Royce Weatherly’s 2012 painting, Untitled (Bupkis), is a still life featuring a tumbled paper cup with residue of what seems to be creamed coffee, and the plastic covering of a pack of cigarettes and its plastic lid, on a smooth, plain white background.
The work appears to be a study of nothingness, focusing on empty containers. By being the subject of an artwork, ordinary objects which are usually regarded as trash (if noticed at all) are suddenly able to “speak,” as this ArtNet article on Weatherly says. The work calls attention to the dumbness of the subject, the nothingness that it puts form to, the emptiness that pervades it and surrounds it. Which is not to say that Weatherly is portraying emptiness as a sad, despairing state as sociologists would describe modern life. Rather, his work calls to mind the Buddhist’s sense of emptiness: “Emptiness is a mode of perception, a way of looking at experience. It adds nothing to, and takes nothing away from, the raw data of physical and mental events. You look at events in the mind and the senses with no thought of whether there’s anything lying behind them.”
Untitled (Bupkis) invites the viewer to look at things as they are, “empty of the presuppositions we usually add to experience in order to make sense of it.” There is something zen-like about the work, but also something playful. Bupkis, according to the dictionary, is an American slang that means “nothing at all,” as in, “I know bupkis about art.” The viewer is invited to look at art without any assumptions, without any prior knowledge. This seems to be in keeping with contemporary times, when there are no set meanings to things and the most ordinary things could have the most sophisticated meanings, depending on how it is packaged (in art and advertising, etc.). But Untitled (Bupkis) invites the viewer to keep her mind empty for a while, to not put any meaning to the work, to not have any predetermined meaning or worth of the work imposed upon her. The work invites the viewer to simply look.