Alum builds sculptures with a playful twist

Matthew Zupnick's inventive artwork is inspired by his father, a former professor

If Dr. Seuss and Tim Burton were locked in a room together for an hour, the result would probably be similar to “Something Between,” a zany mash of metal sculptures on display now in the Fine Arts Building.

Ryan Gyanchand / Contributing Photographer

The exhibit features Binghamton University alumnus Matthew Zupnick, who returned to campus Friday to present his work. Zupnick graduated from BU in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in studio art. As an artist for Pipe Dream, he created a weekly comic titled “The Zupism of the Week,” consisting of one-shot images with goofy twists on standard moral sayings. He gained such popularity that some students taped his “Zupisms” to their doors in residence halls.

Chris Focht, a University photographer, has worked with both Zupnick and his father, who taught art history at BU in the ’60s.

“I am a fan, and I love his work,” Focht said. “I feel he took off where his father ended.”

Zupnick certainly hasn’t abandoned his playful tendencies: His sculptures are meant to be turned, pushed and even ridden. He uses brass to create seductively shiny surfaces and oil paints for eye-catching polka dot patterns. His sculptures feature dramatic angles that make even the sturdiest pieces look off-balance, and he often incorporates disfigured human forms into his works. The result is bizarrely amusing.

“I am inspired by the games people play,” Zupnick said. “The ways in which we treat different groups, the environment and individuals.”

Zupnick says it can take anywhere from two weeks to six months to complete a work. In order to let his creations develop naturally, he works on four or five pieces at a time.

The process begins with many sketches, followed by a sculpture in wax. Once Zupnick creates a mold around the wax sculpture, he fills it with layers of steel, bronze and other metals. For his piece “In The Dog House,” he used oil paints on bronze sheets before welding them together into a miniature house with a serene landscape along its inner walls.

“There’s a little engineering in this room, too. Taking a wide variety of courses at Binghamton made my work richer,” said Zupnick, who views coming back for this exhibit as a thank-you to the professors who influenced him.

Zupnick collaborated with sculpture professors Jim Stark and Brian Davis to organize the featured sculptures. They scattered the pieces across the room to encourage wandering. Stark believes Zupnick’s work itself encourages a sort of wandering, too.

“It takes you places you wouldn’t go by yourself,” Stark said. “He’s a gatekeeper.”

When asked if he would ever consider becoming a toy designer, Zupnick said, “I think I kinda am now.”

Zupnick’s work will be on display through March 26 in Room 259 of the Rosefsky Gallery in Fine Arts Building. The gallery is open from noon to 4 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays.