Friday, September 26, 2008

Art Space Talk: Kris Knight

Kris Knight has concentrated on the creation of thematic series of figurative works. These series involve narratives that explore various expressions of duality and test the boundaries of identity. Kris’s visual compositions examine notions of performance inherit in all constructions of identity, whether sexual or asexual. Kris explores themes that often dealt with ambiguity and androgyny, with an emphasis on the notion of hiding and fronting. Thus, the portraits are often a balancing act of concealing identities and desperately wanting to let it go.
Mill Zombie/Prom King, oil on canvas, 22 x 28, 2008

Brian Sherwin: Kris, you have stated that you concentrate on the creation of a thematic series of figurative works with narratives that explore various expressions of duality and that test the boundaries of identity. Can you go into further detail about the thoughts behind your work and the themes that you explore?

Kris Knight: I start each exhibition with an overall theme and go from there. In a way, my work reads like chapters as each series has an intentional beginning and an end. The themes are bound by story telling, some autobiographical and others are made up. The majority of my work is narrative based, but I don't think each narrative is concrete. The duality of my work is that for the most part I am painting pretty pictures, but all of them have cracks, twists, and complexities that hopefully register with the viewer with further viewing. I think this notion applies to everyone and it definitely drives my work.

BS: What are the specific social implications of your work… as in, what context of society are you drawn to with the imagery you create?

KK: I like all things that are back water which totally isn't politically correct I know, but I like the simpleness mixed with the danger of being off the beaten path. The majority of my work is based in the rural, even though I'm in the largest Canadian city, I'm still very connected to life outside of Toronto. I find the country exciting, especially at night. There's a sense of uneasiness in the country because there's more freedom and less government. The characters that I paint are often outsiders, isolated by their own desire to be alone.

BS: Tell us more about the duality and juxtaposition of emotions in the characters you create… the line between content and bitterness, love and hate, good and evil…and so on?

KK: The portraits that I paint are often balancing act of concealing identities and desperately wanting to let it all go. I try to paint strong characters who are caught at the point before break down. Others are more mischievous. Their first glance beauty dissolves to subtle menace. I think all people have a little darkness in them, my characters surely do

Fur Strip, oil on canvas, 20 x 24, 2008

BS: And the exploration of sexuality within the context of your work?

KK: When I first started painting, my characters were really androgynous and asexual. I did a lot exploration in gender neutrality and the portrait, because I find that in today's society more and more people are comfortable with being who they want to be, rather than who they were raised to be. As I get older my paintings are getting more sexualized simply because I am more comfortable with my own sexuality. However, I hardly find my paintings racy, I think the sexuality is still underlying, even though my titles may not be.

BS: What about the role of place-- geographic locations-- involved with the characters you use as a narrative tool, so to speak. What role do the boundaries of their existence-- be it a city or rural town-- play in what you are conveying to viewers?

KK: As a kid, I went back and forth from being raised in a small town and being raised in the country. My giant imagination often got the best of me and I would wind up in forests and fields, especially at night. I see the country as a place that is more magical than it really is and in a way, this notion got me through growing up in the sticks. My paintings reflect this way of thinking, as my characters are often set in a nocturnal countryside that is sugared with magic.

BS: So would you say that your work is often a reflection of your own past and experiences as portrayed through the characters you create? In other words, are they a reflection of who you are or who you once were, philosophically speaking?

KK: I see my paintings as stories and many of them are my own. Some are based on memory and others are based on dream. Sometimes I gossip about others in my paintings, but gossip is still a method of storytelling. History wouldn't be the same without it.
Watchman (Don’t Come Around Here No More), oil on canvas, 16 x 20, 2008

BS: Having grown up in a rural setting… have you ever experienced any prejudice professionally as far as reactions from people, specifically other artists and art professionals, in larger cities when they discover that aspect of your past? I only ask because I’ve interviewed a few other rural born artists who have had experiences of that nature. If so, how do you face it?

KK: I don't think I have experienced prejudice professionally, but I've experienced prejudice personally, especially growing up gay in the country and not suppressing it. I'm not an academic, I'm not of wealth, I paint pictures that are personal to me and make a living off of it. I expose my creativity in a way that feels honest and I don't cover up who I am and where I've come from.

BS: My understanding is that you are preparing for a solo exhibit at Spinello Gallery in October titled So Long Scarecrow. Can you give our readers some insight into the work that will be displayed at that exhibit?

KK: So Long Scarecrow is a dedication to the lost friends of my old hometown. The guardians of tradition who never migrated for cities, schools, and travel, but rather, stayed behind to sow their own fortunes and shortcomings nonetheless. The young adults, who swiftly swooped up the town’s scarce employment opportunities, simply to be consumed by the hopeless redundancy of routine. The men and women who became adults so early, who filled their father’s footsteps, while half their classmates took flight for good come fall.
These are my scarecrows, my burned out youths (in more ways than one) who characterize so many of my portraits. Who thanklessly sustain withering communities from becoming ghost towns by staying exactly where they are. But life isn’t always tedious for my scarecrows. The smart ones find magic in the fields and forests that border their homes. Within these paintings mix stories of strength, exhaustion and isolation but not with out the magic and mischief that is harvest time.
Fuck Me and Marry Me Young, oil on canvas, 14 x 18, 2008

BS: Are you thinking beyond the solo at Spinello Gallery? Do you have any other exhibits lined up, so to speak?

KK: Yes I'll be having new work at the Miami art fairs in December and I'll be exhibiting in some group shows in Canada in early 2009. My next solo show is in June 2009 at Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects in Toronto. It's called "Farewell Log Cabin" and is the second part of this series. It's going to be the sexy, dark and winterized conclusion of this series. I want to make winter sexy if that's possible.
You can learn more about Kris Knight by visiting his website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor

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