Sculpture is one of the most ancient forms of art. But despite its strong traditions, sculpture hasn’t lost its appeal to contemporary artists. One of them is the Paul Kaptein. His artworks are well known for their distorted-like appearances. Kaptein has added to his sculptures a sense of emptiness, creating a figurative dialogue between immateriality and materiality. 
This is created by the representations of empty hoods, distorted images, and tiny carved constellations. The material used by Kaptein to create his sculptures – wood – helps him to obtain this double sense of presence and lightness. The natural warmth of wood and the light shades of its colours galvanise the represented subject, making it look almost alive.
When did you start doing art and sculpture?
I studied it at the end of last century, but it wasn’t until six or seven years ago that I could really devote regular time and effort to the practice. Now I’m pretty much doing it full time.
You work exclusively with wood. Why did you choose this specific material?
I’ve used wood extensively for a few years. It is a universal material and comes with a sense of history or a record of a previous life. I think wood connects different cultures across time and space and suggests a confluence of past, present and future. It also has a great sense of presence as a material.
Paul Kaptein Metalmagazine 5.jpg
How do you create your sculptures? How do you select and treat the pieces of wood?
I can only source wood of about fifty mm thickness, so the pieces all need to be glued together to give me a big enough form to create a work from. Everything is hand carved and left raw after sanding. I don’t like putting finishes on the work.
In some of your sculptures, you can see gaps and little round holes, like the ones left by termites. Are those gaps and holes naturally present on the wood or do you specifically carve them?
Some may be natural holes in the timber, but often I will drill holes myself, forming constellations for example. They act as a way of subverting the materiality of the wood and highlight the sense of space and emptiness in the work. I tend to think of these spaces as being the active component of the work.
Your work often refers to technology and science, but at the same time, your technique is quite traditional. How do you tie together these two apparently opposite poles within your practice?
I work with dualities and paradox constantly. I started carving as a way of resisting the constant push of the digitized, accelerated culture. Everything was starting to turn into white noise. I wanted to work in a way that refused to deliver constant or instantaneous satisfaction. I was interested in the notion of arresting the flow of time. Through exploring contemporary concerns with an ancient process, it became a way of collapsing the distinctions of past, present and future.
Paul Kaptein Metalmagazine 6.jpg
In many of your sculptures, you represent an empty hood. What do you want to show through this?
As mentioned, I tend to work with polarities quite often. I find I’m more interested in something that exists on a scale between opposing states. Indeterminacy over absolutes. The hoodie can be seen as an ancient garb, as in a monk’s habit, or contemporary supermarket clothing. In either instance, it can be utilised to conceal identity. It’s a form of erasure in that sense – an erasure of identity. It also refers to seemingly contradictory states of form and formlessness, presence and absence. Silence and noise.
Another recurring subject seems to be the way in which figures are distorted, like the Mute Figure #1, which appears like a digital image distorted by a bad frequency or glitched. What does this represent to you?
It’s about time and the disruption to a sense of linear flow. Glitches are a disruption to continuity that become little spaces, portals through time. They can loop back and project forward simultaneously. I’m suggesting the body exists within these temporal paradoxes, or parallaxes, constantly unfurling across differing temporal trajectories. It follows that distortions in time become distortions in space and with that, the body could be seen as a portal to the infinite.
Mute Figure #1 was very much informed by severe jet lag and a mild case of vertigo from a very long flight. I literally felt my body being pulled in different directions simultaneously and my sense of balance was seriously compromised. It was made for an exhibition in New York. It takes me a few days to adjust each time I go there.
Paul Kaptein Metalmagazine 9.jpg
The Continental Drifters #20-22 is a site-specific series of sculptures. Can you tell us a little bit about this?
Back when I was dabbling with animation, I created this character (Gobi), who was built around a premise of reverse enlightenment – a sort of uncontrolled, collective internet mind. A space where all information was not ordered into a logical hierarchy. It became my reworking of the Heideggerian notion of Dasein before I knew of the Heideggerian notion of Dasein, his circular, featureless face being a portal between dimensions.
They started out as watercolours and some flash animation, and then were ultimately realised as sculpture. They explore the removal of the distinction between internal and external, the fake and the real. I’ve always been taken by the Buddhist view of reality that suggests everything is real, including thought and illusion.
You have also worked on a watercolour series, The Moon In Leo (The Bucky Suite). What are the differences and shared characteristics between this work and your sculptures?
The themes explored with the Gobi character have continued through subsequent watercolours, Vaporous Narratives, though the character as mostly absent. The drawings suggest an alternate or remixed present based on collected narratives or experiences. I just become aware of what I’m being exposed to or subjected to, or what my attention chooses to focus on at a given moment and note it down. These notes are then transposed upon a similarly created background. The text appears as the basis of the work, yet the text isn’t really there. It is a space for the text, an emptiness. It is a narrative that must be overcome, which is a device used in meditation.
I generally do these works at the end of many months of carving as a kind of antidote to carving, so they are done very quickly and with as little decision making as possible. Fast and fluid, as though each one is a breath upon a glass that dissolves into the next.
I was reading about Buckminster Fuller at that particular time and was taken by what an extraordinarily humanistic and forward-thinking person he was. Also at the time, a new Prime Minister was elected in Australia, who was so retrogressive and vile – he wanted to drive us back deep into the dark, coal powered past. The distance between them became a starting point for the work, though the politician existed only as a veiled reference. Bucky became the avatar of Gobi for this suite of drawings.
Vaporous Narratives01.jpg
You have already drawn national and international attention. What are your future projects and goals?
I’ve been exploring different processes and techniques in the past few months, and I want to keep exploring disrupted figuration through casting. I’m hoping to exhibit some of them later this year. I have a few commissions in various stages as well, which will keep me busy well into 2018. There are a lot of things I want to be working on. Some carved works, some not.
Paul Kaptein Metalmagazine 4.jpg
Paul Kaptein Metalmagazine 3.jpg
Paul Kaptein Metalmagazine 13.jpg
Paul Kaptein Metalmagazine 7.jpg
Paul Kaptein Metalmagazine 1.jpg