Somewhere between American landscapes, the virtual world, and reflections on what it means to be human is where Brandon Lipchik’s art resides. In his last show at Robert Grunenberg Berlin, entitled Above the Surface, the artist, who was born in 1993 in Erie, Pennsylvania, presented avatars that are not meant to embody him or anyone else, but serve as a surface for projections, for an idea. In doing so, the artist wants one thing above all: to investigate what we perceive as real or not real. A studio visit.

Numéro Berlin Hi Brandon, how long have you been in Berlin now?

Brandon Lipchik I’ve been here since July of this past year. But I’ve been coming back to Berlin for the past three years. I just loved going back. But obviously I prefer being here in summer.

Numéro Berlin Yes, Berlin in winter is something completely different.What are the biggest differences for you between Berlin and New York?

Brandon Lipchik I think the people are definitely one of the biggest differences. New Yorkers are just very work focused. I feel like I didn’t really see as many other artists, because everyone was stuck in their routine. You’d only see them at galleries and stuff. Berlin is a bit more social and chill. I think in both cities, you can get a certain vibe, finer things and an underground scene. Also, one of the biggest differences is the light here. It is bizarre to me because there is a very subtle difference between the nighttime and the daytime. They bleed into each other. Obviously, Berlin also has this nightlife scene, that’s very vibrant. There are a lot of people staying up and they’re awake in the daytime, coming from the club. Even in the winter here, I wake up and a few hours later, it’s dark again. This is weird.

Numéro Berlin There’s this specific grey cast here in winter where you feel like it’s about to get dark even though it’s 11 a.m. But then there’s this golden hour on Monday mornings, which is around seven eight where you don’t know if people are going to work or coming from the club. It could be one or the other. Have you been going out a lot here?

Brandon Lipchik I’ve definetly gone out, but more so when I was visiting here. A few years ago, before all of this.

Numéro Berlin If there’s one feeling or one color to describe Berlin, what would it be?

Brandon Lipchik Is it a cliche to say black (laughs)? Sometimes I want to wear bright colors just because everyone’s always dressed in black. But I also love it. But um, one feeling… I mean, it’s unfair because of corona, but a little depressed (laughs). Great interview, black and depressed.

Numéro Berlin It’s true, though (laughs).

Brandon Lipchik But when the sun comes out, the city feels amazing. I remember who I am. In summer, there’s this crazy amount of energy, there’s just something in the air like anything could happen now.

Numéro Berlin What about New York?

Brandon Lipchik In New York, literally anything could happen on a night out. You could be in Manhattan, you could go to Williamsburg, you could make it back downtown. I always had an amazing time. New York would be blue, because of the water surrounding Manhattan. The feeling is really intense in New York. It’s always ‘go, go, go, go, go, go.’ But I love that. You know, I feel like I brought some of the New York work ethic with me here. I need to be doing something, even if I don’t. But I came here with a lot of purpose and things to be doing. And I love that.

Numéro Berlin Let’s talk a bit more about your paintings. So, you’re rendering your works on the computer and then you transfer them by hand to canvas. How exactly does that work?

Brandon Lipchik I use a bunch of different tools. It’s never this black and white thing where I use this and then I do that. I do use rendering software, but I could have used more of an armature for how the painting will come together – getting a feeling for light and color. And then I would transfer that by hand to canvas. In this painting right here, I used different softwares to generate how I want the light to feel. It’s a different way of working, maybe figuratively. It’s not necessarily working singularly from life, but a mixture. However having a that strong foundation in observational painting I think is crucial for me.

Numéro Berlin You said you are also using other tools. What kinds?

Brandon Lipchik Sometimes I’m using VR, I put 3D models in VR and play around with them to see what’s working because there’s also different blending of sources, orbits and perspectives. But I also like the design software from Adobe, it’s always helpful.

Numéro Berlin I feel like perspective is super interesting and also important in your paintings because there’s a multi perspective which conveys this sense of disorientation.

Brandon Lipchik Definitely. Perspective has been a huge interest of mine and my paintings recently. One perspective I’ve been thinking about a lot is this top-down viewpoint, almost a bird’s eye view that is looking down at the figures. An isometric perspective. So, objects can flatten and you get a certain viewpoint.

Numéro Berlin It also reminds me of a perspective that a drone would have on the things below.

