Interview with Alessandra Sulpy

Could you give us a brief introduction to who you are and what kind of work you make?
I’m Alessandra Sulpy, a painter and vagabond professor. Right now I’m working on a series called ‘Store Facades’, which portrays vacant or derelict downtowns and shopping districts with an element of humor and surrealism. I’m a figurative painter at heart, but I have been lately been working with collage, 3D elements, neon signs, lenticular prints, flashing light etc etc in my paintings to make them a bit more about holding a physical space with the viewer.

Where do you gather most of the inspiration for your works?
My main inspiration came from New Kensington, PA, a town near Pittsburgh which I lived close to a few years back. It was - is - a ghost town, where you could walk around and peer into dusty abandoned banks, see chips of paint falling into the cobwebbed shoes in display windows, see falling apart signage peeking out from under other falling apart signage, and get a general sense of the layers of time that happened there. I still think back to that town, but I’ve continued to look further into other ‘time capsules’ like catalogs, photos of 70’s Times Square, and everyday items that are no longer used or thought about like S&H green stamps, and plain, white packaged generic brand groceries.

What is your most important artist tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
Gobs of stuff. I’m like a magpie, collecting anything related to vintage retail or ephemera. I have boxes upon boxes of things that are going to potentially make their way onto or into a painting, and sometimes the ephemera itself helps dictate the way the painting begins.


What types of obstacles have you run into in your artistic practice and how do you go about navigating around them?
My main obstacle right now is a good one; it’s teaching. Some semesters are a bit more dense than others, and I feel like I don’t have enough time in the studio. However, I always find a way to make my own work. Perhaps my other main obstacle right now is that I want to work more within the context of a space, like creating an installation based on paintings and a created, overwhelming environment. I’m looking into grants right now to make that happen, but my studio is far too small right now to feasibly create the installation I want.

What do you feel are the recurring themes in your visual work?  
There is a definite sense of the past in all my paintings, as it’s the ‘end of the era’ that I’m portraying. Granted, my work has always taken on a vintage flavor, as have many things in my own life. Humor is often part of my work; I’m less interested in talking about the negative aspects of the deteriorating towns I’m portraying; the economic collapse, the rust belt lack of jobs, etc. The ‘remains’ of a time and culture can be very sad, but I would rather inject some vitality back into the towns with something fun or tongue-in-cheek without being irreverent.

Is there a particular artist you feel you relate to? Who are your role models (artists or non-artists)?
Oh boy, this is a hard one. I have different reasons for looking at my favorite artists, without one necessarily being ‘on top’. I look to Edgar Degas for composition, Peter Blake for pop collage, Karim Hamid for paint layering, Andy Warhol for color. My friend and artist Danielle C Head and I share a very similar interest in the past, and what things from it we are most interested in.

What is the best piece of artistic advice you’ve been given?
Maybe two pieces, which both echo in my head from grad school at Indiana University. Bonnie Sklarski once broke my brain by asking me point blank the difference between my subject and idea on a painting I was working on. The differences between the two had never before been presented to me in that way, and it has become a solid foundation for why I paint what I do now. Another piece of advice came from Eve Mansdorf telling me, someone who only cherished a bright palette, that in order to make colors sing the way I wanted, I needed to balance them with something more subtle. She told me that sometimes, the most beautiful flesh colors are the most hideous grays on the palette.