Fiercely loved fetishes

Oil painter Sandro Kopp elevates unloved childhood toys to revered totems

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lo_res_Goully
Goully Sandro Kopp

At some point in everyone's lives, Pooh Bear and Piglet lose their appeal and turn from adored comfort objects to raggedy reminders of childhood – something to be chucked into the back of a cupboard or shoved away in an attic. But where Sandro Kopp once asked his portrait subjects to sit for him over Skype, he's now requested their cuddly toys, which form the basis of his new work, Fiercely Loved, which opens for a private view tonight at Timothy Everest. Using oil paint, Kopp restores the solemnity and gravitas of these childhood tchotkes, seeking out the material imprints of their owner's personalities and adolescent memories – and reminding us of the toys we leave behind as we enter adulthood.

Dazed Digital: Tell us about Fiercely Loved: when did the work for this exhibition start, and what can people expect from it? 

It's all paintings of the cuddly toys - what psychologists refer to as "transitional objects" - that belong to people close to me. In a way they are portraits mediated through teddy-bears etc. Almost everyone has one of these animal companions from their childhood still hanging around. And they often still carry a great emotional charge and significance. I started working on this body of work last summer but almost all the paintings in the show were done this year.

DD: Your earlier work, There you are, and Mediated Presence comprised of oil paintings where the models sat for you via Skype. Do you still have a fascination with modern technology? 

Sandro Kopp: To be honest, it has been very refreshing not working from a screen. What I'm really fascinated by is people's presence and how this presence can be mediated by a fabulous tool like Skype. The paintings of transitional objects are very much a continuation of this theme: every one has a story attached to it. The owners of the furry fetishes have imprinted their presence onto these objects through the fierceness of their love that has rubbed off their eyes, their noses and created a sort of unique personality which I am trying to record. The original owner's presence is a gleanable flicker within.

DD: Your favoured medium is oil painting: what do you enjoy about it?

Sandro Kopp: You can do things with oil that you just can't with any other medium. If you have a bit of practice you have total control. And I suppose I like having control. If I don't have to worry about my medium doing something unexpected, I can allow my hand to do something unexpected with it. In a slightly sentimental way, I guess I also like seeing myself as part of this lineage of oil painters that reaches back hundreds of years. This is one of the reasons why I've chosen to place my "sitters" for this show in front of backgrounds taken from great classical works of art.

DD: Can you describe the first thing you ever painted?

Sandro Kopp: My dad has stacks of folders of all my childhood drawings: dinosaurs and animals rendered in fading fine-tip markers (he is an architect and I used to constantly "borrow" his design pens). There's one I particularly like that is labelled "the aggressive cow" - it's all pink and purple with big nostrils. But I have no idea what my very first subject was.

Fiercely Loved opens at Timothy Everest tomorrow and is on until 19 October. www.timothyeverest.co.uk

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