Brandon Lipchik Because everything can be simulated to my liking. It gives me a lot of freedom to do what I want. But I was really interested in perspective from film where film angles or shots could produce a certain effect for the viewer. Looking down at something, the figure feels small or not strong, like it is in a vulnerable position.

Numéro Berlin Were you inspired by specific films or just films in general?

Brandon Lipchik I do love dark comedy, but I think that’s more my sense of humor. But I was watching a lot of American films in the past because I was interested in American culture – I’ve been traveling a lot away from the states. And when I returned, after being away for a while, it just left a different taste in my mouth. Having distance can ally to see where you come from. “Blue Velvet” was a film I was obsessed with.

Numéro Berlin So, how would you describe the relationship between the digital and the analog in your work?

Brandon Lipchik I think there is a huge sentimentality to it, the tactileness of analog in paint and the fact that the paintings are made in this thick canvas or something that can be shaped. It confronts your body in a different way. The digital is the antithesis of that. It’s kind of flat and pushed back, smooth, shiny, behind the screen and immaterial. There’s a huge contrast there. It provides an interesting place to play with the surface, but we’re surrounded by so much that is digital, it’s just part of painting nowadays. It’s just another tool in the arts to use. To understand and to compose.

Numéro Berlin Is the painting, we’re looking at done or are you still working on it?

Brandon Lipchik I am still working on it. I was always thinking about stages and staging because in 3D rendering everything is staged, everything is built and placed…

Numéro Berlin And put there intentionally…

Brandon Lipchik …very much like the film director who places everything in the scene. I’m thinking of it as sort of a jumping point for what would happen on the stage. What kind of performance or what kind of viewpoint would happen?  This painting here was actually a piece that was inspired by Henri Rousseau.  He made a painting called ,,La Belle et la Bête” which means Beauty and the Beast. It is this weird erotic scene and I liked the narrative of trying to rework it or put myself into it somehow. I like having dialogs with art history or a film.

Numéro Berlin In the exhibition prior to your most recent one at Robert Grunenberg’s you also referred to poetry and American poets, right?

Brandon Lipchik Yeah, I was doing some writing. I think it was a way to springboard a topic for painting and how painting can be in a dialogue with writing.

Numéro Berlin You also write yourself?

Brandon Lipchik I write, but I don’t always show it even though I try to show it here and there. I think there’s always been a really interesting relationship between poetry and painting. Poetry is an abstract version of language whereas my painting is a constructed visual language. I think somewhere in the middle between painting and poetry, there’s the truth of what I am trying to express.

Numéro Berlin Have you always written poetry or is that something you recently started?

Brandon Lipchik It was more recently, like in the past three years. When I actually started, it was the beginning of the corona time and the Trumpian era. There was just so much happening. And I had a feeling that painting wasn’t enough. I wanted to express something else and I just started from there.

Numéro Berlin Have you ever thought about writing on the canvas or have you done that already?

Brandon Lipchik I haven’t but I have seen people do that. I like to keep them separately, formally as a visual tool. I think maybe they belong in different camps. When I was a kid, I grew up looking at Anselm Kiefer, he’s super heavy and dark. He was one of my favorites alongside Käthe Kollwitz. They had this dark heaviness about the world. I still have this part of me that’s very romantic and sentimental, but I am also very goofy and offset and even the paintings are. They have this dramatic light and weird dark comedy to them.

Numéro Berlin You’re also painting these avatar-like figures. Are they supposed to represent anything or can they be understood as a surface for interpretation and projection?

Brandon Lipchik That’s actually a good way to talk about it. I don’t always see them as a direct representation, a self-portrait or a person. There’s never usually a likeness. I’m trying to get closer to a human or emotional connection, but without being too prescriptive.

Numéro Berlin They don’t even look superhuman even though they have these human characteristics about them…

Brandon Lipchik …it’s more a construct of being human. There’s an arm here, a leg there, but it remains a construction. It’s a simulated version of what it is to be human or a figure walking through life. I’ve started to think more about virtual reality in a spiritual way. In the sense that there is a certain freedom to the way you can move through virtual space, whether it’s a VR software or rendering programs or something that is coded to simulate life. It’s an alternate reality. If we are talking about spirituality and if we believe that there’s something more or different from the reality that we have now, there’s something to explore about what we’re perceiving as real and not real.

