Pipten: A Biography of Method & Intent
By Seth Kaufman
Before he picked up a paintbrush, Oslo-born-and-based artist Pipten pursued a career in music. First, he studied violin. Then he studied music and its transcendent powers. He grew interested in sound design, in creating new sonic combinations, and in music’s ability to capture and create emotion.
In his late twenties, however, he shifted gears, devoting himself to painting. A few short years of total art studio immersion have yielded results that suggest a continuum with his previous work. He never abandoned the motion and visceral emotion that explodes with the best house music. In fact, he’s brought those elements to the canvas.
“I find many parallels between music composition and composing a painting,” Pipten says. “You need that melody or that hook or the right color balance to make a great piece of work that can stir emotions so you feel something deeply beyond just the lines of the face or the simple beat coming through. I strive to make paintings you can engage with it every day, that make the viewer feel in the moment through the vibration colours.”
Pipten—his nom de pinceau is a shortening of his birth name, Philip Thorkildsen—paints portraits and cityscapes defined by vivid splashes of color and bold, kinetic brushstrokes. The typical frozen-in-time effect of classical portraiture—that eternal, often evocative stillness—takes a backseat in his work. Instead, collisions of color and shape give his work a sense of immediacy, of motion, of personality, life.
But there’s another collision at play within each painting: The artist diving below the surface to explore his subjects. Pipten has mastered mimicry—his subjects are instantly identifiable—but he’s also mastered a method of unleashing energy and depth within stasis with’ striking selections from his color wheel and exploring what he calls a “split face” technique.
The split face is a trademark motif that reveals a deeper modus operandi. You can see a sense of duality at play in his portraits of Brando, Elvis and others on display in his web gallery. One side of a subject’s face is rendered in a naturalistic manner, with familiar skin tones; the other, however, is an artfully grafted melange of impressionist and expressionist dabs and blots.
He uses the visual device to explore depth. “I’m interested in the hidden masks that people use,” Pipten says. “We all wear masks. In my paintings, one side portrays how a person’s projection of him or her self, the other half tries to map the true feelings of the being inside. I’m interested in showing you the outer mask--which is a projection, or what a person usually wants you to see--and the inner being, which obviously can never truly be revealed.
‘That’s one of the reasons I like to paint actors--they are masters of putting on different masks and wearing different emotions.”
If the work feels spontaneous, well, fast and furious is part of the point. Pipten’s creative process might be called action portraiture. Not that he attacks his easel, but he works quickly and intuitively.
“My paintings arise from momentary impulses,” he says. “I want the work to feel spontaneous, so it comes from momentary impulses without a lot of conscious reflection. I’m reacting to the subject. But I think my process, working fast, helps to articulate a feeling of immediacy and intimacy toward the subject which, ideally, rebounds off the painting.”
Those impulses translate into a lot of very fast brush strokes to pack a punch. TenPin’s use of lighter hues splashing down on darker areas creates a spark-like effect that injects liveliness into the portraits. The result is often playful.
“I want the whole painting to feel real and authentic, but not too serious. My goal, usually, is to create an aura of happiness and mystery simultaneously.”
Just because a painting style may be impulsive doesn’t mean there’s no forethought or vision. For Pipten, this technique is a mode of exploration and articulation. “I’m trying to feel, at that moment in time, how my subject is feeling. The different colors I use painting faces and hair are a way of mapping or revealing the masks we wear.”
When it comes to motion and painting, Pipten’s cityscape works burst with the gritty, busy, grime of urban life. His series of Times Square paintings capture the addictive immediacy, congestion and—even though there are very few people depicted—lifeof New York.
His sense of adventure and urban history come into play in the margins of these paintings, where the street scenes fade to black and markings that recall the chalk work of Keith Haring and New York’s legendary graffiti-lined streets.
“Art can often be perceived as very serious. When you mix playfulness with well-thought-out implementation and insert elements of the unexpected, you may wonder why the view of what you see is really there. Or if it ever should have been.
“I believe when you look at a good painting, you can feel it and see it in different ways as the days go by. And you understand what the artist tries to convey. But you also discover your own way to describe why the artist painted the picture in this way and, perhaps, how he wanted you to feel. Ideally, there should never be a limit on the dialogue between the viewer and work. You can call it simply good bad or ugly. You can describe the whole thought process, but when it comes to an amazing work of art, you never stop wondering why or how it came into being. It should make you think and dream for a lifetime.”