CEC (changing everything carefully)
Todd Knopke was born in LA in '73 and currently lives in Brooklyn. He has an MFA for Yale University School of Art and a BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University. In 2003 and again in 2004 he had a solo exhibition with I-20, NY, and in 2007, a solo exhibition with Derek Eller Gallery, NY. This is his first exhibition with Feature Inc and we are excited about it.
Todd Knopke q&a 11.29.10
.what’s with your exhibition title?
An acronym is a perfect analogy for my work so I made my own from a part of a sentence that seems as if it should be the motto for today’s world: “changing everything carefully.” Taking parts of a preformed whole to create a new clearer idea/vision/word. CEC sounds like “seek” but also contains double vision, in the form of two Cs (pronounced see). With (E)cstasy in between. It seems like art’s goal.
.you refer to your work as sculpture, flexible sculpture—why sculpture and not painting?
Paintings are made from paint, sculpture from everything else. I love everything else. The process doesn’t start with a liquid but with solid material, actual objects. The way I think when building my pieces is 3-dimensional: thicknesses, what lies on top of what, physical weaving, how parts hang. Cutting out is like carving out but with scissors—exactly like using a jig saw, only quieter and neater. I like how Matisse’s paper cutouts are often described as “drawing with scissors.”
.do you make preliminary drawings and how extensive are they?
I make doodle maps, lists, descriptions. I do more jotting down of ideas as writing than as drawing. Patterns are constructed for some parts as a way to begin building. I’m not so interested in fortune-telling, I tend to prefer waiting to see, rather than seeing ahead.
.is where you end up frequently quite different from the expectations you have at the beginning of the construction?
I never end up where I think I will. I’m very fond of the line “the artwork is much richer and wiser than the poverty of the artists intent.” A mondegreen is a word or phrase resulting from the misinterpretation of another word or phrase. This is what we make when we mishear a lyric in a song. I try to do this with my own images and ideas as a way to unearth new possibilities and unexpected ways of proceeding.
.how did you come to sewing, and choose machine sewing rather than hand stitching?
In grad school I wanted to make my own clothes, so I bought a sewing machine and tried. However, being drawn to materials like gold lame and cowboy patterned silk—believe it or not—didn’t much promote wearing what I made. After years of grinding away at wood and having breathing problems from too much sawdust (I like to work at home), and feeling frustrated with my levels of waste and use of toxic materials, I found my way back to the sewing machine. My machine breaks often because I just rip material through it. I like to think I use it in the same way that David Smith used his welder or someone else would use a hot glue gun. Machine sewing is just the quickest and most permanent way stick things together. They say art is throwing ideas and things into the air and hoping they stick, so whatever makes the sticking easiest seems best.
.any thoughts about making non-narrative works, i.e.: abstract pieces? and if so, what’s the hesitation?
There’s no hesitation! I constantly try to make abstract work! My dream is to make small abstract things. For some reason every time I start a piece it inflates and bodies get pushed in as armatures for the ideas I want to try out. Throughout the process there is a continual battle between bodies and abstraction.
.how/where do you come by all that fabric?
I have a huge backstock that is 95 percent recycled material. A friend’s family owns B&J, the best fabric store in the city, and he gets me off cuts they can’t sell, which is how I score expensive fabric like top-quality cashmere and silk. I find a lot of things on the street and love shopping at thrift stores. Salvation Army even groups clothes by color. My day job of procuring set elements gets me custom-made curtains and drapes. Right now I’m most interested in my friends’ and family’s used clothes, sheets, and towels. Cutting into a pair of cords my brother wore at age 10 that still has a note in the pocket, or my sister’s 11th-grade prom dress that literally smells of 1988, folds time and enriches the work. One of the many beauties of fabric is that it’s everywhere and worn everyday. I’ve taken a shirt off my back because it was the right green to make a grassy patch.
.in some instances you use full pieces of clothing pretty much as themselves, which brings the found object into the mix. did that open up your work and your perception of your goal or working process?
Absolutely. I keep trying to figure out how to bring more real world in and leave it untouched. There was a “Family Ties” episode where Justine Bateman’s character’s boyfriend was an artist, and he made a sculpture from found mufflers. I liked the idea, even as a kid, of taking the discarded and making it into something meaningful. The muffler sculpture was bad, but it showed me the way a found object in art is an actuality. I feel three planets away but casualness is an ideal/a goal. It blows me away how beautiful things are, like a basic shirt or a pair of pants. The way they are constructed is amazing, and they feel perfect as they are.
.how did you become so fearless with your use of color and pattern, especially in terms of being a sculptor?
There is a lot in life that scares the shit out of me but this isn’t surgery. I can hack in, cut a hole, not sew it up, and maybe, by doing so, make it better. No lives are lost. Being able to create things is a gift and a pure joy (most of the time). I like what patterns do optically and I can get a little bit of Bridget Riley in a little chunk of striped cotton. Color just lights me up and makes me feel without my doing anything. The act of making things is my safe haven—it’s one of the few places where I can make the rules or not make rules, I can try anything, experiment, mess up, do exactly what I want at any given moment.