Art of the State Artist Interview: Ira Upin

Ira Upin caught in the act of painting
Ira Upin caught in the act of painting

The next interview from an Art of the State artist is with Ira Upin. It was hard to ignore Ira’s piece at the exhibition. Not only is it right next to mine, it’s huge, colorful, and dominates the room. It totally makes me think of a reggae album cover and I love the graphicness of it. It’s in your face whether you want it there or not. Really great! You can find more work on Ira Upin’s website and of course, see his painting, Police State, at the Art of the State: Pennsylvania 2015 exhibition at the State Museum of PA.

1. How did you get started in your craft? (using your media)

I started painting with oil paints as a kid, through high school, undergrad and graduate schools. It was still the traditional medium to use starting for me in the 1950’s and the more I used it the better I became at it. In the 60’s  I added acrylics to my repertoire but mostly for flat color or patterns. In the 80’s I used tar as a medium that presented itself during my years as a contractor. But in the end I find oil paint to be the most voluptuous product because of it’s creamy, workable, texture, it’s range of colors and it’s physical capacity for transparency or opacity.

Police State ©2012 Ira Upin oil on panel 72”x 72”
Police State ©2012 Ira Upin oil on panel 72”x 72”

2. What has been inspiring/influencing your work lately?
I have always been a narrative artist with occasional forays into abstraction. This statement encapsulates most of what I do: The two constants in my work have been the narrative and the intensity of the visual. I want the viewer to be intoxicated and perplexed by how I make my paintings and intrigued by the stories I am trying to tell. I’m interested in human dynamics whether they be social, political, or emotional.

With this statement in mind my inspiration is consistently a random series of reactions to things that occur around me personally or things that happen in the world at large. Then I try to create the aura of a story, a psychological or emotional realm of thought or feeling. I don’t think there is any past or present to what inspires or influences me. For better or worse it has been pretty much coming from the same place my whole life.

3. Who are your favorite artists in your field?

In no particular order – Chuck Close, Francisco Goya, Anselm Kiefer, Gilbert & George, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Goldsworthy, Lucas Samaras, Kenny Scharf, Gregory Gillespie, Phillip Harris, David Wojnarowicz, Neil Jenney, Martin Puryear, Antony Gormley, William Wiley, Tony Berlant, David Bates, Jim Nutt.

Helpless in the Ways of the World ©2009 Ira Upin 36”x 36” Oil on Panel
Helpless in the Ways of the World ©2009 Ira Upin 36”x 36” Oil on Panel

4. What is your favorite customer quote or story?

I guess the best story would have to be when my father who was an electrical contractor in Chicago was doing a job for an attorney named Jerome Torshen who was legal council to Chicago’s 1st Mayor Richard Daley. Seeing that Mr Torshen collected art my father mentioned that his son was an artist and would he be interested in seeing my work. He said sure, I sent him slides and he bought one of my paintings. When I brought the piece to his home he and his wife wanted to see how it looked hung over the mantel. So he just reached up and removed the Picasso drawing that was hanging there and replaced it with my painting. I was in my 20’s at the time and I was overwhelmed. It struck me on 2 levels of awareness and emotion. On the one hand my ego soared with the gesture that exchanged my work for a Picasso. But on the other hand I couldn’t shake the sense of it all being a commodity to the buyer and all parts were interchangeable. In any event it was a heady experience for a kid.

5. What is your favorite piece of art or fine craft that you own?

We have too many great pieces of art to choose a favorite. We own work by friends like Frank Hyder, Susan Fenton, Anda Dubinskis, Larry Spaid, Mike Ehlbeck, Doug Herren, Lynne Clibanoff, and on and on.

Another studio shot of Ira Upin
Another studio shot of Ira Upin

One thought on “Art of the State Artist Interview: Ira Upin

  1. Huzzahs! from a sometime visitor to Northern Liberties (Frank Hyder colleague). Jim Nutt was listed among influences (surprise). God bless The Hairy Who!

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