The Highlands



Experiencing more and more the power of technology and the universe of social media got me thinking: How can one break out of the traditional without losing the essential and the core of humanity that is emotional communication?

I met my friend, the artist Sandro Kopp, a few years ago when he came to the IST. FESTIVAL 2011 (also known as Istancool). Our encounter led to four amazing exhibitions presented by ISTANBUL’74, with two in Istanbul, one in New York at Lehmann Maupin, and one in London.

I have always loved Sandro’s paintings, from his Skype series, in which he paints traditional oil portraits via Skype sittings, to his heart-melting stuffed animal portraits! Sandro has always made it clear with his art that what counts most is the intimate connection between the painter and the sitter and the presence of the sitter—whether it’s a human being or just a toy that carries memories within. With Sandro’s paintings we come to understand that perhaps technology will not be the end of human connection; perhaps we just have to see that between two, emotions will always be present. With art, there will always be hope in the future.


Below, a few questions for Sandro.

What is it that interests you about cuddly toys?
I am not really interested in cuddly toys per se; what fascinates me is the relationship that children have with these transitional objects and the way that this relationship is often carried forward into adult life. For most people they remain special. And they remain entities with individual personalities that go beyond the mere objects that they are. Like primitive totems, teddy bears and the like are often imbued with something resembling a soul by their owners, and one can find some sort of gleanable spirit behind the scratched glass eyes and balding fur.

They are vessels of affection that provide comfort when we are at our most vulnerable age, and they’re able to evoke a great deal of emotion. They function as triggers [of] nostalgia for a younger, purer, more innocent version of ourselves and—at the same time—their battered bodies, sometimes literally “loved to bits,” also clearly signify mortality, entropy, and decay.


How do these works fit together with your previous series of portraits done via Skype?
I think the thing that is interesting about portraiture is the degree to which you can capture somebody’s presence. In my Skype series, I was looking at the ways in which our presence nowadays is mediated through technology. With these paintings, I’m looking at how somebody’s presence can be mediated through an object on which they have “imprinted” themselves. All the transitional objects that I paint belong to friends and people I know, and I am looking for some sort of emanations of the people in these old familiars.

Tell me about the backgrounds. Why do you create settings based on classical paintings, like the Mona Lisa?
These objects are part of our very personal mythology. In using old paintings—often religious ones—as reference for my backgrounds, I am placing these personal mythologies in the context of our societal mythologies and art history. Also, by painting the cuddly toys in classical settings and giving them an “epic” world to inhabit, I am trying to engage the realm of imagination that they signified for us when we were children.

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Below is a hilarious video of Sandro painting dearest Waris Ahluwalia over Skype.

Photos: Courtesy of the artist

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