Numéro Berlin Can you imagine moving your art entirely into the virtual or digital space?

Brandon Lipchik I have considered this before, but I can’t see that. I remember this one day I was really down. At this point I was ending my last year of school and I was strictly making VR work, sculptures in VR.  There was just something in me that said I cannot do this anymore. I need to make something. I needed to make something tactile. There’s always going to be this push and pull between the two. It’s honest and important to me to explore the intersection. Where those relationships overlap and where one dominates another and takes over.

Numéro Berlin Something I have seen come across in relation to your work is the narcissus as a figure of Greek mythology. Does that play a role for you personally? Or is this something that other people put on your work?

Brandon Lipchik This past show, I purposely included this motif of a mirror and reflections of pools and water. It was a step into trying to paint emotional states of the self or a virtual self, but also relating to myself or even how we perceive ourselves in digital media. Also, in relationship to male vanity or me looking at myself in the mirror every morning, having to do human activities as brushing my hair, my teeth, taking a shower… Not just limited to hygiene but related to this culture of selfies and projecting ourselves online.

Numéro Berlin Also, the virtual world is one of self-representation.

Brandon Lipchik Right, this idea of the avatar. I grew up playing Second Life. It’s sort of like the Metaverse, but without the connection to online sales and real estate. It’s been a while, but it’s basically a bunch of people living their lives only virtually. It’s really interesting, being able to choose an avatar. Maybe as a relationship to how we present ourselves every day and how we change our appearances.

Numéro Berlin That’s true. In the show, you depict American suburbs. Would you consider yourself as an American artist or in the tradition of an American artist?

Brandon Lipchik I am American. It’s a part of me, it’s not about taking a stance, it’s just where I grew up. These are the places that I saw. This is what I experienced as a kid growing up in Pennsylvania in this quiet, conservative suburban. As an adult, visiting occasionally, it is so different to be there. I see things so differently than I did when I was a kid. I think that’s just normal, and we all experience that. I haven’t really put much thought into it, but I think maybe it’s something to consider.

Numéro Berlin This painting and also others imply a sexual tension. Is that intentional?

Brandon Lipchik Something I have been thinking about a lot is a male looking at other men in painting or this kind of voyeurism when it comes to obstructing the viewer. But it’s also about this simulation of a sexual attraction, balled up in this weird construct. It’s part of my practice. If all my paintings were completely devoid of sex or sexuality or anything I would be a different painter – maybe sterile.

Numéro Berlin You have also exhibited sculptures in your past show.Were these the first sculptures you did?

Brandon Lipchik Yes, these were the first sculptures. I’ve been planning to make them for a year, but I never had the right moment. That was a fun thing to start. You have these hands and arms coming through the surface of the wall. The sculptures have this Americana landscape to them and they belong in the narratives of that nature. I was using different materials alongside resin printing and 3D models. I think there’s more room to explore this. But I need to be careful about how I am thinking about making sculptures with 3D printing because it becomes very easy to just say click, print, sculpture… That’s not interesting. In those pieces, I was trying to find a way to make it more about the installation and how you feel in front of the piece.

Numéro Berlin It almost feels like these sculptures were the natural evolution in your artistic practice – from the almost three-dimensional paintings to sculptures that include pieces coming out of the wall and interact with the wall as well.

Brandon Lipchik Totally. I absolutely think it’s a natural progression.  There’s a lot more that I want to try out. As it comes out of the wall or surface, it just opens up so many other possibilities.

Numéro Berlin Can’t wait to see that. You also have your first institutional solo exhibition coming up this year, right?

Brandon Lipchik Yeah, it’s exciting. At ”Kunstpalais Erlangen”, even though the idea of a Kunstverein is new for me. But I feel great. We’re doing my first catalog, which is a printed book and will be about 150 pages featuring works, writing and interviews. Their space is really unique, there are a lot of small rooms. This exhibition was one of the things why I came to Berlin. I felt like it was better to just be here and work on it. I am really happy. I’ll be showing some new VR stuff and VR poetry. For me, it’s a way of engaging with writing and text. You put on the headset and explore a limited space where you can read, look around and investigate. In that way you can experience the piece. I was thinking: How can I include my writing in a meaningful way, that’s more interesting than just reading? It will be opening in July.

Numéro Berlin Thank you, Brandon!


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