Ethan Turpin

Paul Wellman

Ethan Turpin

Up Close with Ethan Turpin

The S.B.-based Contemporary Artist on Inspiration, Environment

Some artists stick to oil painting, photography, or sculpture. Others organize their oeuvre around their subject matter: landscape, portraiture, the abstract dance of color and shape across a canvas. Not so for Ethan Turpin. Instead, the multimedia artist concerns himself with questions of perception, both visual and cultural. Turpin’s projects vary greatly from one to the next. A Hockney-esque photo collage echoes the form of a Tibetan mandala; a vintage stereoscope offers a three-dimensional image of Masai warriors armed with spears standing on the lawn in front of the White House; a dizzying digital print of colored dots resolves into an iceberg only when viewed from a distance—a metaphor for the necessity of a long view when it comes to climate change. What ties together such apparently disparate works is Turpin’s fascination with the way we see what we see.

After completing his BFA at the Kansas City Art Institute, Turpin returned to Santa Barbara County, where he said he has found good resources for “incubating and producing work.” For six years he was based at the downtown Perch Studio and Gallery, and found he was able to produce his work and pursue creative collaborations without ever having to drive a car. Turpin was involved in the early stages of Fishbon, Santa Barbara’s Burning Man-inspired experimental art community. He remembers sitting around a workbench with scientists and actors, dreaming up multimedia, interactive art projects that featured computer technology. What’s stayed with him from that period, he said, is the tendency to “take concepts that come from other fields and translate them into an art discourse.”

“I draw more inspiration from other disciplines than I do from the art world itself,” the Solvang native explained, adding that the natural environment in particular informs his art.

These days, Turpin tends to work more independently, and recently completed a month-long residency at the Kala Art Institute in Berkeley. There he experimented with video feedback loops, discovering that when a video camera was turned to face the screen on which it is projecting live, the result is a shifting kaleidoscopic pattern reminiscent of cell growth. He has been invited to present the project, Video Feedbackteria, to scientists at UCSB’s Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics.

Turpin’s work is on view at MichaelKate Interiors (132 Santa Barbara St.) as part of the Earth from Space group show now through August 14. For more about the artist, visit his Web site at

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