that when we are little, we are all natural artists. Then, as we grow up, they say, we learn to color inside the lines, to accept the rules and general conformity that typically comes with adulthood, and sadly, we loose that extraordinary brand of magical freedom that we enjoyed as children.

But artist Sophie Kipner appears to have found a creative way to get back to all that, to get past the barriers time puts in our way, and rekindle the excitement of making art with raw emotional impact. "A friend says I found the back door," she explains.  

Sophie has discovered a way to keep the process of making art, or even looking at it, completely original and entertaining. With shows such as her DONTLIFTUPDONTLOOKDOWN exhibition at WNDO Space in L.A., Kipner's work offers gallery goers familiar faces, iconic figures in modern pop culture, music, and the arts, presented with a remarkable twist.

The identifiable details are there, captured with some symbolism, irony, or a dash of humor, frequently, on a large scale.

Without the standard components of portraiture, like facial symmetry or proper perspective, though, it's almost as if we are viewing these figures through a funhouse mirror. An elongated dancing Mohammed Ali floats above a defeated opponent. Lines overlap to form a 'crowd' of rapper Biggie Smalls.

Producing these recognizable likenesses might be a lot more difficult than most viewers realize, given the restraints Kipner imposes on herself. Her uncommon method also keeps her style from ever being predictable, and that's the way she wants it.  

"When I finally looked down at Bob Dylan, I saw piano keys went through his face. Like he was eating the piano."

When Sophie draws, she never looks down until she is finished. Never. Like the name of her show, DONTLIFTUPDONTLOOKDOWN, she never takes her eyes off the subject and never lifts the pen while she's drawing. In art schools, this is known as Blind Contour Drawing.

It's often taught as an exercise to improve hand-eye coordination. After Sophie used the method as a dinner party game to help two shy friends break the ice and launch a romance, she was delighted to discover that the experiment also enlivened her work, and since then, she has taken the technique to another level, producing drawings that she ultimately enhances (while looking), with paint.

Paul Klee once said, "Drawing is taking a line for a walk." That may have been true for Mr. Klee. Ms. Kipner, however, takes her lines on an adventure, and this bold journey has attracted many brave patrons. When Kipner begins each new commissioned portrait, the sitter or patron has absolutely no idea what the finished piece will ultimately look like. And neither does she.

She says she often thinks, "Wow, how is that going to turn out?" This element of surprise is deliberate, and all part of her plan. "It's so exciting!" she says. "For me, it feels very free, and this way, making art is never a chore." While she acknowledges that her style of drawing is not always flattering, people are usually very happy with the results. "Because it's so abstract that it doesn't feel like they've got a picture of themselves on their wall."

Does she ever worry about becoming 'too good' at contour drawings? "Oh sure," she admits. "You have to keep tricking yourself. I don't ever want it to be too aligned, too perfect. To keep the process going, sometimes I turn the entire piece upside down. Or I use my other hand to draw."

Child's play, it turns out, is a lot of hard work. But Kipner is thrilled to be able to make a living as an artist. "It's so rewarding to know that my work hangs in people's homes. I want them to have it," she confesses. Sophie sells her work mainly through social media, or her website, and through gallery shows. Many of her commissions come from people seeing her posts online at sites like Facebook and Instagram. "People will tag their friends, so they will contact me. People also post when they buy pieces and share them with more people."

In addition to her commissioned work and gallery sales, Kipner has seen rewards for approaching other art forms without incorporating the conventional rules. She doesn't limit herself to lines. Or words. Her new novel, "The Optimist," will soon be published and Kipner is also the host of "Everything," a web series that features profiles of up and coming new artists.

For more about Sophie Kipner, her art, or to see video of her at work, visit www.sophiekipner.com  

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