A Rebel Painter Returns to His Roots

The Czech artist Jiří Georg Dokoupil has forged a wildly successful career out of being unclassifiable; constantly switching up his technique and creating processes that run counter to the whims of art-market fashion, Dokoupil has risen to international fame since the ’90s largely through his embrace of a truly avant-garde sensibility. Now, with an exhibition of his new paintings at Paul Kasmin Gallery, he revisits and retools one of his most viscerally charged series—the “soap bubble” paintings—to create delicate, gossamer pieces informed by his signature combination of alchemy and art.

Dokoupil is the sort of artist to work with short, controlled series, many of which employ conceptually loaded techniques, an echo of his early years as a deeply unorthodox painter. As a young artist in the ’70s, Dokoupil founded groups largely in opposition to the minimalist painting of the time called Mülheimer Freiheit and Junge Wilde; in the intervening years he came to be known as a uniquely post-modern sort of painter. He has painted with mother’s milk placed in the oven until it caramelized, created marks using a cowboy whip, and run pigment-soaked tires over canvases. In a moment of reflection on the era of Mülheimer Freiheit, Dokoupil remarked that what they were doing was “analogous to punk” in its rejection of formal technique and fashionable aesthetics. Today he is well-regarded for just that sort of rebellious—at times counter-intuitive—work.

In the last two decades Dokoupil has perfected a certain kind of inventive, analytical practice—he is perhaps best known for his soot paintings, in which he created images using soot and flame on large canvases. His soap paintings, too, first created in the ’90s, utilize chemical processes to create images that are at once organic and tightly controlled.

For these new works, the painter has mixed his soap-lye with metallic pigments and diamond dust, allowing the bubbles to burst on the canvas and leave wispy, luminous afterimages in carefully selected jewel tones. Despite their clear-cut origins, the resulting works recall smoke and sea creatures, neon lights and precious metals. 

Molly Osberg

New Paintings” is on view at Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York, Jan. 8–Feb. 7, 2015.

Follow Paul Kasmin Gallery on Artsy.