I am so pleased to have had the privilege of interviewing visual art wunderkind Kris Knight over the weekend. Knight is one of the few artists who is as kindly and intelligent as is his works are beautiful.

His new exhibition Never-Never continues the artist’s fascination with the observations of male beauty, often portrayed in dream-like settings using a colour palette, that has  had GUCCI Creative Director Frida Giannini basing an entire collection on Knight’s colour schemes. The artist was also invited to re-imagine and re-invigorate the fashion house’s “Flora” pattern made famous by the late Grace Kelly in the 1960’s.

Knight acknowledges that some of his works have a slightly creepy voyeuristic tone, but this only adds to the magic of his portrait subjects. He has in Nerver-Never created a new type of art – ‘Magical Voyeurism’. His paintings of the backs or young men’s heads and shoulders reminds me of bus and streetcar rides where I often find myself fantasizing about men, and being fascinated by the small hairs on the neck’s of riders ahead of me.  I think this is a benign version of creeping, I am very discrete in my hair and neck fetish, but I am so relieved to know that Knight has an appreciation for this active viewing as well.

See his painting Bombed, oil on canvas, 18×14” 2015 as a divine example of this voyeurism.

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Bombed, 18 x 14″, 2015

5 Questions with artist Kris Knight – On Never -Never, GUCCI & Aging

1. (AH) When you were an emerging artist did you ever imagine that your fabulous paintings would be shown all over the world?

(KK) Only in my dreams.  Ten years ago, when I was a hungry young Toronto artist I was renting spaces from Selena at Luft Gallery, had Katharine Mulherin mounting my own shows, interning at galleries, and basically taking whatever exhibition opportunity I could get.  I enjoyed the gallery dynamic and wanted to learn how to operate independently before pursuing representation. I was raised by two workhorse parents who owned small businesses, one a carpenter, the other a baker.  I saw what it was like to create daily, have your own vision, and be driven to put in the long hours required to keep a business afloat.  A career in art to me is no different.  Around this time Katharine started doing the art fair circuit long before it became essential for commercial galleries to do so, and would bring my work with her.  She helped me secure an American dealer (Anthony Spinello) in Miami, which led to exhibition opportunities in the US.

About five years ago I made the conscious decision to focus primarily on getting my work known in Europe.  I spent most of my savings on shipping, made some bad decisions with trusting people, and came close to going bankrupt trying to make this happen, but my work gained the attention of several European indie fashion and art magazines who began publishing it.  From having my paintings featured in these publications, my work was seen by some key people in Europe who would became ardent supporters of my career, and I was able to secure representation in Paris with Alain Gutharc.

2. (AH) Your gorgeous portraits and a lot of your other paintings have a dream-like vibe. Do dreams play a big part in the creation of your paintings?

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Pansy, oil on Canvas, 20 x 16”, 2015 

(KK) I am a constant daydreamer, always in my head, and most of my ideas click when I am walking to and from my Toronto studio each morning and late at night.   As an artist who mostly paints character portraits, I care most about creating a sense of ambiguity in my works. Each one of my series is stemmed from an autobiographical memory. I’ve always been inspired by folklore, myth, secrets and gossip, and I see painting as a vehicle for my own storytelling.  The narrative in my work is just as important as the painting itself.  I like the fact that a painting can be interpreted on any level by anyone, but in the end I know the origin, the root of the painting.

3. (AH) Big Congratulations are in order for you for your wonderful collaboration with Creative Director Frida Giannini at Gucci on the re-invigoration and re-imagining of the famous “Flora” pattern and other projects. What was that like and how do you feel about people wearing your art?

(KK) Thank you!  Fashion school at Ryerson was definitely going to be my plan B if I didn’t get into OCAD, so I’ve been very fortunate to have this project fulfill a lingering curiosity that’s been creeping in me for some time now.  I have always been inspired by fashion and historical costume and utilize this history often in my work.  It was a enormous surprise when Frida Giannini of Gucci publicly cited my pastel colour palette the inspiration for her FW 2015 collection when she really didn’t have to.

