The Spectacular Art of Painting with Soap Bubbles
by Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan
If you don't know how they're made, Jiří Georg Dokoupil's paintings might look like microscope photos of phosphorescent deep-sea hydrozoa, or maybe computer-generated cartoon characters. Turns out, they're actually the permanent evidence something way simpler: bubbles.
Dokoupil is a Czech artist who's been painting with soap for decades, mixing lye with pigments and using a wand to inflate massive bubbles over his canvases—which leave foamy, iridescent shapes behind after they pop. He hasn't always painted this way; Dokoupil's work is all about process, and over the decades he's also used media like soot from burning candles and even tires to put paint to canvas. But his soap painting is one of his longest-running series, and maybe the most fun.
Since Dokoupil started experimenting with soap in the 1970s, there are now hundreds of these paintings, but a number of new ones are on view at Paul Kasmin Gallery this month in New York. Here's a bit more about his process from the Paul Kasmin's curators:
Dokoupil stages dynamic areas of tension between chemistry and art as the traces, now consisting of soap-lye enriched with metallic pigments and diamond dust, accumulate in the form of two molecular layers and result in translucent bubbles. The resulting organic forms settle on the canvas with calculated spontaneity, displaying holographic tendencies and shifting perspectives. Seeking to reinvent traditional painting techniques, Dokoupil's pictures are aesthetically bold and dynamic yet conceptually rigorous.
In the end, it doesn't really end up mattering how they were made—they're just beautiful paintings. But it's still an incredibly cool process to watch, so be sure to check out video of Dokoupil working below. New Paintings is on until February 7th at Paul Kasmin Gallery.