BLACK MA­TE­RIAL

An in­ter­view with Robert Knoke.

Neue Luxury - - Front Page - By Neue Lux­ury

Robert Knoke is draw­ing por­traits of a very dif­fer­ent na­ture. The Ger­man born artist has been record­ing con­tem­po­rary fash­ion and art lu­mi­nar­ies over the past seven years. From fash­ion in­no­va­tors such as Rick Owens and Bernard Wil­helm to iconic mu­si­cians such as Casey Spooner, The Kills and Patti Smith, Knoke is sur­rep­ti­tiously chal­leng­ing tra­di­tional no­tions of por­trai­ture through his ab­stract and in­tu­itive de­pic­tions. His graphic ap­pli­ca­tion of ma­te­ri­als and tech­niques in­clude a sim­ple pa­per can­vas, black mark­ers, pen­cils, fin­ger­prints, glit­ter, ball­point and grease pens which all sit in stark con­trast to the ma­jes­tic oil paints com­monly used in his­tor­i­cal por­trai­ture. Knoke’s fer­vent use of ‘anti-artist ma­te­ri­als’ is cul­ti­vat­ing a con­tem­po­rary ide­ol­ogy around por­trai­ture and the por­trait.

Draw­ing with in­tu­ition in­stead of in­hi­bi­tion is what makes Knoke’s por­traits aes­thet­i­cally unique. He has the in­stinc­tive abil­ity to mea­sure the time and tran­scen­dent en­ergy that in­fil­trates the brief sit­tings with his sub­jects. Knoke es­tab­lishes a con­nec­tion with the peo­ple he meets and ex­poses part of their dark enigma through his ab­stract and an­i­mated ren­der­ings. From a dis­tance the faces are eas­ily dis­tin­guish­able, as are each of the renowned fig­ures that in­habit his work. Upon closer in­spec­tion, how­ever, the lines are chaotic and em­body a fre­netic en­ergy that re­veals a deeper realm of the sub­con­scious.

Knoke’s process is the key to un­rav­el­ing the en­ergy and depth ev­i­dent in his por­traits. “It’s nec­es­sary for me to meet the sub­jects in per­son and to take their pho­tos. I have to see the ar­chi­tec­ture of their face and body,” he says. Knoke con­tin­ues his process from these pho­to­graphs alone, away from of his sub­jects. Min­i­mal time is spent meet­ing and fa­mil­iaris­ing him­self with each per­son. “I don’t want to de­stroy the first im­pres­sion I have of them. The longer I spend with a per­son, the less I can see them. I never did por­traits of my par­ents, for in­stance.”

Each por­trait re­flects an enig­matic stance, idio­syn­cratic to the sub­ject. It also ap­pears that the de­tach­ment and ro­mance of the pho­to­graph as­sists in pre­serv­ing Robert’s ini­tial im­pres­sion of them. The real tran­si­tion oc­curs when Knoke re­treats to his studio, where, start­ing with the ar­tic­u­la­tion of the face, he ma­nip­u­lates the pa­per un­til the seem­ingly in­vis­i­ble en­ergy per­me­ates the sur­face.

Knoke is quick to ad­mit that not every por­trait is a great suc­cess. His en­thu­si­asm, how­ever, is re­newed upon the suc­cess­ful ap­pli­ca­tion of what he per­ceives to be a strong and per­fect draw­ing. Af­ter com­plet­ing his most re­cent works of Cre­ative Direc­tor Fa­bien Baron, and fetish porn Direc­tor Bruce Labruce, Knoke felt a sense of ac­com­plish­ment with the out­comes. “You draw for so long and all of a sud­den it hap­pens. One fuck­ing draw­ing hap­pens to be so much stronger than the draw­ings be­fore. It’s like go­ing up an­other step and you reach an­other level. That’s what hap­pened with Bruce Labruce’s piece and I felt the same with Fa­bien. That only hap­pens once in a while and I’m not sure if that has some­thing to do with them, or with me, it doesn’t re­ally mat­ter. I guess it’s just luck and co­in­ci­dence. Things hap­pen or they don’t. I wish I could force this and make every piece as strong, but I can’t.”

What still as­tounds Knoke is that peo­ple he per­son­ally re­spects are sup­port­ive of his prac­tice. “So many peo­ple let me do their por­trait. They aren’t do­ing it be­cause a very fa­mous artist is ask­ing them, but be­cause they be­lieve in what I’m do­ing. That is still very sur­pris­ing to me.” Submerged in an un­der­cur­rent pro­pelled by the cre­ative class, Knoke still man­ages to find a sense of ground­ing and ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the peo­ple he gets to meet. “This might sound com­pletely naïve but I’m just al­ways very ex­cited to meet new peo­ple. That is one force to do my work. It’s about life.”

There is a cer­tain en­ergy that tick­les him to com­mence work­ing. It’s an en­ergy that in­vades the em­bel­lish­ments on and around the fig­ures he cap­tures. The myr­iad of jaunted lines man­i­fest them­selves into thick, thin and rolling knots. Some burst onto the page spon­ta­neously as dark shapes, harsh scratch­ings and dra­matic en­tan­gle­ments, oth­ers flow freely and ef­fort­lessly around the can­vas, cre­at­ing a kind of in­vig­o­rat­ing per­for­mance im­bu­ing each por­trait with a sense of depth.

Knoke in­sists that he is not in­ter­ested in artis­tic col­lab­o­ra­tion with his sub­jects, that is not what his work is about. How­ever, when he met Chase and Joey from The Black Soft, it be­came ap­par­ent that the artis­tic con­nec­tion was of in­flu­ence. “Be­fore we met per­son­ally, we dis­cov­ered each oth­ers work si­mul­ta­ne­ously. I felt very at­tached to the way they make mu­sic and they re­acted very strongly to my work. So when we met, we de­cided right away that the por­trait would be the im­age for their new record. They gave me their mu­sic to lis­ten to while I was draw­ing. That felt like some sort of artis­tic ex­change.”

There is no pre­con­ceived no­tion of what each por­trait should be. Knoke be­lieves that when it comes to his work “every­thing is ab­stract in the end.” Knoke’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion is not fussy, al­low­ing us, as spec­ta­tors, to an­a­lyse and in­fuse our own mean­ing into each work.

Knoke does not shy away from risk, he has im­mersed him­self in a cre­ative land­scape through serendip­i­tous in­tro­duc­tions and ex­changes, shy­ing away from the man­u­fac­tured ar­ti­fice of the art world. Knoke has a can­did non­cha­lance to­wards sta­tus and fis­cal gain, teamed with an un­tamed brav­ery that ex­ists at the core of his cre­ative suc­cess.

As an artist,” Knoke be­lieves that “it’s nec­es­sary to re­alise, that you might be poor all of your life. Even though your art is very good, you have to be aware that you might never be suc­cess­ful within the art mar­ket. You can’t pro­duce an art piece that is un­com­pro­mis­ing while si­mul­ta­ne­ously try­ing to please peo­ple, make a liv­ing or even get rich.”

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