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Tilda Swinton and Sandro Kopp in front his Skype portrait of Wes Anderson at Lehmann Maupin, photo by Billy Farrell Agency
Tilda Swinton and Sandro Kopp in front his Skype portrait of Wes Anderson at Lehmann Maupin, photo by Billy Farrell Agency

SANDRO KOPP’S CELEBRITY SKYPE PORTRAITS

Jan. 30, 2012

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New Zealand-born painter Sandro Kopp is virtually unknown in the U.S., but he’s making his New York debut with a splash, thanks to a little help from his (famous) friends. Jewelry designer Waris Ahluwalia, actress Frances McDormand, R.E.M. vocalist Michael Stipe, artists Ryan McGinley and Terence Koh and Kopp's girlfriend, Tilda Swinton, all made appearances during a recent slew of parties celebrating the painter's new exhibition at Lehmann Maupin on Chrystie Street in Manhattan, Jan. 25-Feb. 4, 2012. But it wasn't just friendship -- they were all sitters for Kopp’s new series of Skype portraiture, “There You Are.”

“I live in the Highlands of Scotland and there just wasn’t anyone to paint there,” Kopp said. “I wanted to paint my friends, people that I know and like.” He spent a lot of his time communicating with his far-flung loved ones via Skype. And so, largely out of convenience, the series of about 30 16-by-16-inch close-ups of pixilated faces staring through an aura of blue screen light was born.

Some of the subjects were easy to capture. Terence Koh, depicted with a serious expression in a dark, backlit room, was one of Kopp’s “favorites” because “he was very silent.” More challenging was a large portrait of Swinton sleeping. Kopp set the computer up on the pillow next to her and smoothed her hair into a little orange fan. “But after an hour and a half or something she’d roll over and I’d have to go back down and arrange her,” he said. “Then I’d call myself from the computer and run back upstairs to the studio to pick up the phone.”

The most difficult subjects may have been filmmakers Wes Anderson and John Waters. At the time of his sitting, Anderson was in the process of editing the forthcoming film Moonrise Kingdom, and his eyes constantly darted between the three screens set up in front of him. Kopp had to wait until Anderson returned his gaze to the center screen to continue painting. Waters, meanwhile, resisted Kopp’s request because he said he just didn’t have the two or three hours it takes to complete a portrait (plus he would’ve rather done it 40 years ago, he told Kopp, “when he was better looking.”) Nonetheless, Kopp convinced him to do a brief session, and finished the painting from a screen shot.

The paintings range in price from $3,000-$4,500, with the exception of the larger portrait of Swinton, which goes for $12,000, and a grid of paintings of artist David Le Fleming for $35,000. The gallery wasn’t specific, but said “some” of the works have already sold.

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