Brainfreeze is the second exhibition for Canadian-born Oliver Brupbacher – aka cee – at The Trace Gallery. Brupbacher has been a Zurich local for many years, over the course of which he tried his hand at working as a commercial illustrator and animator before deciding to keep his art private and to earn a living in the field of software development. The exhibition title gives a clue about his idiosyncratic creative process: ’brainfreeze’ is that moment when you guzzle too much ice-cold milkshake and a sudden pain in your forehead stops you in your tracks; it could equally describe the feeling when inspiration does not occur, no matter how much you want it to. cee’s work all starts in doodling, often during conversations and meetings at his software development company; the meeting room is one of his principal studios.
What he develops from these everyday doodles are fantastical cityscapes, sassy lone figures and dense, decorative scenes. Inspired by comic strip greats like the French artist Moebius or Japan’s Osamu Tezuka, the works in the show include I know what I want, an acrylic on canvas in which a lone, androgynous, sprite-like figure surfs a cloud or a meteorite that shoots towards the viewer, racing away from tumultuous skies. If that work is timeless, I play forever, a work in marker and acrylic spray, is fixed in the present; a young game player focuses all their attention on the controls in their hand. The immobility of the scene makes the player’s helmet seem incongruous, though suggests that there are risky adventures going on in another, imaginary realm. A smaller ink on paper work, noodle food swarm, shows four figures grouped around a small table eating, human bodies with the heads of a panda, tiger, fish and man; flying food, chopsticks and a sword cutting through the air suggest that this is a microcosm of a teeming, diverse metropolis.
Braingreeze exhibition is an opportunity to learn more about the creative methods of an artist as much at home writing code as he is wielding a brush. While the works previously mentioned are all drawn by hand, cee also uses digital methods in his drawings. He employs software such as Photoshop, Sketchbook Pro, ArtRage as ZBrush as well as his own hacks of existing programmes to improve them. (Perhaps the drink-swilling figure in the silkscreen print caus we can hack it is an alter ego demonstrating cee’s independent attitude towards the commercial tools at his disposal.) In addition to works on paper and canvas, cee is showing a group of Bend figures in different colours. These are small characters created by a 3D printer working from code cee himself wrote. The modular figures are both sculpture and artistic tool, allowing him to consider dynamic poses and incorporate them in his drawing.
Doodling is meditative, unpremeditated and impulsive; it’s also not perfect – cee produces hundreds of such drawings before selecting those in which he sees potential. It would be a step too far to say that cee’s art comes from his unconscious, but his drawings offer insight into secondary thoughts, what we might glimpse from the corner of an eye and, indeed, what we might be capable of when we liberate ourselves from expectation.
WHERE The Trace Gallery, Militärstrasse 76, 8004 Zürich, Switzerland
WHEN Thursday 22. October to Thursday 19. November 2015