Interview with Juan Kancepolski
N. Carter, August, 3, 2001, Buenos Aires, Argentina
I met Juan Kancepolski and his wife Fanny Diamant at their home in Buenos Aires on my last afternoon in that city. (…) After I was properly introduced I began to ask a series of questions and I have included the following excerpts from the interview.
Q: How and when did you begin your journey as an artist?
A. Juan: When I was in primary school, I was recognized as a pupil who had special talent. One of my teachers at that time encouraged me to pursue my interest in art. In 1944, when I was twelve years of age there was an international art competition to commemorate the liberation of Paris. This contest was organized in Buenos Aires but the exhibition was eventually held in Paris. At that time the judges on the committee were trying to promote students who were higher up on the social scale. At that time, 1500 children participated in this show, and I had one work on display. From this point, there was another professor who encouraged me to enter the National School of the Arts which was a very prestigious art school. I was 13 when I entered this art school and from there I had to begin to find my own voice as an artist.
Q. What were some of the main artistic influences for you early in your career?
A. Juan: A number of Argentine painters have influenced my work, among them Emilio Pettoruti. There are many movements in art in the first half of the 20th century, most of which contrast the impact of Impressionism. These opposing trends in the 1920’s gave rise to the Avant Garde movement. In the 1940’s you had the influence of Constructiv-ism. Living in Argentina, we were always impacted by the trends in Europe years later, as it took some time for the influences of these mainstream ideas to reach us. In this way the effect of these ideas was not as authentic, but rather an influx of ideas.
Q. After WWII was there again a surge of new ideas in the art world that affected you as an artist?
A. Juan: No, most of these movements had already begun before the war, and the real impact was still Cubism. Futurism was brought to Argentina by Emilio Pettoruti, who is a well-known Argentine artist. Many Argentine artists painted and studied in Europe during this period. In Mexico the visual arts were struggling for their own style which included social issues of the day. This had an impact as well. I have always wanted to develop my own style or voice with regards to including a social political stance, but I have chosen to do it from an aesthetic point of view and there is no political agenda behind it.
Q. How do you see the young artists in Argentina today?
A. Juan: I see a general confusion among many of the young artists. There is a lack of originality in some cases, and there is a lack of faith or hope. It is hard to find original works of art after all that has already been done in the arts. On the one hand, new artists are desperate to find something new to say, and at the same time they do not have the ability to understand what is really happening or evolving in their work. Some of our young artists have been trained by art professors who were not really well trained in the arts themselves.
I see a decline in the art schools from the previous level of pedagogy or artistic point of view.
Q. What do you feel is the cause for the decline in the quality of training for young artists?
A. Juan: The problem is that there are many people now who are interested in the arts in a superficial way. This is due to the fact that the media and the market dictate in terms of what sells in the art market. I believe that art is a profession in which you must study a great deal, and take the time to learn techniques. At the same time you must be independent in your thinking. Art involves history and it is not entertainment. It is a way of having a conscience, and as a language art can replace words as a way to communicate.
Q. On the front of your catalog it states the term plásticas. Could you explain this term?
A. Juan: It translates as expression in a visual way. It is something that cannot be expressed in words. It is something that has been looked at, seen by the artist and captured as a visual image.
Q. How do you feel about the process by which art is selected for exhibitions?
A. Juan: I feel that art cannot be used for public relations purposes. When there are many different tendencies or conflicts of interest, the people who are in the position to set the standards or choose which art will be promoted for exhibitions may have other interests at heart. Often the people in charge of selecting work for an exhibit are arts administrators. They have reached a position in their career that requires more attention to the political and social trends of the day. It is through these channels that the standards are set for what becomes known as art.
Q. Last year, you had work on display at the Louvre in Paris. Could you tell me more about how this came to be?
A. Juan: I have had many shows abroad, both in the US as well as in Latin America. I think that enough people that had seen my work felt that it should be shown there. I am at a point in my career where my work stands on its own. I also feel that each artist should be asking themselves, “What is Art?” and I am always searching for a way to express and develop my own personal language. There are two things that must happen for you as an artist. The first is that you must show your work, and the second is that someone has to see it. The person who sees your work has to have a broad vision of what art is. This is unfortunately the negative aspect of art audiences. It is often the case that the viewer does not really have an understanding of what art is all about. The result is that there are works of art that are revered that actually have no aesthetic or artistic value, as the tendency may be to follow the trends or market demands.
Q. Many artists ask themselves why do they paint or make art. How have you answered this question for yourself?
A. I feel that my paintings and my work express my self. To me life is painting and I communicate through a personal voice or language.(…)