FotoFest Exhibitions

Ion Zupcu

Selected By: Madeline Yale, Adjunct Curator at the Houston Center for Photography,
Houston, Texas, United States

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Painted Cubes

Romanian-born Ion Zupcu is playfully methodical when it comes to making art. The artist draws and sketches almost daily in his studio in Hope Junction, New York, where he maps out ideas for three-dimensional experiments with the camera.

A modernist aesthetic has resonated throughout Ion Zupcu’s art since he began making it in the 1980s. Initially influenced by the Constructivists’ use of bird’seye perspectives and the bold lines of Russian Revolution art from the Stalinist era, he later studied the delicate shapes created and photographed by fellow Romanian Constantin Brâncuşi. After Mr. Zupcu immigrated to the United States in 1991, the scope of his inspiration expanded to include American Minimalism. Yet the resounding influence in his work is his own life experience, including discoveries made with his daughter, Christina. Each creation marks time passing; with minor exceptions, the titles of his newer images are simply the dates they were made.

Following Ion Zupcu’s relocation to the United States, he used his square, medium-format camera to develop several distinct bodies of black and white photographs about the physicality of objects. His still-lifes of bottles, fabric, and eggs gently examine the objects’ sculptural forms in honest relation to one another, while challenging the boundaries set by the confines of the image plane. In an earlier series entitled Works on Paper, he meticulously sculpted paper into boxes, squares, and curvilinear forms, then photographed his subjects from above.

In the work selected for this exhibition, Ion Zupcu responded to his drawings of the cube and played more intensely with the perception of scale and the illusion of depth. Entitled Painted Cubes, this new series pushes the sculpted three-dimensional forms into varying, often layered arrangements. Deceivingly small in scale, the cubes have been painted repeatedly with thick brush strokes, bringing forth their sculptural qualities and heightening their depth once they are introduced to the soft natural lighting in his studio. In some works, the cubes have been reduced to mere lines on the photographic page. One image, Homage to Albers (2009), exercises a pictorial formula popularized by the twentieth-century modernist pioneer Josef Albers, whose paintings Homages to the Square (1950–76) were an unmitigated expression of faithfulness to a proportional ratio. Other images play with our sense of gravity, creating what seem to be impossible realities achieved through multiple exposures.

- Madeline Yale


Ion Zupcu was born in Romania in 1960 and studied photography in Bucharest in the early 1980s. He moved to the United States in 1991, where his introduction to the work of classic American photographers like Ansel Adams made him passionate about photography. He began to devote whatever time he had available to developing his skills as a photographer and printer. While initially focusing on landscapes, Zupcu became interested in still-life photography in the late 1990s, and over the past ten years, he has developed a number of distinct bodies of work featuring bottles, fabrics, eggs, and folded paper. While his work is beautiful in its presentation of objects and forms, Zupcu is fascinated more by the role that his photographs play for him as markers in time. His images serve as journal entries: they tell him who he was and what he was doing at the time he took the photograph. For him they are essential components in constructing his memories and thereby his sense of identity. Zupcu has exhibited his photographs nationally and internationally, and his work has been published in a number of magazines including B&W and LensWork. His photographs are held in several public and private collections, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Detroit Institute of Art; the University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor; the Dayton Art Institute, Ohio; and the Ialomita County Museum of Art, Romania.