When Gucci approached me to re-imagine their iconic Flora print I was very much overwhelmed, but I wanted to create something that was still very much about my practice. I was given a lot a research materials on the Vittorio Accornero’s original Flora design that Gucci created for Princess Grace in 1965, as well as access to the mood boards that Frida Giannini and her design team used to brainstorm their 2015 collections.  In one of the mood boards, I saw a beautiful picture of a young Marianne Faithfull from the 1960s, and her “Witches Song” started playing in my head – this sparked my initial ideas for my Flora print.  I spent a lot of time writing the story behind my Flora print before I started sketching it onto canvas.  I didn’t want to create just a pretty floral print, but something that had an element of enchantment, subversion and a touch of darkness.

I wanted to create a story that takes place when the sun comes down, by choosing plants that one doesn’t typically see in floral paintings – especially floral prints.  I wanted to create a floral painting that had a strong feminist twist by using plants and flowers that women of ancient times used to command power over men – whether it was for healing, seduction or poisoning.   I’ve always rooted for the underdog and the heroine, and chose to dedicate my floral print to plants that have significant historical importance, but rarely get celebrated in the daylight.  I am still blown away when I see people wearing my print and my bratty Gemini twin is also very satiated to see fancy ladies wearing my opiate and hallucinogenic laced floral print of Mandrake, Datura, Henbane, Belladonna and Poppy.

4. (AH) Has working in the fashion industry influenced this new body of work?

(KK) I wouldn’t say that the fashion industry has influenced my new work, but rather the performance element that comes along with doing a project so out of my comfort zone (aka not in my studio).  I spent so much of last year travelling all over the world, meeting new people, being visible and constantly being on.  I have always been too nervous to be an articulate speaker, and followed the path of making images because I don’t like to talk.  Mind you I want my work to be noticed – I just have always wanted to hide behind it.   This collaboration and the gazillion promotional opportunities that I have done for it, has forced me to overcome a lot of my social anxieties.  These paintings are very much of wallflowers who teeter between yearning to be seen, desiring to gaze, and needing to disappear.

5. (AH) You mention the idea of ‘aging’ and the ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’ in your artist statement, and your subjects are relatively young. Does this new body of work reflect your own self-awareness of aging as a gay man?

(KK) With this series I painted all gay men, mostly friends and acquaintances in their twenties and thirties, and have staged them in narratives that are based on situations that I have encountered or stories that I have been told.  I definitely have issues with aging just like anyone else does, but I think gay men have this extended youth because we don’t have all these traditional milestones attached to age, like my straight friends have.  No one ever looks at me with disappointment when I tell them that I don’t want to have children, and no one has ever told me that my time is ticking.   It’s taken me an extended period of time to feel comfortable in my own skin that I can relate to notions of Peter Pan Syndrome, and I think a lot of gay men feel the same.  I am not wishing I was younger I just don’t feel grounded by age

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Black Dye Pillowcase, oil on canvas, 24 x 20″, 2015

Kris Knight, Never-Never @ Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects1086 Queen Street West   Toronto 416.993.6510

Opening Reception Thursday, September 10, 7 pm

September 10 – October 11, 2015

Kris Knight, Never-Never = HHHHH*

*Art Hag ratings system:

HHHHH = Wicked Excellent

HHHH = Wonderful

HHH = Totally Worthy

HH = HUH?

H = WTF?

 

About the Author

Artist Statement

My interests in artistic production range from the obscure, to
experimental, popular, spiritual, queer and to the political. Working with
individuals, collectives and community groups have been part of my practice as an artist, curator and director. I prefer to create narrative-based and identity-based art, but also love artwork that explores more formalist themes and materials.

Biography

Andrew Harwood is a Toronto-based artist who recently graduated with
Masters Degree in Fine Arts form the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg in 2014. Harwood is the former Co-Director of Mercer Union, Interim Director of A Space Gallery Director of Zsa Zsa (Toronto) and Zsa Zsa West (Winnipeg). He has had over 30 solo exhibitions in Canada, The United States and participated in group exhibitions and biennales internationally. Harwood’s work is in the collections of the Toronto Dominion Bank, The Bank of Montréal, The University of Guelph, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON, Tom Thomson Memorial Art Gallery, Owen Sound, ON and in private collections throughout Canada and internationally.