Inspired by childhood drawings and particularly by a drawing of a knight by his brother, Sebastian Supanz has repeatedly employed the motif of the knight in his works. This symbol holds personal significance to him, serving as both a nostalgic reference and an emblem of his artistic journey. Lately, Supanz has experimented with wool as a medium, appreciating its contrasting qualities of softness and colour, while also incorporating AI-generated images into his art, which raises intriguing questions about authorship and authenticity.
Kelly Foster – I saw on your website a text you wrote about walking in the woods. Could you discuss how that has influenced your “Series of the Knight”?
Sebastian Supanz – The text you’re referring to was for my diploma exhibition in 2020. I began painting in college, starting with acrylics and then transitioning to oils. Around 2014 or 2015, I began a series inspired by childhood drawings. Later, I discovered wool as a material at a paint store. It reminded me of my childhood and led me to use it in a new series.
I still consider these wool pieces as paintings; they’re just stretched on wooden stretchers. Instead of liquid oil paint, I use dry material, and instead of a brush, I use a felting needle. The motif of the knight is recurring in my work, symbolising various things from process to symbolism. As the series has evolved, it’s become more abstract and meditative. Currently, I’m also using AI to create images, posing new questions about authorship and originality in art.
KF – What initially attracted you to the story that you wrote, which seems to focus on childhood and classic fairy tales?
SS – For that story, I wanted to add another layer to the exhibition. The text is very much like a fairy tale but also connects to my own experiences with my childhood. It’s also linked to a drawing that has been in our living room for years—a drawing of a knight that my older brother originally made. My brother is a huge influence in my life, particularly in my art. I first painted the knight in 2015 and didn’t expect that I’d repeat the motif so often. At that time, it helped me through a difficult period in my life. So, it has a personal dimension, but it’s also a motif that I can always return to.
KF – So, does the knight symbol provide comfort because it reminds you of your brother?
SS – Yes, it’s not just about my own life and experiences, but also about my brother. Initially, I was attracted to children’s drawings because they seemed so pure. I used to enlarge these drawings and paint them in oil. However, my new works have evolved; you wouldn’t recognize the children’s drawings anymore. The material and colour palette now bring the association.
KF – What drew me to your works initially was the use of wool, which seemed to abstract the image. I’m interested in how you’re playing with the idea of wool being symbolic of both femininity and childhood. How did that come about?
SS – These ideas evolved during the work. Initially, my focus was more on the association with childhood rather than femininity, because of the soft and tender qualities of wool, but also because of its strong and pure colours. As I worked more, I started questioning the meaning of the material and the motifs I was using. The motif of the knight is more associated with a classic image of masculinity, while the material wool is linked to femininity – and this contrast between motif and material is still exciting to me. Sometimes, I spend up to two months on a single piece, which gives me a lot of time to think about these concepts.
KF – You mentioned that the process is essential and that the repetition of the motif provides a sort of comfort. Given that the medium you’re using is time-consuming and complex, would you say the artistic process serves as a form of meditation or therapy for you?
SS – Yes, it’s very meditative for me. Life itself has repetitive elements—like waking up, eating breakfast, going to work—and my art has become part of my daily actions. It reflects my everyday life. Creating art gives me the time and space to reflect on various aspects of my life, and in that sense, it’s therapeutic.
KF – With the recurring theme of the knight in your art, do you always start with that symbol? And how do you evolve it over time?
SS – Most of the time, I start with the motif of the knight and let the surrounding elements form naturally. I don’t always have a predetermined plan; sometimes the work shapes itself as I interact with the material. My approach varies from time to time.
KF – When did you decide to start using AI to generate images for your art?
SS – I started exploring AI last August. I wanted to see if it could generate digital images resembling my own work. After creating hundreds of these images, I thought it might be interesting to use them as a starting point for a new series. The transition to AI led to new questions about originality, authenticity, and even the notion of the artist as a “genius.”
KF – That’s an intriguing way to incorporate technology into your art. Has this made you reflect on what defines a work as “yours,” especially when collaborating with AI?
SS – Using AI has made me question ownership and what makes a work “mine.” I even experimented by creating some works with AI and not telling anyone. It’s both polarising and exciting to explore these boundaries.
KF – You’re essentially giving away some of your autonomy to AI, aren’t you?
SS – Yes, indeed.
KF – At the same time, it seems like a collaboration, because you still guide it, make certain choices, and curate the images.
SS – Exactly. You’re still responsible for the final outcome, even though you can create the initial digital sketch in seconds. Transferring it to another medium, like felt, can take months. There’s a strange contrast between the speed of creation and the slow, laborious process of translating it into a physical form. So in a way, you’re also somewhat of a slave to the process.
KF – Do you think that this slow, labour-intensive process is like being a slave to AI? What’s your viewpoint on this?
SS – Not necessarily. I see AI more as a tool that offers new possibilities for artistic expression. I’m open to using these new techniques, but that doesn’t mean I will always use them. Currently, I’m using AI for a specific series of about 14 works, and I plan to continue this for my upcoming exhibition in December.
KF – So for you, it’s more about the process than the specific image? It seems like you’re relinquishing some control over the outcome to focus more on the creative journey.
SS – Yes, that’s accurate for the moment. I’m thinking more about the process right now than the motif, although the motif is still connected to my older series. So, in a way, the narrative continues.
KF – I find the recurring motif of the knight fascinating. It symbolises a journey, a quest, which seems to mirror your own artistic journey. You’re also countering the endless possibilities of AI-generated images by creating unique, physical works. It’s like you’re reintroducing the human element into a world increasingly dominated by AI and technology.
SS – I agree. We’re living in strange times right now.
KF – One thing that strikes me is the tactile nature of your work. It seems like there’s a tension between wanting to touch the material, especially when we’re talking about something as abstract as image-generating algorithms. Do you think that resonates?
SS – Absolutely. When you create digital art, the material is always the screen, which lacks a tangible, textural experience. So when you create something with your hands, it’s a completely different medium. Materiality is very important to me.
KF – It seems like a form of pushback against our hyper-technological world. You’re using technology but also somewhat rejecting it by choosing a tactile medium.
SS – It’s more of a question for me. I don’t want to label technology as either good or bad. Being open-minded is crucial, especially as we’re considering the future implications for creativity and various professions. Technology can replace many jobs, so we have to be critical about what that means for our civilization.
KF – It’s fascinating how you’re not just questioning the role of the artist and painting, but also experimenting with unconventional materials like wool. In doing so, you raise questions about the artist’s autonomy and the notion of genius. Your work seems to invite a lot of questions, and I find that intriguing.
SS – Exactly. I try to challenge traditional notions and systems by exploring new directions. It’s about finding something that, at least for the moment, feels new and could lead to further developments.
KF – Switching gears a bit, how does gender play into your work? You mentioned the feminine quality of the materials you’re using. How does that inform your work, especially as a male artist?
SS – During my five years at university, the discourse often centred around male dominance in art history. I didn’t initially consider the gendered implications of my materials, but academic conversations made me realise that materials have inherent meanings. This historical context has become increasingly important for me to consider. My time at university really broadened my perspective on art and materials, emphasising that everything has a history and that merging these histories can create something meaningful.
KF – So, you’re not making a definitive statement on the topic of gender but rather acknowledging its existence and its influence on your work?
SS – It’s more about learning about the things that I’m actually doing than making a clear statement, and I want to be aware of the implications and discuss them.