Pierre Knop

Pierre Knop In Dialogue with Steven Cox

Steven Cox: Can you tell me a little about yourself, your background, and when you first started working full-time as an artist?

Pierre knop: Well, I have multicultural roots. Half French/German with family members from the USA and Lebanon. My start in the “art-world“ came by a tough time during my school time. I wasn’t an easy kid so I wanted to drop out of school before I got my degree. As you can imagine my parents weren’t so amused so they asked a friend and successful photographer if I could be an assistant. Their idea was “give the kid some work and responsibilities- that will bring him down to earth“. This first contact with the creative profession worked out though. After that, I studied design and illustration, but to be honest it was boring. In the illustration class of a comic artist (at the art school in Offenbach, near Frankfurt) I soon realized that I wished to create work using traditional materials rather than the computer shit you use in design classes. I discovered afterwards the possibility of studying painting at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. They took me - that’s the start…

SC: Can you tell me about your current studio and working routine? Do you have any morning rituals or habits that contribute towards a productive day within the studio?

PK: Frankly, I’m in the studio 24/7. Or try to be. I get up at 6:30am-7am. I regularly start with some meditation. The routine is to be as much as possible in that space and let it happen. As painting is not only a privilege or desire but also a form of personal self entertainment I choose to work all the time. This time creates the opportunity to bring all the images and stories in my head into reality. To use the canvas as a projected surface of my imagination. In terms of circumstances the work conditions change sometimes. But one thing never changes. I always work on several paintings at once and therefore I’m able to react by intuition or impulse. Another working condition is the atmosphere - partly there can be very loud music, or absolute silence. I assume the studio is a multifunctional and very intimate space. A laboratory where you have absolute freedom to create things without any external evaluation. You follow your own path. An apparently anachronistic location in order to an autonomy of rules or methods. A personal research space without authority but maximum responsibility.

SC: Your paintings have evolved considerably over the past 1.5 years, from once creating primarily geometric abstractions to now focusing solely on narratives and figuration. Can you discuss this evolution and what intrigued you to redirect your focus?

PK: I suppose I finally found the way to express all the little stories I always wanted to. I remember very well when I tried some years ago, to paint again in a figurative way...but it didn’t work out. The process was a long path of failures. Step by step I achieved a way to cultivate a painting language and vocabulary. When I entered the class of Katharina Grosse in Düsseldorf in 2010 I did abstract paintings until the post academic time of 2016 / 2017. It took me nearly 7 years to redefine and frame a figurative vocabulary. As I said, it all started with my illustration class. Figuration is my fundamental root. Besides the formal development, which is too superficial to focus on, I am a very political personality and I feel a lot of tension and anger in relation to my environment. As I am multicultural, I always questioned identity, which becomes important the more globalized our world becomes. Or not. In fact it’s an issue that relates to a lot of individuals. But that’s just one topic. But you as a Scot how do you feel? Scottish, British or European?

SC: I am interested to know how you plan your works. Do you begin with preparatory sketches of some form, or do you prefer to work directly onto the canvas in an improvised manner?

PK: I usually have fragments of stories or images in my head. I start with that on the canvas. The empty canvas is both a sketchbook and a painting. Mostly. The point is not to know too much before starting. The coincidence and my intuition are very important conditions. Improvising or getting in the right flow, which means to switch off your mind, is in fact a central "method“. To paint with the third hand, how Philip Guston used to say in an interview. The progression is a very vivid and organic process. As I work on several paintings at the same time, there are often parallels in atmosphere, color and appearance, in order to achieve a visual impact on the recipient. I have a lot of images or photographs of my family history, travels, historical images etc in my archive. I also use them as a starting point. They sometimes provoke an initial idea. Like Rauschenberg had this with a book of Dante or Peter Doig by watching the end scene of a horror movie. I think it was Friday 13th.

SC: I am also curious about the documentation of an artworks creation. Within my own studio I regularly take images of paintings in progress so I can note specific points in the works creation. How regularly do you document the progression of your works? Is it important for you to take note of a works evolution? 

PK: Sometimes I take a pic during the process but its not important to me. Maybe because I work very fast on many works at the same time.

