Mount M from the series Mount
The other day I heard author Michael Chabon ( The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, Gentlemen of the Road) on Fresh Air with Terry Gross speak about using “What If…” premises. It’s an enabling device that lets Chabon write funny, actually exciting books; books that refer lovingly to genre novels and other less-than-high-art literary forms. It also readily invites complex and serious questions about the topic at hand. “What if Such and Such….?” becomes “Why NOT Such and Such…?” and, inevitably, “Why IS Such and Such…?” Chabon’s not sermonizing, he’s playfully leading us to question assumptions.
Carla Knopp’s paintings act much the same as Michael Chabon’s writing. I see the premise. I play along. Thinking ensues. The paintings are engaging visually; fun to look at. The starting-point What If…’s are readily graspable. Sometimes these questions come in the form of quirky, postmodern allegories, like the Love Hovels series (which she describes by saying, “I imagine chaotic snippets of unknowable lives.”) Sometimes they seem to come from apparent connections to other artists–Redon, Ryder, early American Modernists, etc. etc. Sometimes it seems the questions are really about how paint acts physically. As she writes in her artist’s statement, “The overall experience is one of groping about. This can yield surprising results.”
Carla was kind enough to answer some questions for us about her work. Without further ado…
46N, 123W from the Love Hovels series
Please give our readers a little bit of information about yourself (upbringing, education, location, news, etc.)
I am from Indiana and have spent much of my life here. As the fourth of five kids, all spawned within 6 years, I spent much of my childhood plotting a future life of privacy and solitude… I received my BFA from Herron in the early 1980s, was briefly a founding member of 431 Gallery, then split for Austin, Texas for several years, and then moved back to Indianapolis. In the 1990s, I worked with Greg Brown of “Utrillos” on the cable-access show “Utrillo-vision”. We showcased artists, musicians, and poets, and our own very bad video skills.
I started doing applied arts as a day job in the mid-1990s. I painted display murals for the State Museum, and was on the crew of many restoration jobs around the state. Later, I formed my own company, and I now do murals and surface decoration for residential and institutional clients
I’ve always painted personal art work, but in spurts of attentiveness. Since 2000, I’ve been more consistently focused, and I’ve been developing a wider scope and language within paint. I now paint larger and I am also exploring abstraction. I hadn’t worked like this since college. The downside is that many of the past 10 years are without finished product, and subsequently, without shows.
I am exerting more authority over my work, and am finally able to orchestrate more. I’m finally producing paintings from my painted explorations, and this is great. I missed that part. I am currently in “The Big Show 3” at the Silas Marder Gallery in Bridgehampton, and it feels very good to show again.
Many of us don’t grow up with painting and art as part of our daily life, especially many of us away from the coasts and our routes into the fine arts are circuitous. Was that your experience? How and when did you say, ‘I’m going to do this?’
Circuitous is right. I was a child art geek. I received little cultural input, but had an insanely focused enthusiasm for drawing and painting. I had always planned on doing this in some form, if not as a career then as a vocation which I supported with a day job. Herron dramatically changed me, and set in play a back and forth pattern of participation and seclusion. After college I began rejecting external art influences. I stopped reading art magazines, and largely ignored art world happenings.
A secular approach to making art has benefits and pitfalls; for so long I used it as a shield, while I established a creative territory of my own. Now I do have this well-grounded place for art, which is great, but I also can interact in the broader art community.
The internet has been such a wonderful tool for re-entering the art world. It’s amazing how quickly one can understand the current art climate, just by reading others’ thoughts and opinions. The blog format is so revealing, which makes it quite easy to find the useful and relevant sites.
Minor Deity 11
Talk about your creative mulch–that is your daily inspirations, ‘fine’ art & not fine art:
I make lifestyle choices which encourage mental vibrancy…(for real). My brain then fires in imaginative ways, creating a good supply of creative, sometimes delightful, responses to life. It’s taken a long time to realize the importance of this, and to know what benefits me.
More directly, I get a lot of visual ideas from seeing things wrong. Peripheral glimpses and visual skimming, as happens when driving or in crowded areas, are great for this. Thumbnails of other artists’ can work also trigger a new and incorrect image. I sometimes wish what I saw was accurate. For someone else to have actually done or built what I just (erroneously) saw would be incredible. It’s hard to give an example, because these peculiarities are more in the imagery, than in concept. I also skim from my own work, but not in a methodical way. It’s the same accidental error of vision which then creates a new image.
Minor Deity 59
What is a day in the studio like for you?
I’ve de-ritualized my painting process. I used to require certain conditions, both environmental and mental. (At one time, I’d drink coffee and beer together, convinced I could maintain a beneficial “alert buzz” by which to paint). Now it’s so casual. My studio is in my house, and so I’ll wander in and out, and I often see and then implement huge changes in just minutes. When I do plan entire days to work, the ritual kicks in again, and I spend a lot of time preparing to paint. I like getting entrenched in the work, but also then flitting in and making snap decisions from a different perspective.
47 N, 10 E from the Love Hovels series
How do you start a work?
When I start from nothing, I can be sensitive or quite brutish about applying paint. I’ll be lazy and really just mindlessly apply washes. Let these dry and act as triggers for a later painting session. I’ll also keep mucking around in the wet paint, scrape off, and leave a disappointing mess. This mess may also be next session’s fodder.
In some work I am using subject matter as a conceptual framework. It creates the context for the work, and also may inform the work pictorially. I still begin with a loose and random application of paint, but I pay more attention where it goes, and am more actively imagining future possibilities.
I do believe how I start a painting has become a default setting, and it’s something I may work to change. Long ago, my goal was one session paintings, and they would happen in 20-30 minutes. This produced some distinctive results. This is definitely missing. I need to add this method back in to the discovery process.