SC: I am interested in the notion of preciousness and at what stage a painting becomes discarded in the studio. Do you have a tendency to destroy failed paintings? Or, do you aim to be as efficient as possible when planning a work so to avoid destroying anything?

PK: No, I do not avoid anything. As I said, anything should be possible. If a painting goes in the wrong direction I switch my mind from disappointment to searching for new solutions. They can be very radical. If nothing helps I just paint all over and restart. Always looking for new ways to be flexible. Often these moments of failure are very valuable. The moment you don’t care anymore about the result (because the paintings is fucked anyway), you unleash directly new options and an attitude of absolute freedom. You surprise yourself and act in a sphere of multioptional unconscious decisions.

SC: Focusing on the titling of your works, how do you choose your titles? For you, what is the role of an artworks title? Do you feel that titles alter a works interpretation? Some works are also left untitled…

PK: To give a work a good title is a challenge. In fact it’s a collision of two different sign systems. As a painting is a cosmos of signs, traces and pictorial fragments or elements it does not need necessarily a literary title in terms of a description, definition or categorization. It’s tricky. The title can reveal much more of the artist than he maybe intended to. A title can display a part of his mind set. Additional to his painting, of course. A title reveals the relation of title versus pictorial display in the first place. But also it can reveal humour or other personal attitudes. As a title provides a direction of perception or interpretation for the recipient I guess as a painter you should be very aware of it. Do you want to provide anything which influences in such a dominant way or not? I sometimes play with this. It depends the pictorial scenario and narratives I stage-managed.

SC: What projects/works are currently in progress in your studio?  Are you preparing for any specific future shows?

PK: After my solo show and the fairs in September I had now some time to develop a body of new works. Paintings that are being considered for exhibition in my solo show in Italy (Annarumma Gallery in Naples), my solo booth on Art Cologne with Setareh Gallery (Düsseldorf) and the following project space show in New York at Lyles and King.

SC: To what extent do you consider Cologne as being an influential factor in the shaping of your work? Do you feel that your surroundings have influenced you in one way or another?

PK: In times of easy traveling to other cities and countries I would not over estimate Cologne as a main condition of development. But of course everything has a certain influence. The people I meet here, my friends and the whole vivid art scene is a passive influential factor. And I have to enhance the fact that Cologne is a very valuable city for young artists. Its rents are not as expensive like London, Paris or New York. Its distance to other important, cultural European cities is way better than overhyped Berlin. (The hype is dead anyway). You have Brussels, Amsterdam, Antwerp or Paris in a healthy distance. The art scene is young and vivid. The art school Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf and the art scene in Düsseldorf contribute substantially. I recommend Cologne to my friends in Denmark, Britain, Belgium or the US as a perfect new start. So come here, guys! We have a good nightlife, too!

SC: In relation to social media and more specifically Instagram, what are your thoughts on this as a platform to engage with new audiences? Do you love/hate relationship with Instagram or other online social media platforms?

PK: Social medias are a good platform for personal performances. But that’s not a big secret. The point is how to use it and being able to make the right decisions. It may help or harm.

SC: Do you consider Instagram important for artists working today? From your perspective, what are the Pro’s and Con’s of Instagram?

PK: Yes and No. As I said, it’s always how you use it. The social medias were a game changer though. It’s a process of democratization. The boundaries became very thin.

SC: Do you have any dream projects in mind that you would like to do in the future?

PK: Like every painter, I would appreciate an exhibition in an institution. Like a Kunstverein or a progressive contemporary museum. The potential of diverse experiences makes me deeply curious. How is the project structure, which process is going on and how are institutional curators acting or searching for a new approach of a very old and traditional media like the painting? To organize a show in a non-profit but more cultural research institution is a huge challenge. It confronts your ability of communication, reflection and approach. Especially as an instinct or intuitive painter like me, this would be a huge but valuable debate.

As I have also French roots I would appreciate to show in France or Belgium. We’ll see.

SC: Any last points or thoughts you would like to share?

PK: Sure. Fuck all retarded right wing idiots, fuck Brexit, fuck Trump!

Images courtesy of Pierre Knop, Setareh Gallery, Annarumma Gallery